by Ed Collins
Tennis is fun. Hitting a winning shot after surviving a suspenseful rally is exhilarating. Experienced players make it look so easy that the beginner gets bewildered when he can't do the same. Soon he learns that tennis challenges every facet of his physical being, plus it tests his patience, his emotional stability and, even his integrity when he makes a call on a shot that landed on the outer half of the line.
The newcomer discovers that tennis has the speed and power of baseball, the precision and nerves of golf, and the athleticism of basketball. It's both slow and fast, constraining yet creative. Tennis is unique in that it is interactive: players hit the same ball back and forth, rely on each other to make calls, keep score and retrieve balls. It's both cooperative and competitive.
Anyone can learn to play. The skills are well within the grasp of even the most doubtful, uncoordinated person.
The remarkable thing about tennis is that it is one of life's finest teachers. Besides acquiring a lifetime source of social and competitive fun, one gains greater insight into oneself.
Tennis teaches one to finish what he starts. Within the point, a well-placed shot can be nullified by a determined opponent; within a game, a 40-love lead can dissipate with the loss of two points (and momentum); and a three-set match can feel like a marathon of wrong turns and dead-end streets. Tennis' scoring system bewilders the beginner when he discovers that the points are not weighted the same--that one can win more yet still lose. The point that decides the game can be elusive, and achieving it can feel like a monumental task.
In no other sport is the fickleness of one's mind more apparent. The opponent is clearly on the other side of the net, but grappling with him is possible only after solving one's own internal problems.
"From the grips, to the strokes, to the patience needed to win points, correct tennis feels wrong."
The honor-code system of officiating in tennis is unique--in no other sport is one called on to rule against oneself as often as in tennis. The unwritten rule of line-calling is to give the benefit of doubt to the opponent. Besides earning respect, the sportsman gives himself a guilt-free conscience that serves to release tension.
Tennis rewards modestly talented players who try hard. The tenacious person always ends up with something--if not better technique, then a belief that he deserves to win. Frequently the winner isn't the player with pretty strokes, but the one who possesses the better work ethic--he knows exactly where he is and what it took to get there. While he may believe that his opponent is more talented, he also knows that skill alone will not keep the best of players from double-faulting at the worst of times.
Tennis rewards modestly talented players who try hard.
Tennis teaches a person to be self-reliant, resourceful and accountable for his performance. It encourages him to be fit and health conscious. Tennis teaches the player to pause, think and formulate a plan before taking action. It teaches him to deal with imperfection. Tennis teaches him that what happens is not always fair, but over a period of time, the breaks have a way of balancing out. Tennis teaches one how to win and how to lose. Tennis etiquette frowns on temperamental displays and it encourages a gracious acceptance of defeat. Tennis has a way of either publicly magnifying one's hang-ups or remedying them.
IT'S A TECHNICAL GAME
The obstacle for many would-be champions is that at first everything about tennis is unnatural; from the grips to the strokes, to the patience needed to win points, correct tennis feels wrong. Technical lessons establish a broad foundation from which the student later learns advanced skills.
Pace is the great equalizer in tennis; when the ball comes slowly, technique hardly matters, but when it comes with pace, solid fundamentals are the only defense. When a player applies the technique perfectly, the ball leaves with greater force than it came. A consolation in losing is to make a few perfectly-struck, perfectly-placed shots.
The initial lessons concern grips and grip-changing. Similar to golf, where the angle of the club face determines the flight of the ball, in tennis the grip has much influence over the position of the racquet head. The idea is to produce shots that are difficult to return, and spin--topspin for high bounces and underspin for low bounces--makes that possible.
Successful tennis is based on rhythm. The strokes are incidental to the basics of posture, breathing, relaxation, movement and timing. Like a boxer, the tennis player plies his craft on the balls of his feet, in perpetual motion--in search for the optimal spot to make contact, where the ball can be hit forcefully or softly, crosscourt or down-the-line, high or low.
IT'S A GAME OF STYLE
Everyone who sticks with the game ends up with a unique style of play. From the counter-punching lobber, to the drop-shot and soft-angle touch artist, to the straightforward power baseliner, to the serve-and-volley/chip-and-charger--a person's game eventually takes on the personality of its owner. The teacher encourages all players, knowing full well there is no correct way to play the game.
IT'S A GAME OF
EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL
A two-set match may take a couple of hours, and much of what happens during that time has bearing on the outcome. Decisions about shot selection, strategy and anticipation are virtually nonstop. And the ball has a different look every time it crosses the net. Relatively few points are determined by unreturnable shots; most are decided by lapses in concentration. And unforced errors result in more than the loss of one point--they give the opponent hope.
Based only on a player's strokes, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to predict a match winner. It becomes easier when seeing how one deals with simple mistakes, and easier still when noting who scrambles back for a well-placed lob, and who concedes it.
A singles match is as much a test of one's stamina as coordination. Running, changing direction, starting and stopping are made more exhausting because nervous strain taxes the system. Chasing down balls wins as many points as placements.
IT'S ABOUT COMPETING
There's nothing like a set of tennis to engage the body and mind. Competition generates moments of high drama, maddening blunders, near-spectacular shotmaking, sweat and strain--providing the test of a player's true knowledge. It is really a mini-series about life in general.
A tournament player knows what it feels like to be totally self-reliant. By himself, he must make never-ending decisions about how to apply his skills, where to hit the ball, when to approach the net and how to counter his opponent's style of play. All this while keeping score and calling lines.
What makes tennis fun is many things, but none is more important than the learning of it.
IT'S ABOUT HAVING FUN
Tennis is certainly more enjoyable as you improve. What makes tennis fun is many things, but none is more important that the learning of it. To do what you couldn't do before gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Winning and losing may seem the primary reason to play, but improvement is of much greater consequence.
Another reason to play is for your health. Chasing and hitting a ball is childlike behavior that may be what's needed to keep you thinking and feeling young. Exercise is the solution to physical (and mental) problems, and tennis is a great source of it.
Tennis is so complex that even if you start winning tournaments your feeling of mastery will only be temporary. And what a wonderful thing that is--to pursue a hobby that never can be mastered. Imagine: You'll never get bored!
With measures of persistence, practice and
over time we develop a style we call our own. Now is when we begin to
some real fun with tennis--when we can play the game with feeling, when
we can improvise, actually think when competing, applying our skills in
a personal way.
|What Tennis Is!
And What It Takes To Become a Player
"In well-written, insightful essays, Collins
facets of the sport, discussing the game as a teacher of life skills,
technicalities, its styles,
--Inside Tennis Magagazine
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