Why We Play Tennis

argueThanks to Bill Plummer for a reminder of some of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” patterns of behavior on the tennis court. Here are just SOME of the Does and Don’ts…

We do NOT play to…

• Have our opponents disappear or be constantly late for the start of a match,
• Receive questionable line calls (from people with such reputations),
• Listen to loud post mortems after points,
• Or “how they beat you” after the match,
• Hear complaints about lobs or drop shots,
• Embarrass a weak opponent by being condescending,
• Watch your opponent lose their temper, curse, throw their racquet

But we DO play to…

• Enjoy the good shots you hit and,
• Praise the good ones your opponent hits,
• Treat every opponent with respect,
• Receive helpful tips from superior players,
• And give out the same with permission.

How about you… what is on YOUR do’s and don’ts list?

If you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at George@seniortennisandfitness.com

11 thoughts on “Why We Play Tennis

  1. The absolute worst example of bad tennis behavior that I ever saw happened years ago, when the USTA leagues were in their infancy. They were then called the Volvo league and I was a co-captain of a team. On this one occasion I was watching a very tight match between our second singles player and an opposing player when both players were questioning a lot of line calls. From my perspective, it did seem that the opposing player either had bad eyesight or was outright hooking our player. However, I cannot say that our player wasn’t calling the lines pretty tight himself, because he was. Anyway, as the match progressed, our player get louder and angrier with each questionable line call from the opposing guy. Still, the opposing player was not backing down. If anything, the more our player questioned his calls, the more “creative” he was getting in making bad calls. The problem was that our player was kind of a short, mouthy guy, and he didn’t have a lot of physical mass to back up his words, but he didn’t know how to just shut up, stop complaining and play tennis. On the other hand, the opposing player was a big bruiser of a guy who looked like a bouncer, and he had one of those short fuse tempers where you just know you don’t want to get him too mad because once it blows anything can happen. In addition, the opposing player, who also kind of looked and talked like Tony Soprano before there even was such a character, happened to be a detective in a nearby police department. In short, he was a very tough, take no crap kind of character. After about a set and a half of the two of them arguing over line calls, with our player getting more and more accusatory and the opposing player getting more and more belligerent in response, things reached the breaking point. On a changeover, the opposing player reached into his tennis bag and pulled out his service revolver which was in its holster. He then very conspicuously removed it from the holster, taking care not to point it at our guy (lest he be accused of outright assault I think) and laid it down on the ground right next to his tennis bag. Our guy asked him what he was doing. The big cop responded with something cryptic like, “None of your business. I just need something to motivate me to keep putting up with your crap.” With that, our player threw his racquet in his bag, collected his things and announced, “I quit. I am not going to play against a cheater who is now threatening to shoot me.” And he left the match. The opposing team argued they were entitled to a default, but we argued that it should be their player who got defaulted because pulling out a gun – no matter what was said to accompany it – does amount to a threat. The dispute could not be resolved between the teams, because needless to say neither team could find any precedent to point to in the tennis rules, but it turned out that both teams needed this one match to score a win because we were otherwise tied 2-2. Eventually, the whole thing got appealed up through the district to the USTA section, which ultimately ruled it was a “he said” situation since there had been no actual threat and the match should therefore be replayed from scratch on neutral territory, with USTA officials attending to keep things under control. But by then our guy refused to play, as he took the position that he never wanted to see the opposing player again. And so our team eventually had to default the match. I still cannot believe the whole thing happened, but I saw it with my own eyes and it did.

    Marty – sure, Rule 16, paragraph 4: Players shall not bring firearms onto the court and threaten to settle disputes through the use of force. (only kidding). tks, george

  2. I would add this, George (there’s no way to top Marty’s story, btw except for an actual shooting I suppose).

    Sure, we do play, in part, to “receive helpful tips from superior players”. But as with all advice, maybe it ought to be requested? Among other difficulties, it’s not always so clear who’s the better player, although we know who won. I will confess that from time to time, I’m not much in the mood to listen to someone’s suggestions about my game. If I ask, that’s great. So I propose modifying your point to SEEK OUT helpful tips? How about the rest of you out there?

    Marc, I agree. Otherwise, it would be “here’s how I beat you.” The “loser” has to want to hear suggestions. I for one, always want to learn from a loss. Fred Drilling, joe Bachmann, and Hank Irvine have always been very helpful to me. Thanks, george

  3. And as you know, George, your Texas buddies will be all too happy to tell you in great detail and with enthusiasm why you lost!

    Marc – again, and again, and again! george

  4. Hey Marty, I think that just might be an urban legend, since that exact story made the rounds here in California.

  5. Bob, maybe it happened a second time in California, I don’t know. But I was there when it happened in New Jersey. The incident took place at the Kuser Tennis Courts in Hamilton, NJ in or around 1987-1990. (I cannot recall the exact year). I could also give the names of the players involved, but I think I should keep that private so as not to embarrass anybody. Anyway, I saw the whole thing happen since I was standing next to the court for most of the match in my capacity as the team’s co-captain. Also, as an attorney, I was personally involved in the appeal process that our team took within the USTA from the other team’s claim that our player’s walking off the court was a default. I should also mention that I have told this story at least a dozen times over the years at Tennis Fantasies camp, a number of times to guys who are from California. So, I am wondering if it is being repeated in California because some of those guys are retelling the story as if it happened there. But I can assure you it really did happen and it occurred in NJ. It is not an urban legend.

  6. I’ve lived and played tennis all my life in California. Cheating is way worse on cement. AND lots of times by great players. Houseman has always been the worst. What I alway say is , ” Get a Referee . ” ( With him, 5 times. ) Can you imagine ? True story. I would always hear young guys, Mostly Losers, after a match, say , ” That guy really cheated. ” How we really hate to hear that . I clearly remember one time this guy hooked me 3 times in the 3rd, & won. It was Maybe 1985. I swore to always get a referee , after that episode. I used to tell an opponent before a match, & still do , but way less often, ” My name’s Bob. I’m trying to be as fair as I can. I play everything I can. Only when I’m sure it’s out, I’ll holler. ” & ” But if I make a mistake, please tell me, Ok ? ” They say , ” Yes ” . So then I say, ” I’ll do the same. ” ( Question your call ) Guys go to crazy extremes when Both guys insist they can finish ( & win ? ) the match with cheating going on. For years I thought People hated me more if I got a referee. But not the case. One guy still beat me, even though I got a referee. He actually became more of a friend than we would have been, after that match. I tell everybody that Florida is Great, for many reasons, at least 20 , one of which is , the ball leaves a mark. Way fewer bad calls. Larry Turville had a great idea to not sweep the side lines. Works really great. But too impractical trying to teach every line sweeper how to sweep. I’ll try to keep the marks erased , but there’s Nothing like sweeping the court for the third. What our group of seniors finally learn, is that shots on the baseline & service line often come come off the court Out. But hard hit balls leave a mark say 6 inches long. So if you see it 5 or even 6 inches out, You’ve made a bad ” Out ” call. Right ? This is what happens on the cement all day long. You really need a linesman, in those cases. On clay, you just cherck the mark. Thanks.

  7. At our age, playing tennis is something that we should finally get right. By this I mean we should be able to compete in this sport at the highest level. By the “highest level” I mean competing with style, grace and respect for your opponent, always trying to be fair and honorable.
    As a player, the most important thing that you have is not your skill or your ranking, but rather your reputation. What good is it to win on a constant basis, but people call you a cheater. Your reputation is something to value above all.
    Now the caveat to all of this is we are human. Our egos sometimes get in the way of this idealized view of how we should compete. When we get into a highly competitive match and we feel our opponent is cheating, it’s not easy to respond with the poise and grace we would like. Im sure all of us remember a time when we had a “crash and burn’. But the more you compete (and the older you get), we ought to improve on our “skills”.

    Joe – my feelings exactly! tks, george

  8. I play in a men’s singles league on Sundays. It is an indoor league populated by about 19-20 old guys, generally ranging from 50 to 65 in age, and with only three or four exceptions pretty much everybody is a 4.0 + to a solid 4.5 in ability. It is highly competitive and many, many times matches go three sets. For that reason, the league reserves a full 2 hours to play, instead of the “standard” 1 1/2 hours for most indoor time. For the most part, everybody gives good line calls, but a few guys are kind of notorious for calling it “tight” in close matches.

    My opponent last Sunday was one of those guys. Normally, he is one of those guys that it will take three sets to finish a match against. He and I are pretty much dead even in terms of the number of matches each of us has won against the other over the years. We have been in the league together for over 20 years, so we know each other very well. Except for his occasional lapse of bad behavior on the tennis court, which I will describe below, he is generally a pretty nice and friendly guy. So, I hold him no ill will and I actually enjoy playing with him — for the most part.

    Anyway, the prior time that I had played my opponent this past Sunday, everything in my game was clicking. It was one of those rare occasions that I was in the zone for the entire match. I could literally do not wrong. My first serve percentage was easily 80%, I had very few unforced errors, my feet were actually moving where I wanted them to go instead of being glued to the court, and I was seeing the ball as well as I have ever seen it. My forehand — which those who know me is usually much less reliable than my backhand — was especially strong that day. Even more impressive for me, I was hitting the forehand with a lot of topspin — rare for me — and a lot of pace. I think I must have won 75% of the points that were either winners for me or forced errors for my opponent with my forehand. I won that match pretty easily, 6-2, 6-1, and it wasn’t even that close.

    Based on my knowing my opponent so well, I pretty much expected that he would come loaded for bear this past Sunday. That is his personality. If you beat him the prior time, especially if it is a trouncing like I gave him the last time, he definitely elevates his game the next time out and you can expect a much closer match. However, unfortunately, that sometimes means that his line calls get “creative.”

    This past Sunday, I started out breaking his serve in the first game. In the second game, I rather easily got to 40-0 on my serve. Then the line calls started to get a little funky. For three straight points, deep approaches/ volleys that I could have sworn were all either right on the baseline or a few inches in were called out. Suddenly, my big lead had dwindled to deuce. In a marathon next point, I ran my butt off for every shot and managed to pass him with a running crosscourt forehand that he could not reach when he approached the net. There was no disputing where the shot landed because it landed a foot and a half inside the sideline, with topspin. Back to my ad. But on the next point, after he took the momentum with a well placed service return, he again pulled me wide on a deep approach to my forehand and this time I hit what I am 100% sure was a clean winner up the line to his backhand. It should have been my game, up 2-0 in the set. From my vantage point, looking straight up the line to where my ball landed, it was inside the sideline by an inch or two. However, my opponent walked back to where the ball had landed, waited a pregnant 3 or 4 seconds while he purported to check for a mark, and then called the ball wide. Back to deuce.

    I gave it the obligatory “Are you sure about that?” question, because I was absolutely certain that he had hooked me, but what I wasn’t sure about was whether it was a devious, intentional hook, or just a “wishful thinking” hook. Not that it matters all that much, but I felt that the level of my protest should equate to the level of his mens rea in calling the ball out. Ultimately, something about his “Yes, I am sure” response made me decide not to fight the issue further and I let it go, even though I was 99.99% sure he was wrong. But all of my mojo and good tennis karma left me with that one bad call, and I wound up losing my serve to go back to 1-1. Eventually, after a series of more bad line calls from my opponent throughout the rest of the set, I lost all enthusiasm for the match and wound up losing the set 6-4. However, even though I had several chances to do so, I refused to give him any bad line calls back.

    The second set was kind of more of the same. We each held serve to 4-4, and I was convinced that I had gotten robbed on a number of critical points with more bad line calls to get to that point, but I guess I decided that, as it was supposed to be a “friendly” match, it was not worth wasting a lot of time and effort arguing over his calls so I didn’t. I also continued to give him honest calls myself. However, on one point in either the sixth or seventh game, I hit a drop shot that barely cleared the net and touched the sideline no more than 4 feet away from me, as I hit it when I was standing close to the net. When my partner called THAT ball out again, I just looked at him, gave him a much sterner, “Now come on!!!” and he promptly reversed his call and said that he was not sure about the call and so the ball must have been in. Too little too late.

    On match point against me, at 4-5 in the second set, I had pretty much given up on the match and was thinking only about going home. I was by then craving only a cold beer. So, I hit one of those “I don’t give a damn how stupid this shot is I just want to get this over quickly” short approach shots and I barreled into the net. I had no purpose with the shot, and no game plan for what I was going to do next. It was just one of those “I am going to take a chance” shots that you play when you have basically thrown in the towel.

    My opponent hit a pretty good lob that I could not reach, and as I turned around I clearly saw about two thirds of the ball land past the baseline. But I just as clearly saw about one third of the ball touch the back part of the line. For a second or two, I contemplated the possibility of hooking my opponent right back — after all he had done it to me repeatedly through two sets — but my moral compass would still not allow it. I called the ball good, as it was, and turned around to shake my opponent’s hand (secretly thankful to be going home).

    As we were shaking hands at the net, he thanked me for my honest line calling throughout the match. For a second, I wondered why he had even gone out of his way to say that — it seemed so unnecessary. But then I realized it must have been either confirmation that he was aware his own line calling had not been the equivalent, or he was feeling me out to see what I would say back.

    I thanked him for the compliment, but conspicuously refrained from saying anything reciprocal. It just didn’t seem worth getting into an argument when the match was over and the cold beer still beckoned.

    I can honestly say that, even though I felt I got hooked more than a dozen times throughout the match, I did not give an intentionally bad line call in either set, including on match point. I therefore think the better man DID win the match, although the score may not reflect it.

    I wonder how many players have similar stories to the above. It seems this is par for the course in many matches I have played over the decades. I wish it were otherwise, but I am afraid it is not.

  9. Marty – Not sure if i told you this story… a Jersey friend was playing a tournament vs a South American who hooked him twice in the first game. My friend then hooked him back three times in the next game on balls that were clearly in. In his broken English, the irate South American came to the net and complained, “What is this?! I cheat you only twice in the first game and you cheat me THREE times?!”

  10. George, I LOVE that story. The South American didn’t happen to have a first name beginning with C and he was from Brazil by any chance? If so, I think I know who it was.

    Marty, nope, not a C. george.

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