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Tsk! Tsk!
by Tony Severino
Certified Instructor 4A
Professional Tennis Registry

Tony Serverino Photo
Tony Severino

Colonel Nick Powell wrote a pamphlet called The Code of Tennis, which delves deeper into situations not explicit in the Rules of Tennis. I guess old Nick got fed up with some of the goings-on regarding line calls and other acts of gamesmanship on the court and decided to put pen to paper to try to rectify the situation. (He didn't have a computer, you know.) It's a great read. It's gives a good insight into how to play the game properly, shall we say. If you haven't read it yet by all means do so soon.

There are a number of other thoughtless, on court antics that may have bothered him as well. Maybe they irk you a little too. These things happen on a daily basis and I'll bet you've seen them all a dozen times yourself. What should you do about them when they make Colonel Powell himself so sputtering mad he can't even address them? There's naught to do but elevate your nose, shake your head negatively and sniff, "Tsk! Tsk! Freely translated that means "Some People!"

What are these on-court transgressions that merit such askance sniffing? You'll recognize them all, as an observer, I hope, and not a perpetrator. Tsk! Tsk!

Catching the ball before it touches something of out of bounds including yourself. Rule 20 paragraph g. says that's a no-no and you lose the point if you do; yet it happens all the time. Big deal? Not really, but I have seen instances where the ball was caught very low just inside the vinyl tape while the catcher shouted "Out!" Tsk! Tsk! It's better to go strictly with the rule. Besides here was an opportunity to make a play. You can stay home and holler "Out"!

Not delivering balls to a person. Are you one of those persons who just whack a croquet shot at a loose ball lying on the court, sending a lifeless grounder rearward to no one in particular, heaven knows not the server. Tsk! Tsk! Propriety dictates that in singles all balls be delivered to the server, preferably on the bounce; in doubles, deliver the third ball to the net person.

Leaving balls lying around. Pick up the just played ball lying in the playing area. Stick it in your pocket, or someplace. Don't leave tennis balls lying around on the ground in the court area, especially in cooler weather. Cold balls don't bounce very well. Mostly though, they are a safety hazard. Tsk! Tsk!

Foot faults -- they count. The second most common on court aberration in recreational tennis is the foot fault. Is this a big deal? Maybe not. Stepping on the line may not give much advantage to the recreational player. To be sure it is unconscious, but mercy, I've watched people take a full step onto the court while serving. We're now talking two feet or so. In a TennisPro magazine article, entitled "A Matter of Inches," Dr. Howard Brody, tennis physicist from the University of Pennsylvania (and a sizeable list of other credentials) reports studies which show a clear advantage to this pediatric misdemeanor. Roughly speaking, at recreational serve speeds about two to three-tenths of a percent more serves will go in per inch of foot fault. (Do your own fuzzy extrapolation here.) It may not seem like much, but remember the Penn tennis ball ad a few years back which cautioned, "There's no such thing as a small point! Tsk! Tsk!

Practicing return of serve during warm-up when your opponent is warming up their serve. It really is distracting to the server to have a ball whizzing back toward you in mid stroke. Tsk! Tsk! It's also against The Code. Check out the Colonel!

Prolonged search for the mark -- The Colonel points out that the ball is in unless you clearly see it out. If it is not immediately clear then you certainly should examine the mark. Getting the call right is more important than an immediate reaction call. However, when the group grope for the mark begins to resemble the search for a lost contact lens, it's time to give it up. Tsk! Tsk! Listen to the Colonel.

Vic Braden also has made studies which show that on soft courts with vinyl tape for lines, the mark can be as far as one inch from the tape and still be good, having skidded off the slightly elevated vinyl to leave a mark appearing to be out. That's a useful piece of research which really should receive your consideration.

Walking by while ball is in play -- Okay, so it's not the Open and precious few recreational matches have much more than bragging rights going for them, but we are fellow tennis players doing our best at this fascinating game we love to play. Maybe it's just another excuse to blame for a forehand pushed long, but it is a distraction and the guilty really should know better. That's why there are signs posted "Do Not Walk By While The Ball Is In Play!" Tsk! Tsk!

Mr. Congeniality! Does your club have one? It's usually a man. He just knows we're all just dying to engage in his trivial chitchat during an ongoing match and thus he has no compunctions about addressing players with his frivolous conviviality. (Colonel Nick! Where are you when we need you?) Most of us endure this patiently, gentlemanly, but it's still not right. Maybe in unison we should all utter loudly, Tsk! Tsk!

The Instructor! Don't become an instructor during the match. In fact, not even after. It's just a game. Your colleagues are doing their best and just trying to enjoy the game. It's not Wimbledon, you know. Even if it is the club final and by some miracle you got this far with this klutz for a partner, just hope in cheerful silence that the miracle will continue.

Some players appreciate the help, but don't chance it. I'm a certified teaching professional and I wouldn't dare enter into a situational or stroke critique during a match I'm playing in. Afterwards, maybe, but only if I'm asked. On the other hand, I play often with a friend who will notice some glitch sneaking into my strokes. He quietly points it out to me and I honestly appreciate it. It's all in the approach, I guess.

Never! Never! Never! make a display of disappointment with your partner's play. When your partner continues to make an error, a word of encouragement is in order. Perhaps a pair of words like "Confidence! Confidence!" to belay that feeling of self-doubt a missed shot can instill. I know of a case where an easy sitter was hit long and his partner, known for unbridled expression, flung his racquet disgustedly against the back fence. There was a ringing "clang!" and it sounded like the racquet should have disintegrated. Or was that just hoping. Tsk! Tsk! Some people!


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