If you’re going to play Ladies Tennis, here’s one of the things that you have to master. More than your stroke or your serve or how to proceed through a tiebreaker, you must master the art of graciousness.
This doesn’t only mean that you should call a “questionable” ball “in,” if you’re really not certain it’s “out.” You should of course do that. But that’s the kind of thing that usually gets taken care of through Tennis Karma (Tarma?) (which I will discuss at another time). Mastering Tennis Grace means you must learn to go out of your way to be thoughtful and polite and say nice things to the other players, and especially to your partner.
Early on, when you’re learning the game and it’s all you can do to remember how the scoring works, you aren’t expected to have the mental capacity to exhibit a great deal of social grace. But soon enough, it is very clear that the expected verbal response to that lob/winner is “Nice shot!” Not, “You bitch!”
I feel like you can actually tell how long someone’s been playing by how thoughtful they are. Women who will convene around the water barrel on a 95-degree day and hand you the cup of water they’ve just drawn – hand everyone out cups of water they’ve drawn – before they ever take for themselves, those women are the masters.
None of that stuff comes naturally to me and I have to have a running conversation with myself the entire time I’m playing. Don’t slam the ball at the player who just dropped her racquet. Don’t do the Happy Dance if you’re already ahead a game or two. For God’s sake, don’t give her the finger if she hits that ball past you down the line for the third time in a row.
It's no secret that I have a hard time with my backhand, but that's nothing compared to the mental gymnastics required for me to remember to be thoughtful. Laura the Tennis Pro is not the ideal model for such behavior. Yes, she recently taught us to stick with our partner when we’re changing sides of the court. (“It shows unity to travel around on the same side of the net,” she says.) But she laughs heartily (cackles, really, in an almost uncontrollable convulsive way) when one of us accidentally gets hit with a ball. The more direct the blow, the harder she laughs. It’s as if she’s never seen anything funnier in her life, and I’m pretty certain that would not be an acceptable response if any of us reacted that way in an actual match.
I have a copy of Open, the Andre Agassi autobiography, on my nightstand. But I'm thinking maybe I should replace it with my copy of Etiquette, by Emily Post.
Oh, I'm sorry. What do you think?