Tennis “Tells”

Poker players watch their opponent’s eyes, hands, and body language in critical situation to spot any “tells” – indications what the player is thinking or doing. The same can be true in tennis.

After playing the consolation finals at University Park, my #1 fan, DeDe said, “Did you notice that before your opponent hit a drop shot, he raised his right leg?” No, I had not.

Several years after retiring from the tour, Andre Agassi disclosed that Boris Becker had a “tell” on his service motion. Andre said Boris stuck out his tongue during his service motion; and he knew which way Boris was going to serve based on which way his tongue was pointing!

Pete Sampras’ early coach, Pete Fischer had him practice tossing the ball in the same spot each time and then yelling which way he should serve the ball. By doing this, he had Pete create a constant ball toss that did NOT give away where he was going to serve.

After losing a tournament match to one of the top players, Hank Irvine counseled me that he could read my backhand down the line vs. cross court, based on how I set up to hit it.

So I worked on having a common motion for both; and then two years later, I lost to another top player, Hugh Thompson, who said, “I really had trouble reading your backhand down the line vs. cross court”!!

For those of you have played against me, what other tennis “tells” have you spotted?

What have you seen in others?

4 thoughts on “Tennis “Tells”

  1. Have not spotted any of your “tells”, but observed some of your “tendencies” which is a different story.

  2. Even though you don’t believe me…. 🙂 (I’ve told you before)
    You have a certain motion gripping your racquet before prepping to serve down the T.

    I agree with Hugh…you’ve eliminated the clear signal directional on your backhand stroke over the years.

    Good post… Marc

    Marc – we can talk more about my ‘tell’ on Saturday. and tks. george

  3. A fatigue tell in a long match can be obvious as well. Try not to show yours and bring out the other players by extending the points if possible.

    A sure tell as to which player won or lost. Just look at how the beer hits the taste buds. The beer tastes better when you win. Oh – but that is a post mordem match tell and won’t do you much good.

    Good luck the rest of the season Goerge.


  4. Great site George, thank you. Can you tell me what you use to determine a particular serve is going to be poached on, and what signals you use to start the poaching motion? Thanks!

    Chuck: What serve? Three are three schools of thought…
    1) To the returner’s weaker side (usually the backhand)
    2) Down the middle; so that you dont give the returner the angle or down the line option
    3) To the returner’s strength, if he always goes cross court with it.

    i tend to #1.. George

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