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It Takes All Kinds

Written by Don Hockmuth

When I was growing up, and into early adulthood, golf was my sport of choice with some recreational tennis now and again. In my early forties, I became more of a “serious” tennis player(ie, I played at least once or twice a week, paid more than $40 to $70 per racquet, purchased a large official looking tennis bag, and wore sweat bands). At this stage, it seemed only logical to test my evolving skill level on the field of battle in a more competitive and structured environment. And thus, I began my journey through a myriad of formats: Men’s leagues, mixed leagues, ladders, weekend charity tournaments, corporate teams, and finally senior leagues. As the Grateful Dead once said, what a strange, strange trip it’s been.

I have now found my salvation in the increasingly popular “drop in” events at clubs and tennis parks. It’s all very competitive, hut I find that when I pull out of the parking lot after a tough match, I don’t feel like I want to kill myself, my opponent, or both.

Somehow, having the scores count for something, whether it be a $5 trophy, a free can of balls, or just having your name posted in glory at the front desk brings out the worst in many of us, including me. From time to time, I find myself yearning to show the world what I got with some real stakes in play. But then, I recall the gallery of characters encountered over the years and the urge quickly subsides. Here are a few of my favs.

The Warm up Maniac:

Ok, I understand we all have to get loose and some feel for the different shots we’ll be using. But after 10 minutes of hitting baseline volleys, 5 minutes at the net, 5 minutes of taking serves, three minutes of taking overheads, etc, can we please just play the match now! These characters are especially endearing when they show up ten minutes late for a league match and still put you through their eternal preparation.

The Winer/Accuser

This is one of my favorites. Who wouldn’t enjoy having their honesty and integrity challenged? On a close line call, the inevitable question of the day is, “are you sure” No, of course I’m not sure, actually, I saw your ball well in but just thought I’d cheat and try and sneak one by you? How does one answer that question, even if they aren’t sure now. Other techniques to get you to be a little more generous in the future is taking 30 seconds to bounce your ball as you walk around for a bit to cool down after suffering the gross injustice of your bad call, Deep sighs can also be effective if they can clearly be heard across the net.

The Big Time Cheater

Generally, I’m kind of a “everyone misses a call once in a while,” give them the benefit of the doubt kind of a guy. But there is that breed of cat who uses cheating as one of the weapons in their repertoire to get the job done. They have learned never to show doubt, or check with their partner for confirmation in doubles, and always make that bogus call in a loud and resounding voice. Early signs that you are up against such a character will be balls called out before they hit the ground or from locations all the way across court that only superman like visual acuity could discern where the ball really landed near the line. Typically, they will offer patronizing comments like it was really close and have partners who spend much of the match with their eyes frozen to the ground. All you can do is aim at least three inches inside the line and hope for the best.

Mr. Temper Tantrum

This guy does not handle defeat very well. And why should he? He clearly is so much better than yon and how painful it must be that all these bad breaks have allowed a worthless slug such as yourself to be winning. Of course, there is also the problem that he is just not playing his best tennis and giving away points you don’t deserve. Symptoms of Mr. TT include a continuous stream of vulgar language that would make a sailor blush, balls rocketed at your head in anger that he couldn’t get to at the net, and finally, the full on racket toss of Olympic distance. You almost in some twisted way feel guilty beating them any worse because it will only foster more pain… but then maybe that’s the idea.

The Poor Sport

The first clue that you’re in for a long day with someone light on sportsmanship are the balls hammered at you during the warm up when you just ask for a few at the net to get your touch. And then, when you take your serve in the match, he will smash serves that are well long back to the fence behind you. Guess he just needs to let you know what you’re in store for when you do get it in. These chaps often won’t update game scores while serving and then make you recall every point to prove score is really 30-40 and not 40-30 when challenged. In doubles, if they come in pairs, they will make classy moves like high five each other after you double fault or trip over a loose ball. Don’t expect any take two/first serve contributions after they hit your bad first serve off the light pole into your side followed a light plane crashing onto the courts with an ensuing two hour delay. It will still remain… second serve.

Yes indeed, tennis matches do give us an opportunity to get to know others and ourselves with the pressure on. But then, some things are better left to the imagination.

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