Self-Analysis

SOMEWHERE, either in conversation with a loose-tongued friend or from my wide and carelessly indiscriminate reading, I picked up the idea that it might be a good thing for my tennis game if I should have some moving pictures taken of myself in action on the courts. The theory, which appealed to me strongly, — as so many theories do, — was that, by seeing myself as others saw me, I should be able to discern my faults, thus laying the essential groundwork for their complete correction. The idea came to me at a singularly propitious time, too, for I had just suffered disastrous defeat in straight sets at the hands of a doddering old relic who could do nothing but dump the ball back over the net, but who did that sufficiently well to permit me to defeat myself by my own errors. Naturally, my faults were pretty definitely on my mind, and I was ripe to try anything which might help to correct them.

That is how it came about that, a few days later, I appeared on the courts completely equipped with camera and camerawoman (my wife), in addition to the customary implements of the game. After the anticipated humorous remarks from the other players had died down — though they never really did that; I just got used to them — we undertook the business at hand in forthright fashion. My serve had been erratic, so we used up a good deal of film footage on that. With the cooperation of a friend, we also got some extended views of the other departments of my game which needed improvement — my drive, my chop, my backhand, my lob, my high and low volleys, and so on. Shots were taken from various angles, though not without demur from my wife, who seemed to tire quickly. Finally, we made a permanent record of the greater part of a brisk set, for a side bet sufficiently large to make me bestir myself. Then we called it a day, after devoting a few moments to answering — with interest, where possible — the wise-cracks which had been directed at me by my fellow players during the photographic proceedings. I had ignored them previously — or tried to.

We — or at least I — felt, though, that the time had been well spent, and I looked forward with no small eagerness to the day when we should have the film ready for projection. Possibly I cherished a secret notion that the pictures would reveal me as a rather dashing figure on the courts. Certainly I was open in my eagerness to see my game from the vantage point of a spectator and to learn wherein it might be improved, and how. Not ‘And How!’ — that came later.

In any event, I was all atwitter the day the finished reels were delivered and could scarcely wait to get them into the projection machine. It was to be a private showing, that first one — a bit of foresight of which I am still proud. The screen in place, the lights extinguished, my wife and I alone, the picture which was to do so much to improve my tennis game began.

It was the most unnerving, the most disheartening experience I have ever suffered. I watched myself, appalled. It was n’t a question of picking out the things that I did wrong; the difficulty lay in finding anything that I did right.

‘Am I really that bad? Is that the way I look?’ I demanded of my wife, hoarsely, with sinking heart.

‘The camera does n’t lie,’ she replied, with what might have been an attempt to break the news gently but was n’t.

My service, of which I had been not too secretly proud! I had thought its great speed was what made it occasionally effective. The camera showed that I had been wrong. There was no speed in that lazy lob on which I nearly broke my back. If it confounded my opponents, it did so only because they could not keep their minds on the game while watching, fascinated, the contortions through which I went in the process of making the stroke. I have never seen a clumsier-looking effort than my own in serving.

The awkwardness of my service was revealed to be no greater, though, than that with which I executed my other strokes. Instead of making my forehand drive from a position of firm balance on both feet, I found that I habitually swung my racket while teetering on my left foot alone, with my right foot extended to keep me from falling over on my left ear. In chopping, I found that I always assumed a halfsquatting position, which was at once ludicrous and insecure. I learned that my backhand shots were made with all the wild lunging of an elephant engaged in the brisker movements of the Charleston, and with about as much sense of stability and timing. My volleys were shown to be notable only for the fact that, in volleying, I habitually close my eyes. My lobs — but no. Let the way my lobs looked be my own shameful secret.

When the last horrible foot of reel had unwound, I sat back in stricken silence. There was plenty of noise in the room, however. It was my wife laughing. She assured me that I was much funnier in the picture than she had even expected from watching me in person on the courts. She went so far as to say that it was the funniest picture she had seen since the ‘Three Little Pigs’ classic of Walt Disney. Of course, that was merely the woman’s point of view, but candor compelled me to confess to myself that she was probably more accurate than inaccurate.

Under the circumstances, I cannot see my way clear to endorse the idea of selfanalysis by the motion-picture process. My own experience may well mean my final retirement from the game. I love tennis, but how can I ever bring myself to go through again, in public, the antics of which, as the camera proved, my tennis game consists? Whenever I tried a stroke, I should think of that picture and bow my head in mortification. And that is not the way to win at tennis.

For the moment, I am saved from the prying curiosity of my friends — who would want to know why I quit tennis — by the timely end of the season. Whether I shall feel better next spring — they say that time heals all wounds — and shall be able to take my racket in my hand without blushing remains to be seen. But at least I have a new purpose in life to take the place of the old. I shall not rest until I get some pictures at the courts of the fellows I can beat. Think how funny they will look!