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THE ART OF LAWN TENNIS (chapter7)

2006-08-28 21:38

    CHAPTER VII. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MATCH PLAY

    The first and most important point in match play is to know how to lose. Lose cheerfully, generously, and like a sportsman. This is the first great law of tennis, and the second is like unto it——to win modestly, cheerfully, generously, and like a sportsman.

    The object of match play is to win, but no credit goes to a man who does not win fairly and squarely. A victory is a defeat if it is other than fair. Yet again I say to win is the object, and to do so, one should play to the last ounce of his strength, the last gasp of his breath, and the last scrap of his nerve. If you do so and lose, the better man won. If you do not, you have robbed your opponent of his right of beating your best. Be fair to both him and yourself.

    "The Play's the thing," and in match play a good defeat is far more creditable than a hollow victory. Play tennis for the game's sake. Play it for the men you meet, the friends you make, and the pleasure you may give to the public by the hard- working yet sporting game that is owed them by their presence at the match.

    Many tennis players feel they owe the public nothing, and are granting a favour by playing. It is my belief that when the public so honours a player that they attend matches, that player is in duty bound to give of his best, freely, willingly, and cheerfully, for only by so doing can he repay the honour paid him. The tennis star of to-day owes his public as much as the actor owes the audience, and only by meeting his obligations can tennis be retained in public favour. The players get their reward in the personal popularity they gain by their conscientious work.

    There is another factor that is even stronger than this, that will always produce fine tennis in championship events. It is the competitive spirit that is the breath of life to every true sportsman: the desire to prove to himself he can beat the best of the other man; the real regret that comes when he wins, and feels the loser was not at his best. It is that which has made popular idols of Anthony F. Wilding, M. E. M'Loughlin, and other famous players. It is the great attraction of J. C. Parke, A. R. F. Kingscote, W. M. Johnston, Andre Gobert, W. Laurentz, and many other stars. It is the sign of a true sportsman.

    The keen competitive spirit that stimulates a match player also increases the nervous strain. This should be recognized by tournament committees, and the conditions of play should be as nearly standardized as weather permits.

    A tournament committee should never keep a player waiting for an important match to commence while they scour through the crowd for linesmen. These necessary, and I trust useful, accessories to every match of importance should be picked and on hand when the players appear. A good linesman is a great aid to match tennis. A poor one may ruin a great battle. Not only will bad decisions turn the tide by putting a point in the wrong columns, but slow decisions will often upset players, so they dare not play to the line kept by slumberous linesmen.

    A linesman should take his first judgment as the ball strikes. If outside he should call "out" at once clearly, decisively, but not too loudly; a yell is often a shock to the nerves. If the ball is good he should remain discreetly silent.

    The umpire should announce the score after each point in a voice sufficiently loud to be heard by the entire gallery. His decisions as to "lets" or balls "not up" should be made only loud enough to ensure that they are heard by the players. The gallery has eyes. Following each game, the game score should be called, giving the leading player's name and the set being played. For example, "Four games to three, Parke leads. Second set." About every third game following the completion of the first set, an announcement as to the winner of the first set is an excellent idea. The umpire could add to the above announcement, "First set, Parke, -." This latter announcement is unnecessary when there is a score board that gives full details of the match.

    Tournament committees should see that all courts have sufficient room behind the baseline and at the sides to insure a player against running into the stops.

    Galleries should strive to retain their appreciation and enthusiasm until a point is completed, since noise is very disconcerting to a player. However, all players enjoy an enthusiastic gallery.

    The players themselves must now be considered in relation to the reaction of the match.

    The first thing to fix firmly in your mind in playing a match, is never to allow your opponent to play a shot he likes if it is possible to force him to make one he does not. Study your opponent both on and off the court. Look for a weakness, and, once finding it, pound it without mercy. Remember that you do not decide your mode of attack. It is decided for you by the weakness of your opponent. If he dislikes to meet a netman, go to the net. If he wants you at the net, stay back and force him to come in. If he attacks viciously, meet his attack with an equally strong offensive.

    Remember that the strongest defence is to attack, for if the other man is occupied in meeting your attack, he will have less time to formulate his own system.

    If you are playing a very steady man, do not strive to beat him at his own game. He is better at it than you in many cases, so go in and hit to win. On the other hand, if you find that your opponent is wild and prone to miss, play safe and reap the full crop of his errors. It saves you trouble and takes his confidence.

    ABOVE ALL, NEVER CHANGE A WINNING GAME.

    ALWAYS CHANGE A LOSING GAME, since, as you are getting beaten that way, you are no worse off and may be better with a new style.

    The question of changing a losing game is a very serious thing. It is hard to say just when you are really beaten. If you feel you are playing well yet have lost the first set about - or -, with the loss of only one service, you should not change. Your game is not really a losing game. It is simply a case of one break of service, and might well win the next set. If, however, you have dropped the first set in a  out of  match with but one or two games, now you are outclassed and should try something else.

    Take chances when you are behind, never when ahead. Risks are only worth while when you have everything to win and nothing to lose. It may spell victory, and at least will not hasten defeat. Above all, never lose your nerve or confidence in a match. By so doing you have handed your opponent about two points a game——a rather hard handicap to beat at your best.

    Never let your opponent know you are worried. Never show fatigue or pain if it is possible to avoid, since it will only give him confidence. Remember that he feels just as bad as you, and any sign of weakening on your part encourages him to go on. In other words, keep your teeth always in the match.

    Don't worry. Don't fuss. Luck evens up in the long run, and to worry only upsets your own game without affecting your opponent. A smile wins a lot of points because it gives the impression of confidence on your part that shakes that of the other man. Fight all the time. The harder the strain the harder you should fight, but do it easily, happily, and enjoy it.

    Match play, where both men are in the same class as tennis players, resolves itself into a battle of wits and nerve. The man who uses the first and retains the second is the ultimate victor.

    I do not believe in a man who expects to go through a long tournament, going "all out" for every match. Conserve your strength and your finesse for the times you need them, and win your other matches decisively, but not destructively. Why should a great star discourage and dishearten a player several classes below him by crushing him, as he no doubt could? A few games a set, well earned, would be a big factor in encouraging that rising player to play in tournaments, while it would in no way injure the reputation of the star.

    Never hurry your opponent by serving before he is fully set to receive. This is a favourite trick of a few unscrupulous players, yet is really an unfair advantage. Do your hurrying after the ball is in play, by running him to unexpected places in the court. Should anyone attempt to work the hurried service on you, after several attempts, proving it is intentional, let the ball go by and say "not ready." The server will shortly realize that you will take your time regardless of him, and he will slow up.

    I do not advocate stalling——nothing is worse. It is a breach of ethics that is wholly uncalled for. Play the game naturally, and give your opponent full courtesy in all matters. If you do, you will receive it in return.

    Take every advantage of any and every weakness in your opponent's game; but never trespass on his rights as regards external advantages.

    Personally I do not believe in "defaulting" a match. To "scratch" or "retire," as the term goes, is to cheat your opponent of his just triumph, and you should never do this unless it is absolutely impossible to avoid. Sickness or some equally important reason should be the sole cause of scratching, for you owe the tournament your presence once your entry is in.

    Match play should stimulate a player. He should produce his best under the excitement of competition. Learn your shots in practice, but use them in matches.

    Practice is played with the racquet, matches are won by the mind. J. C. Parke is a great match player, because he is not only a great player but a great student of men. He sizes up his opponent, and seizes every opening and turns it to his own account. Norman E. Brookes is the greatest match player the world has ever known, because he is ever ready to change his plan to meet the strategy of his opponent, and has both the variety of stroke and versatility of intellect to outguess the other the majority of times. Brookes is the greatest court general, and, in my opinion, the finest tennis intellect in the world. His mind is never so keen and he is never so dangerous as when he is trailing in an important match. He typifies all that is great in mental match tennis.

    A great star is always at his best in a match, as it stimulates his mental and physical faculties to the utmost.

    Certain players are more effective against some men than others who are not so good. It is the uncertainty of match tennis that is its greatest charm. Two men may meet for tennis during a season, and be so closely matched that each man will win two matches and the score seem almost one-sided each time. It is a case of getting the jump on the other player.

    During  Johnston and I met four times. Twice he defeated me, once in four sets, and once in three, while the two victories that were mine were scored in identically the same number of sets. The most remarkable meeting of two stars was the series of matches between R. L. Murray and Ichija Kumagae during the seasons of  and . In the early stages Murray had a decided advantage, winning from Kumagae consistently, but by close scores. Early in  Kumagae unexpectedly defeated Murray at Buffalo in four sets. From that moment Kumagae held the whip hand. He defeated Murray at Niagara-on-the-Lake a week later. Murray barely nosed out the Japanese star at Cleveland in five sets after Kumagae had the match won, only to have Kumagae again defeat him in a terrific match at Newport in August.

    Kumagae's game is very effective against Murray, because Murray, essentially a volleyer, could not exchange ground strokes with the Japanese star player successfully, and could not stand the terrific pace of rushing the net at every opportunity. Kumagae conclusively proved his slight superiority over Murray last season.

    Vincent Richards, who is not yet the equal of Murray, scored two clean-cut victories over Kumagae during the same period. Why should Richards worry Kumagae, who is certainly Murray's superior, and yet not cause Murray trouble?

    The answer lies in this style of game. Richards uses a peculiar chop stroke from the baseline that is very steady. He can meet Kumagae at his own baseline game until he gets a chance to close in to the net, where his volleying is remarkable. The result is, against Kumagae's driving he is perfectly at home. Murray is a vicious net player who swept Richards off his feet. The boy has not the speed on his ground strokes to pass Murray, who volleys off his chop for points, and cannot take the net away from him as he cannot handle the terrific speed of Murray's game. Thus Murray's speed beats Richards, while Richards' steadiness troubles Kumagae, yet Kumagae's persistent driving tires Murray and beats him. What good are comparative scores?

    Charles S. Garland always defeats Howard Voshell, yet loses to men whom Voshell defeats. Williams proves a stumbling-block to Johnston, yet seldom does well against me.

    The moral to be drawn from the ever-interesting upsets that occur every year, is that the style of your attack should be determined by the man's weakness you are playing. Suit your style to his weakness. A chop is the antidote for the drive. The volley is the answer to a chop, yet a drive is the only safe attack against a volley. The smash will kill a lob, yet a lob is the surest defence from a smash. Rather a complicated condition, but one which it would do well to think over.

    The most dangerous enemy to R. N. Williams is a steady baseliner of second class. Williams is apt to crush a top-flight player in a burst of superlative terms, yet fall a victim to the erratic streak that is in him when some second-class player plays patball with him. Such defeats were his portion at the hands of Ritchie and Mavrogordato in England, yet on the same trip he scored notable victories over Parke and Johnston.

    Abnormal conditions for match play always tend to affect the better player more than the poorer, and bring play to a level.

    The reason for this is in the fact that the higher the standard of a player's game, the smaller his margin of error, the more perfect his bound must be, and any variation from the normal is apt to spell error. The average player allows himself more leeway, and unknowingly increases his chances on a bad court. His shot is not judged to the fraction of an inch in swing as is the top-flight player, so a slight variation does not affect him.

    Many a great match has been ruined by abnormal conditions. Rain caused Williams' downfall to N. W. Niles in the  American Championships. Rain and wind marred a great battle between Gobert and Johnston at Eastbourne in the Davis Cup in .

    The clever match player must always be willing to change his game to meet conditions. Failure to do so may spell defeat.

    It is this uncertainty, due to external conditions, that makes comparative records so useless in judging the relative merits of two players you know nothing of. Rankings based on mathematical calculations of scores are absolutely useless and childish, unless tempered by common sense.

    The question of the fitness of conditions of play can never be standardized. In America you play only if clear. In England sometimes when clear but more often in rain, judging by the events I swam through in my recent trip. A match player should not only be able to play tennis, but should combine the virtues of an aeroplane and a submarine as well.

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