Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Too Bitchy for a Blog

It takes all kinds in life. Or does it? Tennis, anyone?

The Cell Phoner
Not too many years ago cell phones were unheard of on a tennis court. For most of the history of tennis, they were yet to be invented. Oh, if it were only that way still. Everyone has an excuse to justify why they can let their phone ring. They need to take calls on the tennis court because they are expecting to hear from their child, the doctor, the gardener etc. A few years ago if you took a call while court side you would have been chastised by the players and rightly so. Now players think nothing of making and receiving calls while on the court. This has not been an improvement in tennis life. Voice mail was invented for a reason. Put the phone on silent and use it.

The Loss Explainer
You shake hands after a match you have won with authority. Your opponent says they would have played better but didn’t sleep well, had food poisoning, a death in the family. It’s always about them and why they played badly, never giving you any credit for playing well. The Excuse maker, slightly different from the Loss Explainer, will start the match telling you why they won’t be playing well, subtly planting the seeds of doubt in the legitimacy of your win. This is also known as the pre-reverse trash talk.

The Score Caller
Etiquette dictates that the server calls out the score before each and every point. Yes, each and every point. Frequently, the opponent feels compelled to call the score. Often this person says it backwards, either because they’re dyslexic or they’re calling it from their own perspective. Confusion reigns supreme when the score is Love Forty and someone across the net says Forty Love. A close relative of the score caller is the Score Asker. The server waits until all the players are settled and ready to start the point. Before the server has a chance to speak, this player asks for the score. Again.

The Pro on the Court
It is so fortunate to be able to play tennis with this type. They always can point out what YOU are doing wrong. They’re full of helpful hints and strategies that can help you improve your game. All those lessons, and that innate skill, have really paid off because now they know what YOU should be doing. Strangely enough, they seem to be best at telling YOU what you’re doing wrong when THEY’VE just blown an easy shot.

The Oblivious One
This player never seems to know what’s going on. They can’t remember the score, when to switch sides or even who’s serving. They don’t pay attention and they definitely don’t listen. If a ball rolls onto the court they don’t see it and can’t understand why the point is being stopped. If they do notice an errant ball it will take a while for them to figure out where it’s supposed to go. There must be some payoff in being so unconscious on the tennis court - it’s just really hard to figure out what.

The One Setter
After four phone calls and three emails to schedule and reschedule, the date and time for the match is finally set. Your opponent arrives and promptly announces that they only have time for one set. This person may also be a serial cancellation player. Frequently these changes tend to be very last minute and often have to do with taking a cat to the vet.

The Quick Server
Everyone’s familiar with this type of player. The opponents are not even close to being ready to receive and the server starts. The receiver might have their back turned and the serve is headed towards them. Sure, the return is lousy when the receiver isn’t ready, but is it really fair? Players who throw balls at you when your back is turned are similar to the Quick Server. Nothing is more startling or annoying than being hit in the back by a ball the opponent is sending over to your side. Thanks a lot.

The Late Arriver
Also known as, MY TIME IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR TIME, this player needs no explanation.

The Been Everywhere, Done Everything Player
You compliment your opponent’s backhand and they say they learned it from the pro at the All England Club - stayed on for some lessons after Wimbledon. You comment on the wind and they mention the difference between playing in the Trade winds and the Kona winds. You say you’ve enjoyed some local, professional match and they tell you they have been to the Shanghai Masters and the U.S. Open and the French...Enough said.

The Ball Monitor
There is a place for compulsive and inappropriate ball gathering as a way to slow down the game, catch one’s breath and distract the opponents. In tennis hell. This type will repeatedly stop the action so they can round up the third (or fourth) ball and send it over to the other side of the net even if it disrupts play. This is gamesmanship at the most advanced level.

The Bragger
This player never misses an opportunity to talk about the time their team went to the playoffs, the districts, the sectionals, the nationals. The glory days live forever in their mind. It may have been one team, one time, but you will never hear the end of it. This person is so invested in their success on the court that they’ve been known to call ‘em as they need ‘em - also known as cheating.

The Tantrum Thrower
First the player lets out a strangled cry of frustration, then an all out bellow. The racket flies. The Tantrum Thrower is locked and loaded with their full arsenal of excuses. It’s too windy, too noisy, too sunny. The opponent is driving them crazy with giggles or lobs or drop shots. This player didn’t lose the point or the game or the match. No, they just lost their temper and it’s all the excuse they need.

The Grunter
What was that sound? That one. There it is again - coming from Court Three. It sounds like someone’s having sex over there. Really. It’s a deep, carnal sound. Oh, it’s just a player serving.

The Perfect Lady/Gentleman
A very rare species, indeed, this player is a nice as can be. They show up on time, properly prepared and in good spirits. They appear to be genuinely happy about having the opportunity to be playing the sport of their choice. They don’t complain about the weather or the conditions and they are most agreeable, win or lose. They always give the benefit of the doubt to other player. If you are really lucky and look very hard you may find this unusual sort at tennis courts near you.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tennis Star

We play competitive tennis because we love the game so much. Right? We certainly love to win and hate to lose, but lose we must. Every day, everywhere, the game of tennis is a losing proposition for fifty percent of its participants. Half of all those playing must, by definition, come in second which, in tennis, means nothing. Why is it so hard to be in the losing half?

My coach once told me, after another frustrating defeat, that you learn more from your losses than you do from your wins. You betcha. You learn how much you STILL hate to lose. It’s even worse when you’ve been playing particularly well because then you believe that, despite all rational indicators, you are on the brink of becoming a paid professional. Lucrative endorsements will most likely follow. It’s such a small mental leap from adequate mid-level club player to the big time. Other than golfers and possibly aspiring musicians, I don’t think any group is as ill-equipped, in terms of ego, as tennis players.

We hit a shot that makes us happy and we think own it forever more. We beat someone who used to beat us and we’re on the way. We tell the ball where to go and it listens - we’re halfway there. We win a little tournament and we’re hooked. Our rating gets moved up and it’s all over. Our ego is out of control. We bask in compliments about our game. It is so much fun to be good - playing is all we want to do. Winning is addictive and when we are winning we believe we have crossed over a line to somewhere else, somewhere better. Our game is now great and will only improve.

Playing tennis has appeal because it’s got a concrete result, unlike so much else in life. The ball is either in or out, although that can be a debatable point. The serve is good or it isn’t. The momentum can, and often does, change on a dime but in the end, the result can be quantified. So much of what we do with our lives and our time is abstract and subjective. We don’t know whether we’re winning or losing. Often, we don’t even know what want. We are very clear about what we want in tennis. WE WANT TO WIN.

There is such a buzz after a good win, especially a hard fought and difficult victory. You can’t help but feel a little superior - after all, you’re better than the other guys. You revel in the moment and go over the points with your partner. You buy your opponents a round of beer. If you’re a singles player you hope someone has seen your match so you can receive the proper praise. It feels so good to do what you need to do to win, but it feels even better to have your playing noticed.

It has been said that in kids, sports build character but in adults, sports reveal character. What does it say about us when we’re poor losers? We might just want to quit the game, at least until we’ve forgotten how bad it feels to lose. Immediately after the match the adrenaline is still coursing through our system. We’re too mad at ourselves to be depressed yet. There is nothing anyone can say that can be heard at that moment. Once calm, we can quit the game for good. Again. We think about taking up checkers or bowling or an activity in which we might have some skill. We might as well just give our racket away because we sure as hell won’t be needing it anymore. No sir. Why not cede the court to someone who can do it justice?

You have to wonder, when matches are utterly nerve-wracking and competition is so fierce - why we play competitive tennis at all. Feeling like we can’t breathe for the first few games of a match is not that much fun. Losing sleep at night while we replay points in our mind is quite crazy. In the grand scheme of life, how much does tennis really matter? Isn’t there something more noble and philanthropic we should be doing with our time and our money? Something more satisfying?

It may take a day or a week, but we begin to forget how horrible it felt to lose . We have hope again. It might be fun to just get out there and hit. Hitting leads to a social match. It feels so good to be playing. One perfect return down the line or crisp volley or great get can make our day. Our serve is practically perfect. We want spin, we’ve got spin. We try for an angle, it’s magical. The gorgeous lob drops right on the base line. Even the net cord God is with us. The cycle continues as we feel better and better. We are relaxed and focused and well, pretty damn good. We play a match for our team and win. It’s back. It’s all back. The timing, the strokes, the confidence. The joy in the game has returned and it makes us so happy, even smug. Until next time.