The Tiddling Tennis Theorem

The Professor has never been seen to hit a tennis ball, but a generation of would-be players have learned from him that the racket is in the head as well as the hand
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The Tiddling Tennis Theorem, which in the end was to alter so drastically the lives of its advocates, was the product of a peculiar mind, that of John Doe Roberts. Roberts, who was never addressed by any name other than "Professor," had been the teaching professional at the Tiddling Tennis Club for as long as the oldest members could recall. The oldest, Doc Pritchgart, claimed the Professor, then a callow youth, had simply appeared one day following World War II when the club's membership had dwindled to 124 and had begun offering free tennis lessons. But as Doc Pritchgart was invariably more than $100 behind on his bar bill, invariably cheated at dominoes, and invariably denigrated the Professor whom he loathed with an unquenchable loathing, few trusted either his judgment, his recollection, or veracity.

In any event, the Professor, now in his forties, couuld be found daily, barring rain, standing by the net of the teaching court, lecturing some aspirant to tennis immortality. He always wore the same yellowing flannel trousers, the same faded windbreaker, the same drooping Panama hat that shaded his thin, weathered features and surprisingly bright, deep-set brown eyes, and the same (Doc Pritchgart contended) unlit cigar between his large, clenched teeth.

Two factors distinguished the Professor from every other tennis instructor in the country. One was his unorthodox teaching methods, which he claimed were based on the Tiddling Tennis Theorem. He would begin each half-hour lesson, for which he now charged $10, by removing from his pocket a stack of yellow cards. On each was printed a different maxim. These were known collectively as "Roberts' Rules of Order." With great care, he would unwind the rubber band that embraced them and hand the top card to his student. "Kindly commit this to memory," he would say. When the student nodded to signify this task had been accomplished, the Professor would then deliver a fifteen-minute lecture on the meaning and ramifications of that day's maxim. For the remainder of the half hour, the Professor would stand at the net tossing balls from a shopping cart at his side to his eagerly swinging pupil.

But what established the Professor's uniqueness as a tennis instructor beyond doubt was the fact that he had never been seen to hit a tennis ball nor, for that matter, to hold a tennis racket in his hand. A few disgruntled members, led by Doc Pritchgart, argued that the Professor didn't know how to hit a tennis ball and should be fired, therefore, as a disgrace to his profession. The other disgruntled members (all members of the Tiddling Tennis Club were disgruntled) felt, however, that the proof was in the pudding and the success of the Professor's brainchild—the Tiddling Tennis Theorem—could not be gainsaid.

What was odd about the Tiddling Tennis Theorem was that the Professor steadfastly refused to divulge its nature. When pressed to the extreme, he would respond gruffly, "No researcher of repute publishes his findings until they have been proven experimentally. I have not yet had the opportunity to conduct my final experiment." Most of his students merely accepted the existence and workings of the Tiddling Tennis Theorem on faith, taking comfort, as do we all, from the belief they were being guided by a higher law.

That the Tiddling Tennis Theorem should have evolved within the confines of the Tiddling Tennis Club was assuredly no accident. The club provided an ideal cultural medium for the growth of this definitive concept. According to the unreliable Doc Pritchgart, it is the twenty-seventh oldest tennis club in the United States. Opened in 1897, it occupies a full square block in the heart of a once fashionable neighborhood. An early sketch, now hanging over the bar, depicts a pleasant, tree-shaded expanse of lawn dotted by picnickers, a gazebo, two tennis courts, and a small Victorian clubhouse—all encompassed by a low stone wall. As the neighborhood deteriorated over the years, succeeding boards of directors voted to add more stones to the wall. It now towers thirty-six feet straight up from the barren sidewalks of the ghetto that surrounds it. The sole entrance is through an unmarked, iron-grilled, glass door which opens on a buzzer commanded Miss Agnes, a thin and dour woman who is feared by all but the oldest members. Miss Agnes has been registering guests, dispensing balls and Ban Aids, answering the telephone, and buzzing the buzzer for twenty-eight years. She loathes juniors, germs, and people who don't say "Please."

Inside the grim walls, the contrast offered by the tasteless modern decor is startling. On the verge of bankruptcy during the Depression, begging for members in the 1950s, the club, thanks to the recent tennis boom, has been blessed with both wealth and prestige. The initiation fee is now $2000 and, even so, new applicants are informed with barely disguised superciliousness that they can look forward to waiting in limbo for no less than seven years. Dues have risen to $28 a month for men and $25 for women. The club used to offer family memberships, but with the high divorce rate created by Mixed Doubles Tournaments and the Saturday Night Glittering Tennis Balls, custody fights over which spouse should retain his or her affiliation became too much of a strain on both the spouses and the club's directors, who were all too often called upon to adjudicate the disputes. Now, in the likely event of divorce, both spouses retain their individual memberships and the strain is solely on them. Consequently, while the Tiddling Tennis Club perhaps boasts no more divorced members than comparable clubs its size, it certainly can claim more members who are divorced from each other. This sets the ambience.

In its new affluence, the club has been redecorated three times in the past eight years. This owing to the number of directors' wives who are licensed interior decorators. Although none, as far as the record shows, has ever been paid to decorate an interior, all enjoy the bric-a-brac wholesale and the certificates attesting to their good taste. Unfortunately, however, each new board of directors is under pressure from between one and four wives to redecorate "this awful mess." The current decor, recently created by Mrs. Herbert (Bootsy) Smeedle, A.I.D., wife of the president, is monochromatic orange on white with "just a hint of Africa" in the Zimbabwe fertility mask that replaced Mrs. John D. (Betsy) Cooper's framed Marimekko fabric over the fireplace Bootsy and Betsy aren't speaking.

The two-story clubhouse, with bar, lounge, card-room, and sun deck on top and the locker rooms and pro shop underneath, bisects the eleven tennis courts. Two of the courts are grass and dirt (with the latter predominating), two are clay, two are Har-Tru, and the remainder have been recently resurfaced in Plexi-Pave. Thanks to the wide variety of surfaces, Tiddling Tennis Club members never really lose matches, except on the scoreboard. "Well, actually they beat us six-three, six-two, but there's no question we would have clobbered them on (grass, clay, Har-Tru, or Plexi-Pave [check one])." All the members, of course, have their preferences for a particular kind of surface, preferences which change only if they are defeated on that particular kind of surface. But what they enjoy most are the endless interesting discussions of what type of shot works best on what type of surface. "No, I'd never use a spin serve on grass." "Personally, I find a chip backhand far more effective on Har-Tru than Plexi-Pave." "Well, I grew up on clay and let me tell you that a big overhead..."

What makes these discussions interesting is that the vast majority of members can hit only one type of backhand, forehand, volley, and serve and therefore employ precisely the same shots—each a desperate attempt to deliver the ball over the net between the proper lines—no matter what surface they happen to be playing upon.

Court One, directly under the floor-to-ceiling windows of the bar and lounge, is traditionally reserved for top players and other exhibitionists. Court Eleven, at the farthest, lowest, southeast corner of the grounds, is the teaching court where the Professor presides. It is bounded on two sides by the club's towering stone walls and on the other two by a high wooden fence to insure the Professor's privacy. An initial insight into the Tiddling Tennis Theorem can be gained through the first lesson the Professor gives to rank beginners. It hasn't varied by a comma in the past ten years, nor has his delivery, which approaches a disinterested monotone:

"So you have decided to take up tennis. A marvelous decision. You couldn't have chosen a sport with more to offer: concentrated exercise, intellectual challenge, inexpensive equipment, and a new circle of friends who will provide lifelong companionship. Of course, as in all sports, there are difficulties to surmount. The first difficulty you will encounter is that no one wants to play with you.

"Let us now analyze the game of tennis. It consists of hitting a ball back and forth over a net within a rectangle of white lines. While an experienced opponent will be able to hit the ball forth with some consistency, you, as a beginner, will be unable to hit the ball back. With all forths and no backs, most of the time will be devoted to picking up balls. Unfortunately, most experienced players find this a desultory way to spend an afternoon. You will find that lifelong friends who play tennis will, on hearing you have taken up the game, avoid you like the plague.

"The answer would seem to be to discover another beginner with whom to play. Nonsense. The other beginner will have difficulty hitting the ball forth that you will be unable to hit back. With neither forths nor backs, twice as much time will be spent picking up balls. You will never improve your game in this fashion. Moreover, as all beginners quickly grasp this phenomenon, they will not wish to play with you anyway. Thus, even at the very beginning, you learn that the way to improve your game is to play with someone better than you. Now please keep in mind that the all-consuming goal of every tennis player is to improve his or her game no matter how good or bad it may be. This brings us, then, to the cardinal rule of tennis which you are now prepared to master."

At this point, the Professor places his cigar in his mouth and peels off one of his little yellow cards. It reads: "No tennis player, no matter what his caliber, wants to play tennis with any other tennis player who is not better than he."

"Kindly commit this to memory," says the Professor, pausing to allow the pupil to do so. "Excellent. Now you see that the primary art of tennis is not in playing the game, but in arranging a game. At this very moment, millions of tennis players are hitting the ball back and forth over nets between white lines. And precisely half of them wish they were playing with someone else.

"First of all, they are not improving their games. More important, they are handicapping themselves in the critical art of arranging future games. For if they are seen playing with inferior players, superior players with whom they wish to play will identify them with the inferior players with whom they are playing and will never invite them to play. Worse yet, players slightly inferior to the inferior players with whom they are playing will make the same identification and will besiege them with invitations to play. Such a path can only lead inexorably downward to the depths of degradation.

"How, then, do you, a rank beginner, surmount this initial challenge of finding someone with whom to play? Your first step, obviously, is to disguise the fact that you are a rank beginner. This requires the proper equipment, with which Miss Agnes will supply you following our lesson today.

"Meanwhile, we will turn to mastering the essential skills of tennis. Other instructors usually begin with the forehand and the backhand. This is a waste of time. There is no point in learning the forehand or the backhand if you cannot find someone to hit a forehand or a backhand to. We shall therefore begin with picking up the ball. There is no move in tennis that so well classifies the proficiency of a player as the manner in which he picks up the ball. Once you have acquired the proper technique, it will prove invaluable at cocktail parties.

"As you may have noticed at social occasions such as cocktail parties and the like, tennis players mysteriously gravitate ' to each other. Once the conversation turns to tennis, as it inevitably does, they begin sniffing and circling, each trying to determine whether the other is superior or inferior, and should therefore be challenged or avoided.

The handicaps of tennis players, unlike those of golfers, are known only to God and those with whom they have played. Thus the opening gambit is invariably, 'Where do you play?' You should reply 'Oh, here and there.' You will be asked if you have ever played with so-and-so or so-and-so, in an attempt to find a mutual opponent to serve as standard. As you have never played with anyone, this will fail. The only possible ploy remaining is the question, 'How do you pick up the ball?' If you say you bend over and pick it up with your hand, the average player will switch the conversation to the stock market and go look for an ash tray. If you say you lift it up between your racket and the side of your foot, he might conceivably invite you to play mixed doubles. But—ah!—if you coolly announce that you merely tap the ball rapidly with the strings of your racket—dadada-rup!—causing it to leap up into your waiting hand, he will immediately put you down as a top-flight player and cleverly inveigle you into a match he will loathe. By attending enough cocktail parties, you will rapidly improve your game.

"That concludes our first lesson."

Should the pupil be so bold as to ask for a demonstration on the proper method of picking up a ball, the Professor will light his cigar, stare off into space, and say, as always, "One learns by doing not watching., Go practice, practice, practice."

The pupil then repairs to the pro shop to be equipped for battle by Miss Agnes. It is difficult to determine what, if anything, pleases Miss Agnes. Longtime observers of the subtle changes in her eternally grim visage contend that the one aspect of her duties that causes her excruciating, if well-concealed, delight is selling tennis equipment. When the beginner arrives at the pro shop to be girded for the fray, there is even the hint of a gleam, some say, in Miss Agnes' eye.

"Three shirts, three shorts," she says, piling them on the counter like an Army quartermaster. "Be sure to put them through the washing machine for at least sixteen or seventeen cycles before wearing them. That's sixty-two-fifty. One pair of leather lennis shoes at twenty-five. All the best players wear leather tennis shoes. Now you'll want this ninety-five-dollar composition aluminum, fiber glass, and wood racket with the steel-belted throat. It's strung with the finest gut, of course, to give you more feel on your touch shots. It's valuable because it's expensive. Carry it around and everybody'll think you're a good player. And because it's the latest racket on the market, they'll ask you how you like it. Just say, 'Well, it's probably taken a little edge off my drives, but it's sure helped my tennis elbow.' And speaking of tennis elbow, you'll want this three-ninety-five strap to go around your forearm. That shows you have tennis elbow which proves you've played a lot of tennis and are therefore a reasonably good player. Then you'll need this elastic knee bandage to explain, once you get on the courts, why you aren't."

Miss Agnes adds to the pile wristbands, sweatbands, hats, visors a warm-up suit, salt pills, a plastic bottle of Power-Grip powder, two pair of tinted glasses (blue for bright days, yellow for cloudy days), socks, a tennis ball attached to a weighted base by a fifteen-foot-long rubber band for practicing at home in the driveway, a forty-dollar leather bag to transport all this equipment, and a six-ninety-five book entitled How to Play Tennis. The beginner generally staggers out of the pro shop some four hundred dollars poorer but wiser.

Miss Agnes' particular bête noir was Doc Pritchgart. During his extended playing days, now over, Doc Pritchgart, according to Miss Agnes, had purchased precisely two cans of tennis balls from her, the first in 1938. Whether the charge was true or not, there was no question that Doc Pritchgart set a record for others to shoot at when it came to preserving the virginity of a single can of tennis balls. His technique was simplicity itself. On arriving at the court, he would engage another player in conversation until he heard the telltale pssstttt of a vacuum-packed can being opened. "Oh, no!" he would cry, holding aloft the can he had brought. "Let's open these." But, darn, it would be too late. On the extremely rare occasions when he was outstalled, he would feign pleasure. "Well, it's about time I got to provide the balls," he would say, rummaging in his bag. On removing the can, he would turn it upside down and examine its naked underside where, in those rugged days before pop-tops, the small metal key to unwind the opening band was affixed. "Doggone it," he would say. "The key's gone. Could I borrow someone's?" As this would require another player's removing the key from his can and handing it to Doc Pritchgart—a mean and petty act at best—the other player had little choice but to respond grudgingly, "Oh, here, it's easier to open mine."

Like the dinosaur's, Doc Pritchgart's downfall resulted from his failure to adapt to changing conditions. A good five years after the demise of the Hammertrack & Snead Manufacturing Company he was still arriving at courtside with his pristine can of Hammertrack & Snead tennis balls. This became too much for his long-suffering colleagues in the regular weekly foursome. On a historic Saturday morning they showed up with three keys and no cans. With the expression Rembrandt might have assumed had he been forced to burn The Night Watch to avoid freezing to death in a Dutch winter, Doc Pritchgart slowly twisted the key in the opening band. There was no hiss, and the pallid white balls when spilled to the pavement bounced with all the resiliency of wet noodles. It was at this point that a dispirited Doc Pritchgart purchased his second can of balls from Miss Agnes. Many believed the traumatic experience was one of the primary reasons he gave up the game.

The Tiddling Tennis Club is, unfortunately, split into a number of overlapping and interwoven factions. The basic factions constantly in contention are (1) men, (2) girls, and (3) Ms. Elizabeth (Beth) Follicle, who objects strongly to the rest of the women members being called "girls" and to herself being addressed as "Miss Follicle." It was Ms. Follicle, a slender, exuberant woman of thirty favoring white-rimmed harlequin dark glasses, who appeared uninvited before a board of directors meeting, a serious breach of club etiquette in itself, to protest vigorously the allotment of $3762.15 for a sauna in the men's locker room and, in compensation, $89.95 for a hair dryer in the girls' locker room. When President Smeedle noted that the girls paid three dollars a month less dues than the men, and were thus entitled to fewer amenities, Ms. Follicle swept off her glasses, pushed back her bangs, called him a male chauvinist pig, and direly predicted that "no good will come of this." She was quite right. The sauna was completed without incident. But the morning after the next Saturday Night Glittering Tennis Ball, Mr. Belomont (Rocky) Brooks, forty-seven, and Mrs. Lurlene (Lee-Lee) Turgin, thirty-eight, were found wedged up against one wall in an advanced state of dehydration. Mr. Brooks apparently had been rendered unconscious by a combination of heat, alcohol, and overexertion. As he was a former Ohio State fullback with a playing weight of two hundred and eighteen pounds, Mrs. Turgin had been unable to extricate herself from beneath him and her somewhat embarrassed cries for help had been muffled by the heavy door. While both recovered within a week, the near tragedy was the talk of the club, not to mention the Brooks and Turgin households. Ms. Follicle, however, was the only member to draw a lesson from the unfortunate incident. "Why wasn't she on top," asked Ms. Follicle, "where she belonged?"

In addition to men and girls, the Tiddling Tennis Club's roster is divided into full members and social members. Social members are entitled to use the smaller indoor pool, the exercise room which is virtually always empty, the billiard and ping-pong tables, the cardroom, and the bar. Particularly the bar. There is no waiting list for social memberships. Social members are eagerly welcomed in the club, especially if they are heavy drinkers. Most are middle-aged or more, and while a few occasionally swim, they generally confine themselves to bridge, dominoes, and complaints about any proposed improvements to the tennis courts. When Court One was resurfaced last year at a cost of $3618.12, the board of directors, to keep the peace was forced to purchase an $1800 All-Purpose Gym-Dandy exercise machine which no one uses.

But as Social Chairman Gladwyn (Gladdy) Hob noted at the time, "We social members drink up that much in a week." They certainly try.

The most virulent factionalism is among the tennis players themselves. Nominally, the members are divided into two groups, A players and B players. One would think thank A players played with A players and B players with B players. The problem, however, is that there are as many gradations of A players as there are A players, and the same holds true for B players. As there are 475 tennis playing members in the Tiddling Tennis Club, there are thus 475 factions. These range from forty-seven-year-old Noah (Bang) Banger, the former fourteen-year-old state champion, with whom everyone wants to play, to thirty-six-year old Melissa (Missie) Marshe, with whom, owing to her spectacular lack of hand-eye coordination, no one wishes to play. Over the years, the 475 factions have coalesced into perhaps fifty uneasy coalitions, each bound together by the unfortunate necessity that every tennis player must, like it or not, play tennis with some other tennis player. Members of the same coalition are friendly, open, and hearty with each other in the locker room and bar, and coolly reserved in their contacts with members of any other coalition.

Nowhere, not even in nineteenth-century England, has the social order been so firmly established as in the Tiddling Tennis Club. Nowhere have the class lines been so clearly drawn and nowhere has class snobbery been so rampant. Herbert (Pete) Peters, a back-slapping furniture salesman, for example, would never dream of slapping the back of Judge Alfred C. (Judge) Kopley. The restraint is not due to Judge Kopley's position on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; it is due to the fact that Pete Peters is a low A player, while the distinguished judge is merely a high B player. Should Pete Peters become too friendly with the Judge, the latter might overstep the bounds of propriety and commit the unforgivable gaffe of inviting Pete Peters to "hit a few"—a situation that would be embarrassing to all.

It is precisely this sort of contretemps that is the subject of the Professor's second tennis lesson. The Professor invariably insists that a beginning pupil, after learning—dadada-rup!—to pick up the ball, wait a minimum of sixty days before returning for the second lesson.

"One hopes," the Professor commences, after removing the cigar from his mouth, "that you have now learned the rudiments of how to arrange a game. If you have applied yourself, you should be able to hit the ball not only forth, but, on many occcasions, back. You are already superior, then, to many other players. Thus, you must now master the second fundamental of tennis, a fundamental that will stand you in good stead all of your tennis-playing life, to wit: how to avoid a game."

Here, the Professor replaces his cigar and peels off another yellow card. It reads: "All tennis players are invariably off their game."

"Kindly commit this to memory," he says, pausing to wait for the pupil's nodded signal of compliance. "There is one member of the club, who shall remain nameless [Doc Pritchgart], who is eighty-three years old and who has been off his game for three quarters of a century. Please note that whenever a tennis player misses a shot, he will respond in one or more of the following seven manners: one, he will frown, indicating surprise that a player of his caliber could have failed to convert such an easy opportunity into a blistering winner; two, he will curse, indicating his conviction that the gods are arrayed against him for mysterious reasons of their own; three, he will hold the racket up in front of his face in order to examine it, presumably to make sure he remembered to have it strung before carrying it onto the court; four, after hitting a ground stroke into the net or fence, he will freeze into immobility at the end of his follow-through in order to demonstrate his classic form and obvious fact that the blame, therefore, lies with the elements, fate, or anyone in the vicinity but himself; five, he will clutch his elbow, shoulder, wrist, knee, or whatever part of his anatomy is currently causing him suffering to show that if he had not been in agonizing pain, he would have executed a perfect shot; six, he will drop his racket with a clatter to show his disgust with the way he is playing, his partner, his opponents, the game of tennis in general, or life itself; or, seven, he will simply hurl his racket at the net, fence, or sky. This suggests he is angry.

"In any one of these cases, it matters not a whit that the player has missed precisely the same shot on several thousand previous occasions. If he were on his game, he would have made it. As every player invariably misses dozens of shots in every match, every player is, ipso facto, invariably off his game. The underlying cause for this phenomenon is not difficult to unearth."

Now the Professor peels off still another card: "Every tennis player honestly and sincerely believes that he is a far better tennis player than he actually is."

"I assume," continues the Professor when the pupil has memorized this maxim, "that you have observed the framed admonishment over the bar which states, 'Members will please refrain from challenging superior players'? I will concede that no member would dare commit such a breach of etiquette. The problem arises with the lesser player who believes he is better than he is and thus also believes he is as good as you—you who naturally believe you are better than you are. The danger of accepting the challenge of this lesser player lies not only in the damage it will do to your social standing to be seen playing with him, but in the threat that he may defeat you if you are off your game. And, as you are always off your game, this is a distinct possibility.

"On the surface, the solution to avoiding a game would appear simple. You merely offer some polite excuse such as, 'Thank you, I'd love to play if I hadn't just broken my left leg in three places above the knee.' This would indicate you didn't wish to play. But you do wish to play. You wish to play with someone else. And should you subsequently inveigle a superior player into a match, the inferior player you avoided would be fully justified in shouting from the sidelines as you reach up to smash away an easy lob, 'Leg feeling better?' This may cause you to miss the shot and put you further off yo ur game, which you are already off.

"Therefore, it is best to hedge. An excellent place to practice hedging is the club lounge on Saturday and Sunday mornings. You will discover that it is always crowded with members eyeing each other uneasily, whispering in corners, or, if they are the passive type, staring stoically out the window, hoping against hope that three better players will need a fourth, desperately. Every invitation is, of course, a gamble. Should you invite this slightly inferior player to make a fourth? Or should you delay in hopes a slightly superior player may wander in? But if one doesn't, you may meanwhile lose the slightly inferior player and be forced to settle for a decidedly inferior player, much to everyone's disgrace. Conversely, should you accept an invitation from a slightly inferior player or delay in hopes a slightly superior player will wander in and...But you can readily see the exciting challenges the art of avoiding a game offers.

"Let us turn to the techniques. How do you avoid an invitation from an inferior player? This depends solely on how inferior he is. If he is only slightly inferior and you may wish to play with him if no one better wanders in, the proper response is: 'Thank you, I'd love to play, but I think I already have a game, I think.' The advantage of hedging is that as the morning wanes and you grow increasingly desperate, you can approach him with the happy news that the game you said you thought you had has failed to materialize, thank God, because you would much rather play with him. No harm done. But if the invitation is extended by a decidedly inferior player, one with whom you would not be caught dead playing either now or in the foreseeable future, you can afford to be—nay, you must be—brutally dishonest. 'Thank you,' you should say coldly, as you sit there in your tennis whites twirling your racket, 'but I'm not playing today.' You should then arrange any game you are able to arrange so that the decidedly inferior player will see that you are too playing today. He will never have the temerity to approach you again. Should you be tempted to be softhearted, remember that you are sternly disciplining him for his own good." Here again, the Professor peels off a card from his seemingly inexhaustible supply: "No tennis player can enjoy the happy camaraderie that tennis offers until he has learned his proper place."

"You have now mastered the two basic principles upon which all tennis matches depend," concludes the Professor, "how to arrange a game and how to avoid a game. All that remains is to learn how best to hit the ball over the net between the white lines. You will find this relatively simple."

"Tennis," the Professor tells his pupil on one of his more interesting advanced lessons, "is a game that traditionally demands the highest level of sportsmanship from all players. Take every advantage of this you can.

"For example, when you walk on the court to warm up, take the side with the sun at your back. After hitting a few, announce that you are ready to play whenever your opponent is. He won't be any more ready than you are. Generally, he will ask you to hit a few more. Glance at your watch and tell him there certainly is no hurry. And always remember the cardinal rule of rallying: never return a ball that you have to move more than one foot to reach. Merely let it go past and shake your head, thus impressing on your opponent the fact that he can't hit the ball where he wants to. Finally, he will announce he is ready. Never suggest spinning the racket to determine who will serve first. Instead, toss him the balls and say, 'Why don't you serve first? It doesn't really matter.' As you have had the foresight to place the sun at your back, he has the sun in his eyes. Traditionally, in non-tournament matches, the player with the sun at his back serves first. Thus, if he has an ounce of sportsmanship in his bones, he will toss back the balls and not only will you have the advantage of serving first, but you will have established your reputation for fair play by having offered him that opportunity.

"Now then, let us turn our attention to the critical problem of calling your opponent's shots in or out. The initial imperative is to make an outrageous call in your opponent's favor during, if possible, the first game. Try to pick a shot to call good that is at least four inches out. If he is such a good sport that he disputes your call, you know you have him. Simply say you clearly saw it good and there's no room for argument. This not only enhances your aura of good sportsmanship, but raises questions about your eyesight which you can turn to your advantage in the later, crucial stages of the match. But what about the intermediate stages? Whenever possible, attempt to get your opponent to call his own shots. For example, you are running for a ball that lands precisely on the line you and miss it. 'Sorry,' you say, 'I couldn't see that at all. Was it in or out?' Your opponent, of course, saw it good, which it was. But should he say, 'It was good,' he is in the position of calling shots in his favor on your side of the net—a major violation of tennis ethics. As you have already established your good sportsmanship, he will be most reluctant to be outdone in such deportment. Therefore, the most he will generally say is, 'Well, I thought it was good, but let's play the point over.' The first time you have him in this position, you should reply, 'Oh, no, if you thought it was good, play it good,' and proceed quickly to the next point. He will now feel guilty and will henceforth hesitate to call his good shots good, insisting the point be replayed. The second, third, and fourth times this occurs, agree after considerable protest to replay the point. Following the fourth time the ball lands on or near the line, having firmly established your reputation for good sportsmanship and bad eyesight, simply call it out.

"In doubles, calling is far more complex. The best doubles teams employ the good-guy-bad-guy technique which police officers have found so valuable in interrogating suspects. In the early stages of the match, the good-guy member gives the outrageously good calls. It is the duty of his bad-guy partner to frown, shake his head, and say, 'Sorry, I thought it was out.' The good guy then responds, 'No, no, I was right on top of it and it caught the back of the line.' He then turns to the opponents and says, 'Your point, fellows.' Immediately, they look upon him as their friend in court, their knight in shining armor, defending them from the villainous perfidies of the bad guy. Later, when a ball lands on the line, the good guy should ask the bad guy, 'How did you see that, partner?' The bad guy's reply is, of course, 'Way out!' The good guy stares thoughtfully at a spot on the court for a moment before suggesting to his opponents, 'Why don't we play two?' By now the victims so loathe the bad guy and feel such warm kinship with the good guy that the good guy may take over the entire calling functions of his team, for no matter how outrageously he exploits his opponents' trust, the worst emotion he will arouse in their breasts is sympathy for his myopic vision.

"So much for calling. Now, the other occasion on which points are replayed is when a player, in the act of making a shot, is distracted by some happening not under control. A clear-cut case would be that of a player attacked by a large, wild animal while attempting to execute a topspin backhand. He would be entitled and should be granted the right to play a let. More common, perhaps, is a ball that rolls or bounces from another court onto yours during a point in progress. Technically, you are required to stop play if you wish later to claim a let, but tennis etiquette, if you play your cards right, will supersede mere technicalities. Thus, whenever you miss a shot, the very first thing you must do before throwing your racket is to look about for a ball from another court. Should you spy one, eye it balefully and shake your head. Your opponent, if you have him properly competing with you for the good sportsmanship award, will inquire if the ball bothered you. Again, early in the match, you should reply, 'Absolutely not.' The second or third time, your response is, 'Well, I probably would have missed that shot anyway.' After that, of course, agree to replay the point even though the only stray ball you can find is up against the fence behind you.

"In doubles, your task is made easier by close teamwork. When your partner misses a shot and there is an extra ball lying around, inquire as loudly as possible, 'Did that ball bother you?' At the same time, be sure to point at the offending ball in the likely event it escaped your partner's notice. For if he replies, 'What ball?' the odds of your opponents granting you a let are infinitesimal.

"Good sportsmanship also requires that you compliment your fellow players whenever possible. For example, you should cry out, 'Great shot!' to your partner just as your opponent is attempting to return a deep lob. But one should compliment one's opponents as well. The compliment is invariably 'Great get!' This best said when your opponent has scrambled desperately across the court at the risk of a coronary occlusion to reach a superb shot of yours which he manages to return feebly to you for an easy put-away. By crying 'Great get!' with all the admiration you can muster, you imply that it took a superhuman effort for a man in his condition even to get a racket on your superb shot and yet, despite his superhuman effort, he lost the point to you. This should instill in him a certain sense of futility. If he makes a superhuman effort and fails to reach the ball at all, the suitable compliment is a commiserating, 'Nice try, old man.' If you are sure he is not going to reach the ball, turn away from the net and call out, 'Nice try, old man' over your shoulder before he has completed his superhuman effort. This should take the starch out of him. We see, then, that 'Nice try' is the most effective of all compliments. A word of caution, however. One should not employ it when an opponent double faults for the fourth time in a row—not unless you are considerably bigger than he.

"The principle of precise timing holds true as well when your opponent is serving. Should his first serve be three feet out, you should shout, 'Fault.' But beware of reacting too soon. You should delay your shout until he is tossing up the ball for his second service in order to put him in the proper frame of mind. A word here about returning first services that are out. Should your opponent do this to you, you should make every effort to chase down his return and hit it back as though you thought your first serve was good. This demonstrates that he has thoroughly destroyed your rhythm and concentration by impolitely returning your out serve and thus is required, under the rules of good sportsmanship, to say, 'Sorry, please take two.' If the circumstances are reversed, you must also say, 'Please take two.' But always add,'...if you'd like.' This encourages him to reject your offer or, if he accepts it, to feel guilty.

"Lastly, let us discuss the serve itself. The critical aspect of the serve in tennis is the position of the left foot. The rules of tennis require that both feet must remain behind the service line as you toss up the ball. Otherwise, you have committed a foot fault. Foot faults are only called, however, in major tournaments when there is an umpire present in his chair. Thus the responsibility to avoid committing a foot fault rests solely on the server's spirit of good sportsmanship. I will merely note here that nine out of ten players foot fault.

"Thank you. This ends our lesson in sportsmanship."

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