Part II of a Q and A with Debra, one of our readers, who is blind.

Debra: I gather there is a way to score more than one point at a time. What is that?

Tennis Diary: Not unless you’re John McEnroe. When a point ends, the winner gets one point only. However, Brad Gilbert tells a story about a match he had with McEnroe. Not surprisingly, McEnroe pitched a fit when the momentum in the match started to go against him. He ranted and raved at the chair umpire. Finally play resumed but, incredibly, it was Gilbert who got a warning for delay of game. If that had been Gilbert’s second warning, he would have lost a point to McEnroe.

Theoretically, if you won a point and your opponent goes ballistic in response and is penalized a point, you could win two points, but it’s very, very rare.

D: What’s a match point?

TD: If either player can win the match by winning the current point, then it is a match point.

D: How do you get a tie break started? Is there a spot on the court where the ball has to land that tells you that you to have one?

TD: You have a tiebreak after the score of a set gets to a to 6-6. The players stay on the same side of the court and the person who was receiving serve gets to serve the first point in the tiebreaker. After that, players alternate serve every other point. Every six points, the players switch sides.

The first player to seven points wins but he or she must win by two points. All other rules are the same as during a set.

D: What’s a drop shot?

TD: A drop shot is hit so that it lands just over the net. A good drop shot will bounce a second time before it reaches the back of the service box. This means that your opponent has to run all the way to the net to get to the ball which is a long way if he or she is back at the baseline. Even if your opponent does get to the ball, the ball is usually so low to the ground that it’s hard to hit a good shot off it because the player has to hit the ball up go to get it over the net.

D: I don’t think you can explain forehand, backhand, slice, or top-spin to me. I just take it that those are things one can do with the ball. For forehand and backhand, I think you’d have to physically show me how to hold the racquet. I’ve never held a racquet so I know nothing about the way you hold it in your hand. I don’t have any sighted friends who are remotely interested in tennis, so I’m on my own.

TD: You should try to find someone who has a Wii game. It’s a video game but you move the controller to simulate the movement of a baseball bat, or a bowling ball, or a tennis racket. To play the tennis game on Wii, you swing the controller in a forehand or backhand motion to hit the ball as it comes towards you on the screen. Someone would have to tell you when the ball is coming but it would be a good start. There is a game coming out designed for the sight impaired that uses the Wii remote as a controller. You can read about it here.

Having said that, if you picked up a stick and wrapped your fingers and thumb around it, that’s the same way you grip a tennis racket to hit volleys at the net. If you pointed the stick away from your body then rotated your hand to the right on the stick, that would be a forehand grip. If you rotated your hand to the left, that would be a backhand grip. That’s for a right-handed person. It would be the opposite for a left-handed person.

Send me an email with your address. I’ll send you a tennis racket and you can try it. I will not be responsible for any lamps that get broken while you’re fooling around with the racket or friends who end up with a concussion after getting accidentally whacked in the head.

D: What is the difference between holding serve and return of serve?

TD: Holding serve means to win a game in which you serve. Return of serve is the act of returning a ball that has been served. If the person returning serve wins the game, it is called a break of serve.

D: Apart from men playing five sets during slams, is there really any difference between men’s and women’s tennis?

TD: As far as the rules go, no, there is no difference except that on court coaching is allowed in some women’s tournaments but not the men’s. A woman can ask to speak to her coach on breaks between sets or when her opponent takes an injury or bathroom timeout.

Other than the rules, there is a lot of difference. Men are bigger and stronger and they hit the ball a whole lot harder. The hardest women’s serve is around 128 mph (206 Km/h). For men it’s over 150 mph (241 km/h). There are very few women who play serve and volley (serve the ball then run to the net). There aren’t a lot of men either but there are many more than women.

Readers, could you please help out here and add any other differences between the men’s and women’s game.

D: Is Roger a tennis player’s tennis player? By that I mean, do you appreciate him more if you either play or have played tennis and thoroughly understand the game, or is he the kind of player that a casual person, knowing very little about tennis can watch and appreciate?

Roger is not only a tennis player’s player and a non-tennis player’s player, he’s a writer’s player and a tennis reporter’s player. Consider this from a September 8 op-ed in the New York Times:

I have watched lots of televised Federer – every tennis fan has – but only live, now, do I understand. I’m surrounded by tennis reporters, and they are giggling. Federer hits an improbably perfect cross-court backhand, and laughter breaks out. Our expectations are outrageous, and seeing them met is somehow uproarious.

Or this from a New Yorker writer:

He can hit winners from anywhere, against anyone, at any time, and he does it with a deceptive casualness that’s startling even to people who have studied the game for years. Indeed, it’s fun to troll YouTube for Fed videos and listen to sports commentators come unglued over his shotmaking.

Then there was a piece by novelist David Foster Wallace titled, simply, Federer as Religious Experience.

See what I mean?

Feel free to ask any other tennis 101 questions and we’ll answer them.


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