Swanberg is a former collegiate player at Livingston
University and each month he will give us a new tennis
A short one this month, dear readers, as The Bird is
in the process of moving to a new city. Don't despair,
however, as the bounds of cyberspace cannot be transcended.
Basically, that's just a flowery way of saying, I
can still e-mail in my column.
Okay, this month we're going to tackle a subject that
few people ever attempt. I guess it's supposed to be
common knowledge, but clearly it isn't.
Many of you are asking, what is this whole 'up-or-down'
thing, and what's the correct answer?
The short answer is, it's the racquet spin.
The long answer is, well, longer.
See, most sports have methods for choosing which team
does what at the onset of the meet. Football teams flip
a coin to determine who will kick off, for instance.
The same goes for tennis. Who serves first? And on what
In professional tennis events, the umpire will flip
a coin before the players warm up. The winner of the
coin-toss gets to choose to serve, to receive, or which
side he or she wishes to start on. He or she can also
choose to defer the first choice to their opponent.
Nine times out of ten, the response is to serve first,
since most pros have weapons in their serves.
But in amateur events, there are loopholes. And I'm
going to show you how to exploit them. As well, a coin
isn't typically used. One player will spin his racquet
and ask up or down? The opponent will choose
one, and then the butt cap of the racquet will be used
to determine if it was the correct decision. Typically,
if the logo on the butt cap is right-side up, then it
is said to be up. If it is upside down, then it is said
to be down.
There are many variations on this, but let's start
with how the spin is supposed to go. Player A will ask,
up or down and Player B (the opponent) will
choose one. Then Player A spins his or her racquet like
a top on the ground, starting with the head down. The
racquet is allowed to fall on the ground to determine
the outcome. Some of the variations on this are as follows.
Sometimes the racquet is spun in the player's hands
and the butt cap obscured from view with a palm. Sometimes,
the question is P or D or M or W
if the racquet is a Prince or a Wilson respectively.
Sometimes the spin is done before the call is made.
These are all exploitable on one side or the other.
But note, I am not advocating cheating in any way.
The first thing to realize in such a situation is that
most every amateur match begins with the warm-up. Only
after both players are ready to start is the coin flipped/racquet
spun. The correct thing to do is to determine who will
serve and from which side before the warmup begins,
and then players take their starting side for the warmup.
But hey, most spins come after the warmup, so this can
be used to your advantage.
If the sun (or any other weather tidbit) is a factor,
then by all means, warm up with the sun in your face.
That way, when your opponent plays on that side, he
or she won't have been able to get used to it. Use that
as a way to get a quick service break. After all, service
breaks are the big thing in tennis. Get one and you'll
probably win the set.
Okay, so we're warming up with the sun in our face.
Well, if your opponent spins his racquet and asks up
or down (or M or W or P or D
or whatever) choose whatever came second. Say down
(or W or D). Why? Because there
are a lot of players that use social engineering to
try and cheat a little bit. They know that most people
will choose the first of the two choices and will set
their racquets to the second on purpose. Nefarious?
Yes it is! But I would wager that this will get you
winning around 60% of the spins right off the bat.
If your opponent asks for your choice before spinning
the racquet in his or her hand, insist that he or she
spin it on the ground or spin it before you choose.
Or perhaps offer to spin your own racquet. There are
a good number of players that know what's up and what's
down on their racquet and they will spin it to whatever
you didn't call. Yes, it's cheating, but by identifying
it, you can get the odds back to 50-50.
Okay, let's explore the options. The winner of the
spin can elect to serve first, receive first, pick a
side to start on, or defer to the opponent. The opponent
then has the choice of what's left, except he cannot
defer. So, if the winner elects to serve, then the opponent
gets to choose the side. If the winner chooses a side,
then the opponent can choose to serve or receive.
Okay, so you've won the spin. What now? Well, truth
to tell, you may be better off losing the spin. And
Let's go back to the sun idea. You've warmed up with
the sun in your face, so you're used to it. And you
want to get the quickest break you can, before your
opponent can adjust. So, the ideal thing is to have
your opponent spend his first sun-blinded game serving.
So, let's say your opponent wins the spin and elects
to serve. You should then elect to start on the side
that he warmed up on. Why? Because then he will serve
the first game of the match with the sun in his face
and you can get a quick break.
But what if he elects to receive? Well, then you stay
on your side because you are used to the sun, can hopefully
hold serve, and then when you switch he will have the
sun in his eyes for his first service game.
Simple, right? Just play the games out in your mind
and that will direct the decision.
So, if your opponent wins the spin and elects to take
your side of the court, what do you do? That's right,
you receive. Make him serve that first game that he
faces the sun.
So, we can see that making the first decision (i.e.
winning the spin) isn't necessarily a good thing. So,
if you win the spin, perhaps you should elect to defer.
Many crafty players do just this.
But, Bird, many of you are saying while
hurling rotten fruit my direction, you just told
us to win the spin. True. Very true. But if you
win, you can defer, and your opponent cannot do anything
about it. And in most circles, most players do not know
what you are currently learning, and they will just
elect to serve first, not really understanding why that
is a good or bad thing.
Okay, so many of you are now saying, what about
indoor tennis? To which I reply, stop interrupting!
But then I will go on to say that, then things get a
bit more interesting. Does your opponent have a good
serve? Do you? Is it liable to win you free points and
games? What about your fitness level? Remember, the
key is to maximize the potential for holding your own
serve while also trying to set up the best possibility
for breaking your opponent's serve.
This was always a big factor in my matches growing
up. The blazing Texas heat factored into a lot of my
singles matches. I noticed that if I served first, then
that meant that I served the second game after each
changeover. So, by the time I was serving, I had already
played a game and was farther away from the previous
rest break, and that much more tired. So, I quickly
got comfortable with receiving first. That way, late
in the second or third set, when my opponent and I are
battling the heat as much as each other, I would serve
right after having had a rest on the changeover. Yes,
I know that this choice only really affects the first
set and that the set scores determine the later changeover
patterns, but some of us get tired even in the first
set. And you don't want to get broken at 5-all simply
because you're tired and you made the wrong decision
early on. So, to sum this point up, if fatigue is a
factor, then try to receive first.
So, in the end, there is no magic formula. But I hope
I have given you a good list of things to think about
when it comes to the racquet spin.
Now, on to the e-mail portion of this month's instruction.
Irwin F. writes:
I was playing tennis last night with a group of "friends"
and we had an interesting situation come up that sparked
a minor debate. I wanted to get an expert's opinion
and a rule clarification.
We were playing doubles and I was receiving from
the ad court. My partner called the opponent's first
serve out even though it was clearly in (he is getting
old). As I returned the serve back into the court
my partner reversed his call claiming the serve was
good. As soon as he reversed his call we stopped the
point and the server took two. This is customary with
our friendly group but what is the legal course of
action in the situation?
I also wanted to know how many women you have bagged
as a tennis pro? Is it a good way to pick up chicks?
Well, Irwin, there have been many rules changes over
the past few decades, so I am not necessarily the best
to ask for an off-the-cuff answer. Back in the day,
we were taught that any bad call, regardless of the
circumstance, is to be immediately given to the opponent.
So, in this case, I would say it was the server's point
regardless. But let's go to our old buddy, The
Code, for this one.
For those of you who are unaware, The Code
is the USTA (United States Tennis Association) rules
for conduct in tennis. It is specifically written to
answer questions such as Irwin's.
The Code states:
12. Out calls corrected. If a player mistakenly calls
a ball out and then
realizes it was good, the point shall be replayed
if the player returned the ball
within the proper court. Nonetheless, if the players
return of the ball results
in a weak sitter, the player should give
the opponent the point. If the player
failed to make the return, the opponent wins the
point. If the mistake was
made on the second serve, the server is entitled
to two serves.
So clearly, the rules have changed since my youth.
In this case, Irwin and his friends handled
the situation correctly, assuming that the return wasn't
On the second issue, that of using tennis to bag
women, well, here's the thing. Tennis is a great way
to meet a plethora of people from all sexes, same and
opposite and otherwise. And it's a great way to pick
them up. That is, if you can pick them up in other situations
as well. If you can meet women in a yoga class, then
you can meet them on a tennis court. But if you can't
hook up in a women's prison, then you probably won't
have any better luck on a tennis court.
As to the specific question of how many I've bagged...
well, I'll just let your collective imagination run
wild. I've had my share. Um... if my share is, say,
two. Once, there was this Navy nurse and... whoops,
said too much already.
In response, Irwin, I must ask... why did you put quotes
Until next month, dear readers, this is The Bird saying,
keep those e-mails coming.
Send your tennis questions and comments to Mike
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