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THE ART OF LAWN TENNIS (chapter6)

2006-08-28 21:38

    CHAPTER VI. GENERAL TENNIS PSYCHOLOGY

    Tennis psychology is nothing more than understanding the workings of your opponent's mind, and gauging the effect of your own game on his mental viewpoint, and understanding the mental effects resulting from the various external causes on your own mind. You cannot be a successful psychologist of others without first understanding your own mental processes, you must study the effect on yourself of the same happening under different circumstances. You react differently in different moods and under different conditions. You must realize the effect on your game of the resulting irritation, pleasure, confusion, or whatever form your reaction takes. Does it increase your efficiency? If so, strive for it, but never give it to your opponent.

    Does it deprive you of concentration? If so, either remove the cause, or if that is not possible strive to ignore it.

    Once you have judged accurately your own reaction to conditions, study your opponents, to decide their temperaments. Like temperaments react similarly, and you may judge men of your own type by yourself. Opposite temperaments you must seek to compare with people whose reactions you know.

    A person who can control his own mental processes stands an excellent chance of reading those of another, for the human mind works along definite lines of thought, and can be studied. One can only control one's, mental processes after carefully studying them.

    A steady phlegmatic baseline player is seldom a keen thinker. If he was he would not adhere to the baseline.

    The physical appearance of a man is usually a pretty clear index to his type of mind. The stolid, easy-going man, who usually advocates the baseline game, does so because he hates to stir up his torpid mind to think out a safe method of reaching the net. There is the other type of baseline player, who prefers to remain on the back of the court while directing an attack intended to break up your game. He is a very dangerous player, and a deep, keen- thinking antagonist. He achieves his results by mixing up his length and direction, and worrying you with the variety of his game. He is a good psychologist. Such players include J. C. Parke, Wallace F. Johnson, and Charles S. Garland. The first type of player mentioned merely hits the ball with little idea of what he is doing, while the latter always has a definite plan and adheres to it. The hard-hitting, erratic, net-rushing player is a creature of impulse. There is no real system to his attack, no understanding of your game. He will make brilliant coups on the spur of the moment, largely by instinct; but there is no, mental power of consistent thinking. It is an interesting, fascinating type. Such men as Harold Throckmorton, B. I. C. Norton, and at times R. N. Williams, are examples, although Williams is really a better psychologist than this sounds.

    The dangerous man is the player who mixes his style from back to fore court at the direction of an ever-alert mind. This is the man to study and learn from. He is a player with a definite purpose. A player who has an answer to every query you propound him in your game. He is the most subtle antagonist in the world. He is of the school of Brookes. Second only to him is the man of dogged determination that sets his mind on one plan and adheres to it, bitterly, fiercely fighting to the end, with never a thought of change. He is the man whose psychology is easy to understand, but whose mental viewpoint is hard to upset, for he never allows himself to think of anything except the business at hand. This man is your Johnston or your Wilding. I respect the mental capacity of Brookes more, but I admire the tenacity of purpose of Johnston.

    Pick out your type from your own mental processes, and then work out your game along the lines best suited to you. Few of us have the mental brilliance of Brookes; but all can acquire the dogged determination of Johnston, even if we have not his tennis ability.

    When two men are, in the same class, as regards stroke equipment, the determining factor in any given match is the mental viewpoint. Luck, so-called, is often grasping the psychological value of a break in the game, and turning it to your own account.

    We hear a great deal about the "shots we have made." Few realize the importance of the "shots we have missed." The science of missing shots is as important as that of making them, and at times a miss by an inch is of more value than a, return that is killed by your opponent.

    Let me explain. A player drives you far out of court with an angle-shot. You run hard to it, and reaching, drive it hard and fast down the side- line, missing it by an inch. Your opponent is surprised and shaken, realizing that your shot might as well have gone in as out. He will expect you to try it again, and will not take the risk next time. He will try to play the ball, and may fall into error. You have thus taken some of your opponent's confidence, and increased his chance of error, all by a miss.

    If you had merely popped back that return, and it had been killed, your opponent would have felt increasingly confident of your inability to get the ball out of his reach, while you would merely have been winded without result.

    Let us suppose you made the shot down the sideline. It was a seemingly impossible get. First it amounts to TWO points in that it took one away from your opponent that should have been his and gave you one you ought never to have had. It also worries your opponent, as he feels he has thrown away a big chance.

    The psychology of a tennis match is very interesting, but easily understandable. Both men start with equal chances. Once one man establishes a real lead, his confidence goes up, while his opponent worries, and his mental viewpoint becomes poor. The sole object of the first man is to hold his lead, thus holding his confidence. If the second player pulls even or draws ahead, the inevitable reaction occurs with even a greater contrast in psychology. There is the natural confidence of the leader now with the second man as well as that great stimulus of having turned seeming defeat into probable victory. The reverse in the case of the first player is apt to hopelessly destroy his game, and collapse follows.

    It is this twist in tennis psychology that makes it possible to win so many matches after they are seemingly lost. This is also the reason that a man who has lost a substantial lead seldom turns in the ultimate victory. He cannot rise above the depression caused by his temporary slump. The value of an early lead cannot be overestimated. It is the ability to control your mental processes, and not worry unduly over early reverses, that makes a great match player.

    Playing to the score is the first requisite of a thinking match player. The two crucial points in any game are the third and fourth. If the first two points are divided for -all, the third means an advantage gained. If won by you, you should strive to consolidate it by taking the next for - and two chances for game, while if lost, you must draw even at -all to have an even chance for game.

    In order to do this, be sure to always put the ball in play safely, and do not take unnecessary chances, at -all or -. Always make the server work to hold his delivery. It worries him to serve long games, and increases the nervous strain of the match.

    In the game score the sixth, seventh, and eighth games are the crux of every close set. These games may mean - or -all, - or -, the most vital advantage in the match, or - or -all, a matter of extreme moment to a tiring player. If ahead, you should strive to hold and increase your lead. If behind, your one hope of victory rests in cutting down the advantage of the other man BEFORE one slip means defeat. - is usually too late to start a rally, but - is a real chance.

    Never throw away a set because a player has a lead of -, or even -, unless you already have two sets in a -set match, and do not wish to risk tiring by trying to pull it out, and possibly failing at -. The great advantage Of - on your own service is a stumbling-block for many players, for they unconsciously let up at the fifth game, thinking they have a -game lead. However, by dropping that game, the score will go - and -all if your opponent holds service, instead of - and -, thus retaining a distinct advantage and discouraging your opponent in that set.

    The first set is vital in a  out of  match. Play for all of it. The second and third sets are the turning-point in a best of -set match. Take the first where possible, but play to the limit for the next two. Never allow a  out of -set match to go to, the fifth set if it is possible to win in less; but never give up a match until the last point is played, even if you are two sets and five games down. Some occurrence may turn the tide in your favour.

    A notable example of such a match occurred at Newport, in . Wallace F. Johnson and Joseph J. Armstrong were playing Ichija Kumagae, the famous Japanese star, and Harold A. Throckmorton, then junior Champion of America, in the second round of the doubles.

    It was Kumagae's first year in America, and he did not understand Americans and their customs well. Kumagae and Throckmorton were leading one set at -, -, and -, Kumagae serving. Throckmorton turned and spoke to him, and the Japanese star did not understand what he said. He served without knowing, and Armstrong passed him down the centre. Johnson duplicated the feat in the next court, and Kumagae grew flustered. Throckmorton, not understanding, tried to steady him without result, as Kumagae double-faulted to Armstrong, and he, too, grew worried. Both men began missing, and Johnson and Armstrong pulled out the set and won the match in a runaway in the last stanza. Johnson and Armstrong met W. M. Johnston and C. J. Griffin, the National Champions, in the final and defeated them in five sets, inflicting the only reverse the title-holders suffered during their two-year reign as champions.

    Another much more regrettable incident occurred in the famous match between R. L. Murray of California and George M. Church of New York in the fourth round of the American National Championship in . George Church, then at the crest of his wonderful game, had won the first two sets and was leading Murray in the third, when the famous Californian started a sensational rally. Murray, with his terrific speed, merry smile, and genial personality, has always been a popular figure with the public, and when he began his seemingly hopeless fight, the crowd cheered him wildly. He broke through Church's service and drew even amid a terrific din. Church, always a very high-strung, nervous player, showed that the crowd's partiality was getting on his nerves. The gallery noticed it, and became more partisan than ever. The spirit of mob rule took hold, and for once they lost all sense of sportsmanship. They clapped errors as they rained from Church's racquet; the great game collapsed under the terrific strain, and Church's last chance was gone. Murray won largely as he wanted, in the last two sets. No one regretted the incident more than Murray himself, for no finer sportsman steps upon the court than this player, yet there was nothing that could be done. It was a case of external conditions influencing the psychology of one man so greatly that it cost him a victory that was his in justice.

    The primary object in match tennis is to break up the other man's game. The first lesson to learn is to hold your nerve under all circumstances. If you can break a player's nerve by pounding at a weakness, do it. I remember winning a -set doubles match many years ago, against a team far over the class of my partner and myself, by lobbing continually to one man until he cracked under the strain and threw the match away. He became so afraid of a lob that he would not approach the net, and his whole game broke up on account of his lack of confidence. Our psychology was good, for we had the confidence to continue our plan of attack even while losing two of the first three sets. His was bad, for he lost his nerve, and let us know it.

    Sensational and unexpected shots at crucial moments have won many a match. If your opponent makes a marvellous recovery and wins by it, give him full credit for it, and then forget it, for by worrying over it you not only lose that point but several others as, well, while your mind is still wandering. Never lose your temper over your opponent's good shots. It is bad enough to lose it at your own bad ones. Remember that usually the loser of a match plays just as well as the winner allows him. Never lose your temper at a bad decision. It never pays, and has cost many a match.

    I remember a famous match in Philadelphia, between Wallace F. Johnson, the fifth ranking player in America, and Stanley W. Pearson, a local star, in the Interclub tennis league of that city. Johnson, who had enjoyed a commanding lead of a set and -, had slumped, and Pearson had pulled even at a set-all, and was leading at - and -, point set match. He pulled Johnson far out to the forehand and came to the net. Johnson chopped viciously down the side-line, but Pearson volleyed to Johnson's deep backhand corner. Johnson had started RUNNING in that direction as he hit his return, and arrived almost as Pearson's volley bounced. Unfortunately Johnson slipped and went down on both knees, but held his racquet. He reached the ball and chopped it down the side-line for an earned point before Pearson realized he had even offered at it.

    Pearson was so surprised and angered that he double-faulted for deuce, and Johnson won the game. Johnson pulled even at -all, before Pearson recovered his equilibrium, and finally won the set at -. Truly Pearson's lapse at Johnson's marvellous get was a costly mental break.

    Tennis psychology is far more than the effect of certain shots, made or missed, on the player. One can sum up such things by saying that every kill gives confidence, every error tends to destroy it. These things are obvious. The branch of psychology that is interesting is the reaction on the various players of different courts, different crowds, and other players.

    There is a peculiar atmosphere about the centre court at Wimbledon that is unique in my knowledge of the game. Certain players revel in it. The majority do not feel it, and since they do not sense it, they find only the material disadvantages of rather bad light, and much noise from the stand, and dislike the centre court. Personally, I enjoy playing on the centre court at Wimbledon more than any court I have ever stepped upon.

    The traditions of the great players of the past, the notable personages that make up the parties in the Royal Box and Committee Box, the honour of a visit from their Majesties the King and Queen, and, above all, the generous, non-partisan, sportsmanlike attitude of the British public, make it a unique privilege to enter the centre court in championship competition. These things inspire the mind to an almost abnormal keenness. It is this atmosphere that made N. E. Brookes, Anthony F. Wilding, A. W. Gore, R.

    F. and H. L. Doherty more dangerous there than anywhere else. It is this factor that spurs on J. C. Parke and A. R. F. Kingscote to their greatest tennis to-day. The great championship turf at Forest Hills, where the American Championship is held, offers a unique contrast to Wimbledon.

    The age of Wimbledon is its great attraction. It is the spirit of youth, of progress, of business-like mechanical perfection of management, and the enormous crowds and attendant enthusiasm that is the chief attraction at Forest Hills. Fully , were present on the closing day of the event in . Orderly, courteous, enthusiastic, but partisan, the American tennis public comes out to cheer on its favourite. No people in the world appreciate visiting players more whole-heartedly and none do more for their comfort than the American people. It is partisan, personal, sporting friendliness, warmer yet not so correct as the manner of the British public, that the Americans give. We have much to learn from our British friends. Yet I hope we will never sacrifice the warmth of feeling that at times may run away with us, yet in the main is the chief attraction of the American people. It is this enthusiasm that spurs on the men to their greatest efforts in the National Championship.

    The Australian team, Norman E. Brookes, Gerald Patterson, Randolph Lycett, and R. V. Thomas, who visited the United States, in , scored a unique personal triumph. The whole gallery present at the notable match in the Championship, when Patterson went down to defeat in a terrific set struggle with W. M. Johnston, rose and cheered Patterson as he walked off the court. It was a real ovation; a tribute to his sportsmanship, and an outburst of personal admiration. Brookes was the recipient of an equal demonstration on his final appearance at Forest Hills. The stimulus of the surroundings produced the highest tennis of which these men were capable.

    Yet in all championships it is the personal element that is the moving factor. Personalities are the deciding force in popularity. Patriotism is partially submerged in personality.

    The Davis Cup matches bring out the gamest struggles in the history of tennis. It is in these unique series of matches that the fame of Anthony F. Wilding, Norman E. Brookes, J. C. Parke, B. C. Wright, M. E. M'Loughlin, and others reached its crest. It was the unselfish giving of one's best, under all conditions, for the honour of the country that called out the finest tennis in each man. Parke reached his crest in his memorable defeat of Brookes. M'Loughlin has never quite equalled his marvellous game of  against Brookes and Wilding.

    It is the psychology of patriotism that brings out this tennis.

    Personality is submerged. Unity of purpose as a team, replaces the object of personal glory that is the keynote of championship.

    It is the friendly rivalry of sport, between such men as form the backbone of tennis in each country, that does more for international understanding than all the notes ever written from the White House.

    I could go on writing tennis psychology as explained by external conditions for hundreds of pages, but all I want to do is to bring to mind a definite idea of the value of the mind in the game. Stimulate it how you will, a successful tennis player must admit the value of quick mind. Do it by a desire for personal glory, or team success, or by a love of competition in matching your wits against the other man's, but do it some way.

    Do, not think that tennis is merely a physical exercise. It is a mental cock-tail of a very high "kick."

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