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Tennis Queeries
by Earle Palmer Brown

The rules of tennis have been painstaking written and revised over the decades to cover almost every contingency that a tournament player might face. However, meticulous though they are, they don't solve the everyday problems of social tennis. Here's an attempt to provide answers to questions puzzling that great unappreciated legion of pushers and hackers.

QUESTION: Most of the people at our club play FBI or first ball in. Is there any limit on the number of serves that may be taken under this rule? It takes forever to get a match started.

    ANSWER: First Ball In has been responsible for more rotator cuff injuries than Australian Rules football. It ranks somewhere between a mulligan and a gimmie. It certainly isn't legal and purists deplore it, but it's usage has become so pervasive that there's not much you can do to stop it.

QUESTION: At the end of the warmup period my regular opponent always spins his racket, covers the butt with his palm, and says "up or down." I've lost the service option 35 consecutive times. Is there anyway I can overcome this without accusing him of cheating?

    ANSWER: Before he gets a chance to spin his racket, spin yours and let it fall on the ground and ask "up or down". After he makes the call, pick up your racket without looking at the butt and immediately head to the service line. An especially astute gene therapist from Connecticut solves this problem another way: as soon as the offender spins his racket he quickly asks "how was it?" Caught off guard the spinner often answers "up" or "down" whereupon the therapist says "that's right" and starts serving. (Editors note: younger players often ask where the term "rough or smooth" comes from. Many years ago rackets were strung with decorative trim one side of which was smooth and the other rough. One notorious gamesman had his racket strung with the trim rough at the top and smooth at the bottom.)

QUESTION: I play every Sunday with an Internist, a Gynecologist, and a Plastic Surgeon. Recently, while I was approaching the net to put away a sitter my partner's medic alert beeper went off. One of our opponents immediately called a let. Is this legal?

    ANSWER: The USTA rule book doesn't even come close to covering this situation so I checked with the American Medical Association and they ruled that if the beeper went off before the ball was struck a let could be played. In a case where two beepers sound simultaneously the team with the louder beeper wins the point.

QUESTION: One of my regular singles opponents is quite fastidious and always hangs his towel on the opposite netpost from where I hang mine. If I should move my towel to his end he moves his to the other side. For some reason this infuriates me and I lose my concentration. Do you have any suggestions?

    ANSWER: Yes, while changing change courts absent mindedly blow your nose in his towel.

QUESTION: One member of our Thursday night foursome always arrives after we've taken the court and started the warmup. We suspect he does this to avoid bringing the balls. He's carried the same unopened can for three months. Any thoughts?

    ANSWER: Start warming up with a set of those green and reds balls they sell for Christmas and see if this will shame him into opening his can. If it doesn't work, trade him for a player to be named later.

QUESTION: One of my opponents won't serve unless he has all three balls in his possession. This wastes a lot of time. Is there anything I can do to break him of this habit?

    ANSWER: Yes, wait till a day when you're playing after a rain and roll one of the balls into a puddle.

QUESTION: My regular doubles partner has chronic laryngitis and goes through periods when he can hardly speak. To keep me from hitting out balls he plays with a football referees whistle in his mouth and blows it when he thinks a ball is going long. Recently one our opponents has taken to imitating the whistle and this has caused me to let several good shots go by. What can I do?

    ANSWER: Grin and bear it

QUESTION: Every summer I compete in a mixed doubles tournament played in a very relaxed manner at a not-too-fashionable resort in Appalachia. This year, when I came up to the desk to pay my entry fee, they refused to let me see the draw saying "we'll let you see it after we go to ink." I sneaked a look at the draw they had pencilled on the back of an empty Domino pizza box and noticed we were in the upper half. The draw wasn't posted until after we had already played and won a match and I found we had been shifted to the bottom half. When I complained I was told they had shifted things around because they didn't want a local podiatrist to have to play against his ex-wife. What recourse do I have?

    ANSWER: I know the tournament of which you write. There's only one solution; get yourself appointed to the tournament committee.

QUESTION: Is it ethical to call a let after missing an overhead because your sun tan lotion got in your eye?

    ANSWER: It's not ethical but sure is imaginative

QUESTION: What is the difference between a pusher and a hacker?

    ANSWER: A pusher gets the ball over the net one more time.


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