Mr. Big Mouth

big mouthYou rarely see him on the tournament circuit, but he is plentiful on the tennis courts… the guy who says stuff that is “just an innocent question” or “just teasing and fooling around.” He is the guy who INTENTIONALLY says something to get inside your head during a tennis match.

The Big Game

It happened to me just the other day during a “fun” doubles match with a good friend (who shall remain nameless). We had split the first two sets and talked about how much more anyone wanted to play; and agreed to start a full set and see how it went.

My team was leading 3-2 and my friend said, “If we break you here, let’s then play a tie breaker.” I don’t think he was doing anything here except just saying he had had enough tennis; but the gamesmanship came later after we held serve and then broke his serve.

With us leading 5-2 and serving, I did have enough tennis for the day and asked, “You guys want to stop now?” And my friend, verbally jabbed me saying, “Nooooo, we want to see if you can serve it out!!” (They had broken me at 4-5 to win the second set).

My philosophy is to not let something like that go “unanswered” so I threw it right back at him and said, “I am going to get all my serves in. The question is, can you guys return serve?”

So I got almost all first serves in … and they did not put one return back in play and we took the third set 6-2.

The Stroke Analyst

One time I was playing singles, serving very well, and beating a friend of mine. He “innocently” asked me, “Gee, you are serving especially well today. Are you doing anything differently?” Did he really want to know, or did he want me to start thinking instead of serving naturally?

In the early days of baseball, a sportswriter asked a young Mickey Mantle to analyze his swing because he was batting well over .340. Young Mickey attempted to do that … and immediately went into a multi-game batting slump.

The Tie Breaker

Many years ago, we were playing doubles in a New England tournament vs. two legendary Gamesmanship Gurus (those who played back then will remember their plaid Bermuda shorts, colored socks, and metal suitcase).

When we crossed the net with our team serving at 6-5, they “innocently” asked, “What kind of tie breaker are we playing in this tournament?” I immediately responded, “We are not playing any kind of tie breaker!” (and we held serve to win the set and the match).

The basic caution to all the Mr. Big Mouths out there: “Never write a check with your mouth that your ass can’t cash.”

Have you run into Mr. Big Mouth on the court? What do you do?

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9 thoughts on “Mr. Big Mouth

  1. Big mouth? As in trash talking perhaps?
    I have no idea what you speak of sir 🙂

    Marc – when it comes to playing with you, i would be DISAPPOINTED if your mouth didn’t flop! george

  2. George;
    You’re playing with “friends” and you get upset by those comments? Maybe you are too sensitive? When I play tennis or golf with my good friends I fully expect them to “bust my chops” with various comments during a match, and I do the same. All in good fun. Serious tournaments? Different story. But even there wouldn’t it be better to just let the comment roll off your back and act like you didn’t even hear it rather than respond? Jim (Quechee, VT) Lavoie

    Jim – I basically agree with friends busting chops (as in my exchange with Marc V above); but if there intention is to influence your ability to play well, i would rather not keep it to myself, but to flip the focus back onto the Mr. Mouths. Thanks, george

  3. George, in your Big Game example, I think there might be a bit of the “he who lives in a glass house” issue going on and you are not noticing it. While I am sure this was not your intent (because I know you, and you are not that kind of guy), your comment to your opponents when you were leading 5-2 in the third set “You guys want to stop now?” could have been misinterpreted by your opponents as the start of verbal gamesmanship by you. That is, viewed in a certain way, it sounds like an insult – the implied meaning being, “We all know that my serve is so good you guys don’t have a chance to break it and get back into this set, so I am offering you a chance to save face by everybody quitting before I have to humiliate you.” If your opponents interpreted the comment the way I just described, that would certainly explain the snideness of the response that you received. In these situations, I try to look at things from the other guy’s perspective and I find that, frequently, what the first guy perceives as bad behavior on the tennis court is actually a response by the second guy to what he perceives as bad behavior initiated by the first guy. This happens a lot when questioning line calls becomes a game of tit for tat.

    Marty, ya know, you may be right… i was truly checking to see if they had had enough tennis for the day; but they could have taken it the wrong way. tks, george.

  4. In the early 1970s, at the beginning of the tennis boom, and I was in college. In the summertime, I had a part time job on weekends giving tennis lessons to kids and stringing racquets at a red clay court club near the beach at the Jersey Shore. On Sunday mornings there used to be several groups of older guys (mainly in their 40’s and 50s) who would show up for round robin doubles or singles matches. The same guys tended to play with each other week after week, and they were all friends. However, they used to tease and poke fun at each other relentlessly, and they practiced all sorts of gamesmanship both on and off the court. None of them thought ill of this, and I had the impression that it was just all part of the fun and teasing that they all enjoyed.

    Anyway, there were these two Jewish guys who liked to play singles against each other more than they liked to play doubles or singles with the other guys. In fact, they had a steady match against each other almost every week. One was a local jeweler and the other, who had a second home at the shore, lived in Manhattan and was in the garment industry. These two guys were very close in their tennis ability and they tended to have marathon matches that quite often went three long and grueling sets on the clay. One guy might win one week, only to be beaten by the other guy the next week. All the while they were playing, they would trade insults with each other during the match. They also constantly questioned each other’s line calls. This often consisted of calling each other names in Yiddish, asking the opponent when he was last at the eye doctor as an insulting way of questioning his line calls, and using the word “Oy” a lot. We used to refer to them as the “Odd Couple” because they were kind of like Walter Matthau and Jack Klugman in tennis whites. It was really quite comedic to watch one of their matches, and especially to listen to them.

    This was still the days of mainly wooden racquets and each week both guys would bring a single racquet to the court, each in a racquet press. Then one day, one of the guys, I think it was the garment industry guy, showed up for the first time with two racquets, both in racquet presses. The jeweler asked, “What is this? Do you expect to play with both racquets at once?” The other guy responded, “No, you schmekel. It’s an extra racquet in case I break a string.” And so it went.

    Not to be outdone, the next week the jeweler showed up with, like, three or four different racquets. Two or three of them were still wooden racquets, again in racquet presses, but he brought an additional racquet – a brand new steel T-2000 in a white vinyl head cover with the name Wilson emblazed in red on it. Apparently of the opinion that anything other than a wooden racquet was cheating or was somehow unfair (which a lot of tennis traditionalists still felt in those days), the garment guy said something insulting like, “What is this? We’re here to play tennis, you schmuck. Go take your Samurai sword and be a Ninja warrior somewhere else.” This was followed by even more insults from the jeweler, and it further escalated.

    The following week, the garment guy showed up a little late. However, instead of driving his usual Mercedes to the court, he pulled up to the tennis shack in a very beat up white van with New York license plates. Instead of pulling in frontward, he proceeded to back up the van right next to the gate that entered the tennis courts. Then, he and a young helper got out of the van and opened up the back doors, revealing a long metal garment rack of the type that you commonly used to see being wheeled down the sidewalks or the street in the garment district in New York. Both the garment guy and his helper grabbed the rack and lifted it down to the ground, and then the garment guy wheeled it through the gate and proceeded to head straight toward the court where he usually played his matches with the jeweler. The jeweler was already on the court, practicing his serve alone. As the rack was being wheeled out, everybody in the tennis club was screaming with laughter because it contained probably 30 to 40 different tennis racquets of every conceivable make or composition available at that time, all hanging head up on the garment rack on little metal hooks. Pretty much all I remember hearing the jeweler say was, “Oy.”

    The next week, both guys showed up for their usual match with just a single wooden racquet in a racquet press, and I never saw either of them bring an extra racquet out to the court again. I know some will say I made this up, but I did not. It really happened and it is one of my most cherished tennis memories.

    Marty – Long, but a great story! thanks. george

  5. in all sports there is a fine line between healthy ribbing and joking and crossing the line to ridicule harassment and maliciousness.
    The reason I play on my Tennis and Softball teams and with Friends on the weekend and weeknights is the belly laughing you get from the verbal and non verbal sparing. People should know where the line is and when to stop and get serious. Kevin and Marty ride the fine line perfectly well. The extra ribbing shows they care.
    Off to my first softball tourney of the year where I will have to put on my thick skin suit before I enter the sphere of abuse.
    RAMBO and Powder

    Right on, Rambo. If you are going off to play softball, that proves you are still a young man! Thanks. George

  6. Having been a college basketball player gamemanship in tennis is really nothing. I learned early on not to let anyone put me off my game.The best revenge is kicking their butt.
    There was a couple of 45’s player when we were in our 20’s that could not stand each other and one was the club member and the other was the teaching pro. The member was the better player and they always met in the finals or semis . The pro was notorious for talking during change overs and would comment on how well his opponent was hitting a particular shot and would ask How are you doing that? Of course the poor guy could not hit another one for 20 minutes.
    Well the member would wait for the pro to place his bag and then take the opposite net post refusing to speak the entire match!! We all would show up to see the spectacle it was a HOOT.
    I don’t use any names everyone in Richmond would know who I’m talking about.

    Ron – exactly the situation! tks, george

  7. a few excellent responses here. i think someone might want to
    reexamine his reaction to a “mr big mouth”, during friendly,
    social matches.
    (is this considered trash talking?) ha

    JoMac – i agree… busting someone’s chops during a friendly match is ok; but there is that fine line. george

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