Playing a Deaf Opponent

What role does hearing play in a tennis match?  It can have an impact on you as a player if you can’t hear; but also if your opponent can’t hear.

“What’s happening?”

When I was back in Connecticut, the indoor club I played at opened two outdoor HarTru courts for use in warmer weather.  Problem was, the facility was right next to Interstate 84 and had constant, heavy truck traffic.

Players could not hear the sound of the ball coming off their opponent’s racquet and could hardly hear the score being announced.  After just one season, the club closed the outdoor courts.

For me, when there are leaf blowers and heavy lawn equipment operating right next to the court I am playing on, I find myself at a big disadvantage.  You don’t realize how much you rely on the sound of the ball coming off your opponent’s racquet to know what to expect from that shot.

From the Other Side

Blog reader Adam Pollock had an interesting experience playing a USTA tournament in Boca Raton, Florida.  He writes …

“It was the first round of the 60’s and I was paired against an unseeded player from Massachusetts. When we met at the directors table I could see immediately he was a gentleman.  Before the match, he told me that he was hard of hearing.  He said he would not be able to hear my calls, and would I please use hand signals and speak to enable his lip reading. The hearing aid in his ear was mainly for music he told me.

“The reason I am writing to you is because I found the experience of playing with somebody who, for all intents and purposes is deaf, is a unique and wonderful opportunity to relate to your opponent.

“Think about it.  He relies upon your hand signals for everything on your side — for example to determine whether the serve and other shots are in or out, whether there is a service let, and to confirm what the score is.

“In addition to dealing with nerves, a game plan, and proper execution, remembering to use hand signals and to articulate in a way that he can read your lips is an added responsibility to take on- one that changes the dynamic of the competition.

“Taking on the role of communicator in this way requires that you think about the other player’s needs on every shot so that he can access instantaneous information.  It places a small burden on you to work for your opponent to make sure that he is not disadvantaged.  In a small way, you become a part of his team.  This responsibility connects you in a way that two adversaries would not ordinarily be.  It changes the game from win-lose to win-win, the latter occurring when both players have left the court feeling a fair and honorable competition has taken place.  Like all aspects of the game we love, it’s a metaphor for life.”

Great story Adam.  Thanks for sharing.

Other comments on playing with or without hearing, or a hard of hearing partner?

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8 thoughts on “Playing a Deaf Opponent

  1. Great story and true. One of our best Senior Players, Will Rodgers, has some hearing difficulty, and “plays” on with great success for him and his partners.

  2. Not quite the same thing, but I was playing an indoor tourney during a thunderous rainstorm in Kansas City. The rain and at times hail on the metal roof made it absolutely impossible to hear anything. We used hand signals for everything and it worked OK, but what I remember most is how “freeing” it was to play in those conditions. We could yell, curse, grunt, groan, whatever without worrying about causing a distraction for anyone else. It was a nice break from the polite “country club” tennis that we’re supposed to play.

    Terry, that is exactly what the young pros do while the crowd is cheering! thanks, george

  3. I am not deaf but I am hearing impaired and I really appreciate it when my opponent announces the score clearly and LOUDLY before his serve. Many of my opponents don’t call out the score or if they do it is not clear enough for me to hear it. This, I believe, not only helps me, but also my opponent because announcing the score loudly helps both of us remember what the score actually is. Also using hand signals with calls is appreciated because many times my opponent is not facing me when the call is made and I am not sure if he said “good” or “out” or some other word.

    Dave, i am a proponent of announcing the score clearly regardless of hearing ability for just the reason you cite. thanks, george

  4. I do super enjoy your endless variety of facets to the game of tennis. Keep em coming. Dick

    Dick, thanks. see you at Newk’s, george

  5. I love this story. It shows what true tennis etiquette and sportsmanship are all about.
    Thanks for sharing.

    And on a more “serious” note (all right, I admit I am being mischievous), the best thing about playing a deaf person is they cannot try to invoke the utterly stupid, poorly drafted, constantly misunderstood, and frequently misapplied “hindrance” rule and claim that they win the point when you accidentally make a noise in the middle of a point.

    Marty, you sound like the New Orleans Saints still complaining about that bad interference call! 🙂 george

  6. In a singles tournament many years ago in Brattleboro, Vermont I played Jena Marcovicci who had taken a vow of silence for a year (or at least six months). He carried a small blackboard and chalk with him onto the court and it was basically the only way he would communicate. (He probably would nod or shake his head but I don’t remember hand signals.) That presented challenges of its own.

    Dag, i too played vs that strange character. When i get time, will write a piece about him. thanks, george

  7. No question about it! Being able to hear the sound of the ball in the sweet spot is sweet!

  8. Speaking of special situations, I have to share a situation that happened in a tournament in Ashville a few years back. On the court next to me came a player that had an oxygen tank with him. After each long point, he went to the tank to get a swig of oxygen. The other player had to wait patiently for the next point to begin. I could see that the opponent conceded that it was right to let him do this, especially as the player seemed to be almost ready to collapse after the point. The ending of the match: oxygenated player won, grabbed his tank and trotted off the court. The defeated player just sat there and couldn’t believe his eyes.

    Jim, I have a tournament playing friend who needed oxygen on the court and the USTA ruled he could NOT have it because it gave him an unfair advantage! Thanks. George

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