Donal's picture

    Let Me Entertain You

    I don't play now, but I have played a lot of tennis over the years, sometimes in leagues or clubs with people I didn't know well. I enjoyed playing with some of those guys so much that we arranged to play again, and became "tennis buddies." With others, I couldn't wait for the match to end.

    Most guys are reasonably good sports. They want good competition, and to play well, and to win. Others just want to win.

    Tennis magazines abound with complaints about dinking and gamesmanship. Dinkers just tap the ball back and wait for you to make a mistake. Gamesmen try to mess with your mind. After Brad Gilbert wrote Winning Ugly, I noticed a lot more gamesmanship in league play.

    One guy called any shot anywhere near the line out. Never played him again. One guy spent the whole match talking about how well or poorly I was doing. Never played him again. Another showed up, questioned every call, threatened to protest the match, etc. Never played him again.

    I had a really good partner for doubles, Eric. We had played in a league and got along well. We played a doubles match and were doing well against a team of guys we didn't know. All of a sudden one guy missed a shot and started screaming and yelling bloody murder and his partner was screaming and yelling back. I thought he had hurt himself, but it was a temper tantrum. Eventually they calmed down, but we were so rattled that they rolled over us. I never played either of them again, either.

    I wasn't playing professionally. I was playing for free. My philosophy was that if I was going to give someone a good game, they should try to do the same thing in return. If they couldn't, I would look elsewhere.

    I spent a lot of time on usenet, and then on other discussion forums, and I brought that same philosophy there. That saves me a lot of time because, as I'm sure you know, there are a lot of dinkers and gamesmen on the net. Give me a good discussion, be reasonably civil, and I'll do the same for you. Humor is always welcome. Otherwise I'm not going to waste my time.

    I do like to blog here, and I was pleased to join the masthead, but I have a busy job with a lot of people relying on me for direction, information, decisions, research, etc. Jobs aren't a given in my field. They never have been, but especially not these last few years.

    So I will post my thoughts, and I will respond to polite, intelligent and thoughtful comments, and I will laugh at good jokes, and maybe we will all learn something.



    Very good analogy, Donal.  Well played.

    Does this mean you are backing out of the duel? 

    I'm with you, Donal.  Postin' my thoughts, no brawlin'.  Life is good.  (Except when it's bad.)

    At least in tennis the net is an actual physical entity.  Here in the discourse of the blogosphere we have to agree upon a conceptual net, and usually, in the interest of time, implicitly.  Which leads to a lot of arguing over whether the ball hit the net or not (e.g. what the heck is a revolutionary?).  Which is one way of saying excellent blog.

    Yeah, and you didn't even get into the fact that the net sometimes gets moved.  Like goal posts do.

    and started screaming and yelling bloody murder and his partner was screaming and yelling back. I thought he had hurt himself, but it was a temper tantrum. Eventually they calmed down, but we were so rattled that they rolled over us.

    Sorry to offend your delicate sensibilities but if you think that what he did is s bad thing you shouldn't be posting on a political blog! You people who want to have effete conversations while Rome burns, can't see what's going on, make me sick! That guy clearly knows the answer to "WHERE'S THE OUTRAGE?!" He would make a great keyboard warrior (or even a member of the House,) he has a BACKBONE, he's got a SPINE, and would know blogging is not a Miss Manners dinner party polite ladies tennis match, but that you've got to go for the kill! Carpe diem, you've got to pound out those angry words day in, day out or the scumbags will not only roll over us but keep spitting in our faces and pissing on our shoes. Did I say you have to get a backbone? Maybe you need balls too! For crying out loud, take a stance and fight!

    Tongue out

    LOL, AA, maybe you need to start your own blog!  Wink

    Okay, can we stop with the pissing?  Down the leg, in our pants, on our shoes.   It's very likely both my cats can read and they don't need any new ideas on where to mark their territory.  Sure, they pretend they're only interested in the cursor moving across the screen, but I'm positive they are reading the posts here at Dagblog.  I see their little cat lips moving.


    and given access to your files, who knows what they might end up leaking to the world.

    Oh, but surely, Flower, they are just quietly plotting the overthrow of your family dog, and not the household.  Yes?

    Here are the important things to remember about tennis rules. [One] When the ball is on your side of the net you get to make the call. When it is on your opponents side, it becomes their call. [Two] If you cannot make a call with certainty your opponent gets the benefit of the doubt. [Three] A ball hitting the line is 100% in-bounds but you can hit the ball from out-of-bounds.
     If you get angry every time you think your opponent made a bad call you will soon have no one to play with. If your opponent constantly makes bad calls in his favor, and especially if he questions every one of your close calls, you will get angry. 
     Oh yeah, you can get away with a foot-fault every time you serve.
     I am playing in two hours. Thanks, Donal, for prodding me to remind myself about a few of the basics. Good blog.

    Here's a tennis analogy of mine I was going to trot out in a  different context:

    I used to play quite regularly, but without much skill or style. One of my friends was a top-knotch club player, usually in the running in the local tournaments. He was a very elegant player to watch, a wicked hard running forhand, a sledgehammer serve, a second serve spun so fast it whipped up off the ground at you, and a graceful floating sliced backhand that just curled up and fell asleep at your feet like a tired puppy at the end of the day. We'd occasionally play together and, predictably, he'd kick my ass. On a good day I didn't get egged. But it was still pretty fun - I'd chip and charge, sometimes get a decent smacked volley in, sometimes a spectacular diving touch, but mostly just watch the ball whistle by.

    Then I tried to think more tactically, and instead of rushing in towards the net behind a hopeful serve or a half-hearted forehand, I began sending more back-spun loopy balls to his backhand, the kind that had no forward momentum in them, i.e. no kinetic energy that he could use in sending the ball back. And crucially, they weren't the kind of ball that you could hit with a sliced backhand, which only work on balls that arrive with some oomph in them. But he was uncomfortable with any other kind of backhand, and he couldn't be bothered to run around the ball to hit his awesome forehand, and he was reluctant to cut those balls off in mid-air by moving in towards the net - netplay wasn't his thing. So he'd just keep back and continue slicing the ball and it would die ridiculously in the net, or leave me with an easy volley. And I started beating him. Regularly.

    The result was that he started going apeshit. He'd ball me out for playing ugly, complain that I was making the exchanges boring. I tried to tell him that I was merely attacking his naked weaknesses, and that he ought to try to adapt to my changes in tactics. That, to me, was part of the game. But he didn't see things that way. And we eventually moved on to other partners.

    How does this analogy apply here? Dunno, but it seems to me that the local rules of the game, the implicit etiquette, i.e the frontiers to what counts as a "respectable attitude" in regard to current issues of interest, are quite off-base. But then again, I'm told off-thread that I've become the resident asshole around these parts, or words to that effect. So what do I know. In any case, as Tony Blair would say, if I've offended anyone, I'm sorry you feel that way about it.

    Anyway, kudos for banner-headlining that pretty little death-to-Assange piece, guys. THAT'S entertainment, YEAH!

    I think that's a perfect analogy. You made the logical adjustment to his game, and his only reply was to get angry and huffy with you, so you stopped playing with each other. End of problem.

    Suppose he told you that you had to continue playing against him no matter how angry and abusive he behaved towards you? That you owed him another match, then another and another. And suppose he claimed that he was really winning because you were cheating by playing the way you did? Would you have found that an enjoyable and worthwhile way to spend your free time?

    I enjoyed the Blair non-apology apology; there seem to be lots of variations, but that one’s a pip.  There’s one thing I hold against you, but I see you’ve changed it.  You’d taken to using that miniscule font, and I like to read your comments, it was making me think of ants marching in line across the page.  Night before last, I had a nightmare in which I discovered a long line of HUGE ants marching across the kitchen counter, and continuing on behind the coffee maker and the toaster.  My toaster!  Now breakfast is the only meal I ever get hungry for, and breakfast is always homemade sourdough toast.  So it got me right where I live.  I won’t bore you with the nightmare failures of me fighting with them or not finding their source; but thanks for making your letters larger. 

    I offered a weak-tea apology to you and Quinn and DickDay on another thread for acting out; I don’t expect a response; the offer is supposed to be sufficient itself.  I’ve thought about it some, and it feels like from time to time, many of us communicate on the boards in ways that are affected by the importance of an issue to us, what else is going on in life for us, and also if we feel that our arguments are falling on either receptive or deaf ears. 

    I’ve joined a few other sites, and have enjoyed some, but I do keep coming back here also because some of my friends blog or comment here, even though my diaries don’t get as many comments and associated links here as at other sites.

    Part of what keeps me blogging is that goofy ‘Let’s go tell King Louis’ notion, that if only people could know this or understand that, we could help change it.  Silly, really, but there it is.  But I’m really frightened about our futures in this country, and since I can’t get out in the world any more, this is what I have now to try to effect better change. Some of you seem to know the morality of some issues clearly, and while I keep trying to zero in on it, I usually have at least a bit of uncertainty, and don’t think in terms of black and white so easily.

    I’d thought that Genghis’ blog about how to kill Assange was an attempt to make the idea into an absurdity, given the several blogs sort of advocating it; I may have been wrong.  But I will say at FDL, any comments about serious violence are always deleted, and commenters are notified immediately. 

    I’m sure no one considers you ‘the resident asshole’ here.  Over the years, I’ve found you to be a fair and direct participant in discussions, not to mention smart, with a world-view that’s important for us to hear about.  If you change your patience levels from time to time, you’re about the only one who can figure out why; same for all of us, really.  And maybe you don’t want to take such a comment to heart without trying it on.  If it’s bogus, toss it off, I’d say; if not, figure out what's up.  And I agree that it’s hard to get a grip on ‘the etiquette’ here, especially what discussions are sometimes seen as ‘attacks’.

    For my part, it’s because shit is flying at us so fast and furiously lately that it’s hard not to have my hair on fire much of the time, and my rhetoric probably shows it.    So it goes.

    I’ve thought about it some, and it feels like from time to time, many of us communicate on the boards in ways that are affected by the importance of an issue to us, what else is going on in life for us, and also if we feel that our arguments are falling on either receptive or deaf ears.

    Exactly this. I know I have a couple of sensitive points myself (I'm not going to share what they are) that make me occasionally post in an emotional manner. The worst combination is when you two bloggers are in this mood simultaneously and on opposite (or at least opposing) sides of an issue. If you (in the general sense) find yourself in such a tit-for-tat (and it takes two to tango), I find the best rememedy is to step away for an hour or a day or even a week until your mood improves, or everyone's forgotten what the issue was.

    I'm fine with 'posting in an emotional manner'.  Some of the best and most concise writing can happen then, IMO, which is part of the reason that I like a pretty wide parameter concerning expression v. subjective manners-speak.  Some commenters simply like to 'win' an argument, and when backed into corners, can say some pretty OT things, I think, and the thoughtful becomes the personal pretty easily.  I ususally don't care about winning so much, but I can get supremely irked at many Dems, for instance, who are Party-defenders, and continully give this administration passes for deeds they'd be stomping mad about under a Republican one.  It can make me a bit crazy. Or those who say, "Simmer down, now, Stardust; the fin-regs they passed aren' so bad".  And I tear my hair...

    I was also thinking about how much physical pain can affect us, and other medical conditions.  Another whole category came up yesterday: I got three separate emails from bloggers here wondering at the confusion of relationships on the boards, some issues about who won't respond to whom lately, or gender issues and blogging alliances that don't seem to have much to do with the issues, the TOS standards...Lord love a duck it can get messy.

    One man was laughing about 'manners' a bit, and almost buoyant about how 'a well-placed barb' now and again being the coups de grace in an argument, and he's right, of course.  ;o)  And I've never seen him mean, so I enjoyed the remark.

    Some commenters simply like to 'win' an argument

    I admit to having that problem myself more than I should, but it's only because I know I'm right, and I can't stand many remaining in ignorance. Wink

    wondering at the confusion of relationships on the boards

    That's one thing I try hard not to think about. I also try to forget past insults. I sometimes fail at both, but I think it's a good target (the latter more than the former). It's much easier when I have a positive history with the people I felt insulted by.

    A Stardust Grin for both...  The final sentence comes from Life Lessons from Dr. Phil, doesn't it?  Chapter 3: Masochism Can Be Your Friend!

    Hah! I didn't think about it that way. (I'm assuming you're referring to some form of "Sure he hits me, but I still know he loves me" type of relationship.)

    Yes, exactly so. I love xkcd.

    Me, too. Especially when they insult me.

    So true.  I hope you will see this and look at my comment at the bottom.  I missed this chat by several days.

    I’m sorry I missed this discussion earlier.  I hope you and Obey see this.

    I loved to play the game of tennis.  It gave me many hours of entertainment and recreation.  Sadly I could never return the favor by playing it well but no one got more pleasure from tennis than I did.  It was a tennis instructor, Vic Braden, who gave me the tools I needed to understand the game and to play a winning and satisfying version of it.  I recommend his book “Tennis For The Future.”  Perhaps a few of his observations are germane here.

    First on the matter of “dinking” or “winning ugly” ( and Obey your comment is a perfect example of this), Braden liked to point out that even in professional tennis, only one in three points is won with an outright winner.  The other two points are won as forced or unforced errors.  Braden concluded that the best overall strategy in tennis is to keep giving your opponent another chance to fail.  Outright winners are nice but the game is not won that way.  Now “dinking” has the disadvantage that it usually results in what Braden called “a fuzz sandwich” for you.  On the other hand in most circumstances it will lead to a lot of wins.  There is another, fairly simple solution that has a number of charms – to wit – topspin.  

    The advantages of topspin are numerous.  First its use acknowledges a fundamental physical reality about the game.  If you draw a straight line starting about 4 feet high from one baseline to the opposite baseline, you will discover that at the net there is a very narrow window through which a 3 inch ball can pass.  The important conclusion here is that hitting a hard and flat line is a very low percentage tactic.  Since it is possible to give a ball “topspin,” one can gain the advantage of aerodynamics and hit the ball high over the net and still have it drop inside the court.  In fact the harder you hit the ball the more certain you are that it will stay “in,” a fact which removes both the need to play less than full out and simplifies the physical challenge of the basic tennis stroke.  Furthermore it adds the third dimension to the shot you present to your opponent.  He/she must contend on only with left/right and high/low parameters, but also the arc of the trajectory which is moving with pace and greatly complicates the return.   If your opponent is one of those club players who lives by the slice then they will always be tempted to hit out to end the point and “bingo” they can’t because if they could they wouldn’t live by the slice in the first place.  And guess who ends up with the label “dinker?”

    As for court decorum, well we can thank Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe for that.  I think Bjorn Borg got angry once in a major match.   He tells the story about how when he was a teenager he loved to play tennis and had a very bad temper.  His tennis teacher finally took away his racket and told him he could not have it if he was going to behave like that.  He loved the game too much and so ended his court antics.  He loved the game.  Connors and McEnroe, typical Americans, only loved to win.  By the way Borg was content to stay at the baseline and hit topspin all day.  Connors described a match against Borg as like “combing you hair for five hours.”  And then there was Guillermo Vilas who seemed almost afraid to step inside the court boundary.  I suppose it is a matter of taste but I would rather be Borg or Vilas when they lose than Connors or McEnroe in victory.    I only saw Laver a few times but that era of tennis was another kind of magic.  There is much to be said for the Australian “chip and charge” version of the game.   Of course like so many other sports the men have outgrown the game.  With composite rackets and fast courts there really is no more tennis.  It is now racket ball played large. Very little of what I just said applies to the game today.

    I suppose there are lessons to take away from all of this, other than just that there are much happier ways to spend your time than blogging.  One thing that tennis did teach me is emotional control.  When I became angry or frustrated then everything went out the window including any chance of winning.  My technique would fail me.  I would not bend my knees or run to the ball.  I’d keep replaying the last point in my head and thus lose the next one.  The game has its physical and mental realities and if I lost my “center” in the game then it was already over.  I agree with ArtAppraiser ( and Atheist ) that the things we talk about here are often not trivial or unserious but that is all the more reason to maintain composure, decorum and respect for the “game” if not the opponent.  As I said, I’d rather be Borg or Vilas in defeat than Connors or McEnroe in victory.  As for enjoyment and satisfaction,  no “game” can provide that without a worthy opponent.  

    Love that last paragraph Larry.

    "You cannot be serious!!!"

    What do you mean?  It was out.  I saw it clearly "OUT."

    Thanks Larry. I'm going to let this knock around my head for a bit.

    I do disagree about today's tennis, though. Federer - Nadal has produced some of the best tennis ever (especially the wimbledon finals). Imo. And, to be honest, I always rooted for McEnroe and Connors. But then again they were the lovable old men on the circuit when I started paying attention.

    The problem with televised tennis now is that so much of what makes a shot excellent is invisible to the spectator. Larry spoke of topspin, but topspin then was nothing compared to ball rotation now.

    Players were given an inch in the 1970s and they took a mile. The ball now spins 4 or 5 times faster than it did before the 1970s. An increase in just one inch [in the width of racquets] allowed an amazing increase in spin due to steeper, faster swings and a tilting of the racquet forward by up to 5 degrees, all without clipping the frame. 

    I watched tennis then and I could evaluate a shot by the placement and depth and I could guess the spin by how the player struck the ball. So if Smith hit a big shot, I knew Ashe was going to be put on the defensive.

    I can't do that now. Del Potro can hit a well-placed, deep shot, but unless he also includes great spin, Federer can knock it right back at him. And great topspin comes from subtle motion of the wrist that is difficult to see in person much less on TV.

    Indeed.  Thanks to composite materials tennis today is much faster, and all in the wrist, as in racketball.  Once it was not so.  I suppose I am being a grumpy purist and I apologize for that.  But still your last shot was "OUT."

    How can you say that? Chalk flew up!

    We were playing in the Walmart parking lot.  What chaulk are you talking about?  And where's my coke stash?  It was in my jacket lying on the ground where we were playing... oh no.

    Larry, I can argue for a little while, but just until the Cowboy game comes on. I love the game and still play at least three times a week and I know of no other game that can be played for as long as you can walk. I am mostly a doubles player now days and was never particularly good but the game gives the opportunity to match up with someone of close ability and have just as good a competition as do the pros.
     I am self-taught and do not recommend that because it ingrains too many bad habits but I read a few books on the subject. Braden's book and his recommendation to "give your opponent one more chance to eat cheese" made me too cautious a player for years. It is good advice but can be carried too far. I think I could have been a bit later if I had worked harder at hitting past my opponent rather than just running my butt off and trying to get back everything they threw at me. It was definitely much better advice for singles, which is my favorite game, than for doubles where you need to take advantage of every opportunity to put the ball away.
     I greatly admired Connors tenacity. He never gave up on a point. Did you know that McEnroe, when he was beginning and needed to be in the qualifying tournaments where players didn't have linesmen to make the call but made their own, was known for being very generous on line calls. I won't defend his tirades later when he expected the linesmen to get every call right.
     The best players of today have caught up with the speed provided by modern equipment and considering how much TV slows down the apparent speed I am amazed at the level of play.
     I have heard tennis be described as physical chess. In that sense I think the best book on tennis is "The Inner Game of Tennis": The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by W. Timothy Gallwey.
     Oh yeah, aerodynamics have nothing to do with why top spin makes a ball dip. That is a misconception still taught in elementary school which is wrongly explained by reference to  Bernoulli's Theorem, but being able to hit it is the only important thing on the court.

    I agree with everything you have said.  "Physical chess" indeed which is the origin of my discomfort with Connors and McEnroe and their ilk.  When playing chess it is considered bad form to engage in antics that distract from the contest itself. Tennis has plenty of emotion but it is a game of physical skill. 

    And thanks for the correction on top-spin.  Now what is this I hear about the earth revolving around the sun?  When I was playing tennis we thought...

    What's the point of having sticks if you can't hit each other with them?

    I mean, Tennis sticks even have little net curtains on them. 

    This is all just so much Nancy-boy talk. 

    Where as in HOCKEY, a proper MAN'S game, the players carry a club, wear razor-sharp skates, gladiator-style breast-plates and leather gloves, socks and garter belts, and... oops.... 

    I knew it.  I knew it.  Hockey is Canada's ballet. And every ballet in Canada is Tchaikovsky's "The .." (go on. Guess.)

    The... Serenade for Broken Garters?

    Silly people. Tchaikovsky only had two ballets that begin with "The". Since we're talking about effeminate Canadian hockey players, clearly it was a reference to "The Sleeping Beauty".

    Somehow. methinks 'Nutcracker' might play a bit better in the hockey locker rooms, but what do I know of garter belts and their true functions? 

    It had occurred to me, but I'm pretty sure that Canadian hockey players don't have huevos, so I ruled it out.

    Saves on garters.  ;o)

    A while back, maybe ten years, I was in a match with a guy I had never seen before but had heard a bit about. He had played tight end as a reserve for the Redskins and a bit in Canada. He was about six-three, 195, and it was a hot summer day so we both had our shirts off. I know, poor form for tennis. Anyway, he was a big powerful looking guy.
     We were locked in a close match when he hit a ball that tipped the tape and bounced high. I was able to dig for it from the baseline and got it just over the net as he was charging towards me. We both almost went into the net. He got his racket on it but it went low as we came together just a few feet apart. He looked at me and said, through gritted teeth, "Damned non-contact sports".

    Larry,  that's a great piece. As to spin and dinking I played at a club in California run by a character named Walter Westbrook. He was then in his mid eighties and was # 15 on the Michigan alumni list which netted me some great Rose Bowl tickets. Walter had been a pole vaulting champion in 1919 and he regularly competed in the Senior Olympics from which he would return with major gashes in his arms and legs--which together with his many skin cancers he handily cured with a pen knife. His favorite book was called the the"Spin of the Ball" and he was a master at dinking--which always foreordained where the ball would return--to him, standing on the base line looking half asleep and with the racquet dangling down to the ground--Walter was about 5' 8". Typically his opponents would be so frustrated they would slam the ball into the net or against the back fence. In the 1920's Walter won the National Doubles against Bill Tilden, I think in Pasadena, maybe at those very courts. Walter related that he was behind in the match and when he changed sides he got tangled up in the net, the audience laughed and so did Tilden. I suppose Walter had Tilden's number at that very moment. Walter, who was a devoted Christian, maybe Christian Scientist since he had never been to a doctor, had a parrot who would shout obscenities, plus the occasional "out".

    Just a little remembrance of Walter Westbrook, a one of a kind, and also very kind to me--a very dubious player. But we always won our doubles matches, both of us playing the base line.

    Great story.  Played Tilden.  Damn.

    I'm glad you caught this small remembrance of Walter.. He was a special character. He looked less like an athlete than anyone I've ever seen but he had unbelievable drive and love of tennis. 

    Walter was a friend of mine. He taught me tennis at Pasadena Poly. I was 11, he was 80. It was a great frendship that taught me about life and tennis. I was remembering him today when I interviewed Dodo Cheney. I suppose the last time I saw him I was about 13. Then in college he turned up on television at age 88, pole vaulting in the senior olympics. I can't say enough about the man. And yes, he taught me to dink. But he was very methodical as a teacher and as a tennis player. A really good guy and very gracious.

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