Recently, this column cited a pet peeve: the player who, in the middle of a hitting session (not a match), dashes less than a foot from the net, hits one volley and then returns to the baseline. This in turn elicited comments from others about their pet peeves. Here are just a few:
Sally and Jane are hitting groundstrokes, baseline to baseline. Sally drives a forehand down the middle of the court that’s anywhere from two inches to two feet past the baseline. Jane lets the ball bounce, but does not hit it back. Instead, she catches the ball, holds it in her hand, and then feeds it. Why? Did Jane just win the point? Has she contempt for Sally’s ball? Is Jane unable to move?
While it’s understandable not to chase a ball that’s two feet or more long that’s struck off to a sideline – particularly early in the hitting session -- the rationale for stopping the rally on balls that shallow or close to the middle of the court is completely baffling. I once hit with someone who did this so often I thought it would be provocative to intentionally hit every one of my shots long to see if he would just do this again and again. The funny thing was that I was unable to do that and actually begin to generate much better depth. Yes, a good drill: Try and hit the ball a mere foot behind the baseline.
Everything from the ascent of the Western forehand grip to the two-handed backhand has turned lob-feeding into a horrific experience. Whatever happened to just throwing one up moderately deep so that a player could hit a few simple overheads? Instead, lobs often either go tremendously short or ridiculously high and unwieldy. Is it that hard to merely loft one with reasonable height? The lob, after all, is merely a groundstroke with an exceptionally high margin over the net. Poor feeding is particularly prevalent among juniors. To steal from a popular saying: If you feed a man lob, you feed him for a day. But if you teach a man to feed a lob, you feed him for a lifetime.
Rational thought is often appreciated. But it’s maddening to play an opponent who always has a good explanation for his or her outcomes – be it in defeat or victory. To be sure, there are reasons why we each don’t play well. But to tell them to an opponent after he or she has worked hard to beat you negates their effort – and also, their role in helping you play poorly. The only thing worse is to talk about how badly you played after you beat someone. Hall of Famer Roy Emerson, one of many standard-bearers of the Australian code of sportsmanship, frequently cites a simple decree: If you’re hurt, don’t play. But if you play, it’s assumed you’re healthy. No excuses.