In September, I was in Corpus Christi, Texas watching a tennis match and taking notes, when a smiling, clear-eyed gentleman in tennis clothes sat next to me. We chatted about the game and tennis strategies, and then introduced ourselves.
“I’m Bobby Hagerman, the tournament director here,” he said, as we shook hands. A Texas native, Bobby played tennis on scholarship for LSU from 1972 to 1975. After college, friends and neighbors asked for tennis lessons, and this started a 40+ year coaching career. “I love it.”
Later that day, Bobby texted me a few book recommendations. This post, another in the periodic “Brooks on Books” series (including “Interested in Tennis?”, which reviews four influential tennis books), reviews two of the tennis books suggested by Bobby. Both provide practical guidance and strategies for improving our tennis games.
“Keep the Ball in Play”
William “Big Bill” Tilden, the first American to win Wimbledon, published “Match Play & the Spin of the Ball,” a slim guide of tennis skills, strategy, and training. Published in 1925, the fundamental messages on stroke production, tactics, and psychology on the court have no expiration date. This book reminds us to focus on the things we control and make the most of what we have. As Tilden writes:
“…it seems a shame to me to pass up the ability to do anything well, simply because the effort seems tedious…If there is a hole in your game, plug it by intensive practice…”
This book emphasizes the critical, unequivocal importance of keeping the ball in play. Not only is hitting the ball over the net and within the lines with confidence joyful, but it also puts pressure on your opponent, and Tilden takes particular satisfaction in getting his opponents out of position. Firstly, though, he disdains unforced errors:
“I consider that double faults, missed ‘sitters’ (easy kills) and errors on the return of easy services, are absolutely inexcusable and actually tennis crimes.”
Tilden played during the early days of professional tennis, and he profiles the strengths and weaknesses of many contemporaries. While the names didn’t resonate for me, the descriptions helped me picture the application of Tilden’s recommendations to always have an idea of what you’re doing out there on the court and why. Concluding with another quote from Tilden:
“The two greatest things in match play are to put the ball in play and never give the other man the shot he likes to play.”
Visualize Successful Shots
Michael Zosel’s “Vision Tennis” (1994), written as the story of a high school tennis player, teaches approaches and strategies for developing a positive and tough mental game. This includes, for example, the benefits of “confidence chanting” short positive statements when playing to feed your subconscious. He also advocates visualizing the specific path and success of your serve before tossing the ball. As Zosel notes, your internal process is “hungry for vivid and positive images…”
The book provides a structure and plan for developing a personal philosophy about your tennis game, which is relevant to players of all ages. Bobby recommended this book as one to read with my daughter, and we have done just that. The book addresses the individual components of building a mental plan that includes your skills, strategy, training, and in-match self-talk.
The reality is that no one plays perfect tennis, so it’s about doing the hard work of developing skills and managing your mental equilibrium that leads to success. To quote the author, “Playing great tennis is a moment-by-moment process, not an end result.”