Monday, April 19, 2010

Tennis Lessons From The Princess Bride

Man in Black: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right... and who is dead.

Vizzini: But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Sometimes I feel like the Vizzini of tennis. William Goldman’s quirky, heady character from The Princess Bride who, with no physical abilities whatsoever, tries to outmaneuver his foe on cleverness alone. If I could actually smash my overhead smashes, I wouldn’t need to spend any time at all trying to figure out what my opponent’s next move would be. She wouldn’t have a next move. The point would be over.

Tennis is a head game, it’s true. That’s one of the reasons I love it. But unfortunately it can take me an entire set to figure out the other team’s game. And even then, I’m not always sure what to do about it.

At one point during last Friday’s match, Gina turned to me and said, “What would Laura (the Tennis Pro) tell us to do?”

I was glib. “She’d tell us to play more aggressively,” I said. And we tried that, but it didn’t work. “She’d tell us to mix it up,” I said later. And that worked a little better.

The best advice for me would have been to just get out of my own way. Stop the Vizzinni monologue entirely. Stop worrying about whether I was disappointing my partner, or whether the women across the net thought I was gracious enough. Or worthy enough.

Just make a plan and carry out that plan. That’s not necessarily a winning formula. But the when my entire game is about reacting to what’s coming at me, I’m basically just sitting around waiting until someone else screws up. Trying to figure out how to avoid the poison, when what I should be doing with that Man In Black is taking out my machete and lopping off his head.

(No offense, Prince.)


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  3. “Tennis is a head game, it’s true.”— It really is, Jess. And to be able to win this game, you should know the move of your opponent. In that way, you could think of a strategy that could match his or her hit.

  4. One of my all-time favorite movies. I once literally knocked into Wallace Shawn at Balduccis after an appointment at the gynecologist. My 'Breast Lumps and You' brochures went flying and he gallantly swooped down, swept them up and presented them to me. I think he gave a slight bow. I blathered and stammered and would have died a slow painful death in the battle of wits.

    Now the question is: will it be helpful to me to remember the Battle of Wits during a match or not? I think I might need to focus on watching the ball.