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The Art of Lawn Tennis
William T. Tilden
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The Art of Lawn Tennis
by William T. Tilden, 2D
September, 1998 [Etext #1451]
The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Art of Lawn Tennis, by Tilden
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R. D. K.
M. W. J.
W. T. T. 2D
Tennis is at once an art and a science. The game as played by
such men as Norman E. Brookes, the late Anthony Wilding, William
M. Johnston, and R. N. Williams is art. Yet like all true art, it
has its basis in scientific methods that must be learned and
learned thoroughly for a foundation before the artistic structure
of a great tennis game can be constructed.
Every player who helps to attain a high degree of efficiency
should have a clearly defined method of development and adhere to
it. He should be certain that it is based on sound principles
and, once assured of that, follow it, even though his progress
seems slow and discouraging.
I began tennis wrong. My strokes were wrong and my viewpoint
clouded. I had no early training such as many of our American
boys have at the present time. No one told me the importance of
the fundamentals of the game, such as keeping the eye on the ball
or correct body position and footwork. I was given a racquet and
allowed to hit the ball. Naturally, like all beginners, I
acquired many very serious faults. I worried along with moderate
success until I had been graduated from school, beating some
fairly good players, but losing some matches to men below my
class. The year following my graduation the new Captain of my
Alma Mater's team asked me if I would aid him in developing the
squad for next year. Well, "Fools rush in where angels fear to
tread," so I said Yes.
At that point my tennis education began.
The youngsters comprising our tennis squad all knew me well and
felt at perfect liberty to ask me as many questions as they could
think up. I was besieged with requests to explain why Jones
missed a forehand drive down the side-line, or Smith couldn't
serve well, or Brown failed to hit the ball at all. Frankly, I
did not know, but I answered them something at the moment and
said to myself it was time I learned some fundamentals of tennis.
So I began to study the reasons why certain shots are missed and
others made. Why certain balls are hit so much faster though with
less effort than others, and why some players are great while
most are only good. I am still studying, but my results to date
have resulted in a definite system to be learned, and it is this
which I hope to explain to you in my book.
Tennis has a language all its own. The idioms of the game should
be learned, as all books on the game are written in tennis
parlance. The technical terms and their counterpart in slang need
to be understood to thoroughly grasp the idea in any written
tennis account.
I do not believe in using a great deal of space carefully
defining each blade of grass on a court, or each rule of the
game. It gets nowhere. I do advocate teaching the terms of the
The Baseline=The back line.
The Service-line=The back line of the service court, extending
from side-line to side-line at a point 21 feet from the net.
The Alleys=The space on each side of the court between the side
service-line and the outside sideline of a doubles court. They
are used only when playing doubles and are not marked on a single
The Net=The barrier that stretches across the court in the exact
centre. It is 3 feet high at the centre and 3 feet 6 inches high
at the posts which stand 3 feet outside the sidelines.
2. STROKES (Two General Classes).
A. Ground strokes=All shots hit from the baselines off the bounce
of the ball.
B. Volleys=Shots hit while the ball is in flight through the air,
previous to its bound.
The Service=The method of putting the ball in play.
The Drive=A ground stroke hit with a flat racquet face and
carrying top spin.
The Chop=An undercut ground stroke is the general definition of a
chop. The slice and chop are so closely related that, except in
stroke analysis, they may be called chop.
Stop Volley=Blocking a hall short in its flight.
Half Volley or Trap Shot=A pick up.
The Smash=Hitting on the full any overhead ball.
The Lob=Hitting the ball in a high parabola.
Top Spin=The ball spins towards the ground and in the direction
of its flight.
Chop, Cut, or Drag=The ball spins upwards from the ground and
against the line of flight. This is slightly deviated in the
slice, but all these terms are used to designate the
under-struck, back-spinning ball.
Reverse Twist=A ball that carries a rotary spin that curves one
way and bounces the opposite.
Break=A spin which causes the ball to bounce at an angle to its
line of flight.
4. LET=A service that touches the net in its flight yet falls in
court, or any illegal or irregular point that does not count.
5. FAULT=An illegal service.
6. OUT=Any shot hit outside legal boundaries of the court.
7. GOOD=Any shot that strikes in a legal manner prescribed by
rules of the game.
8. FOOTFAULT=An illegal service delivery due to incorrect
position of the server's feet.
9. SERVER=Player delivering service.
10. RECEIVER or STRIKER=Player returning service.
W. T. T. WIMBLEDON, July 1920
The season of 1921 was so epoch-making in the game of tennis,
combining as it did the greatest number of Davis Cup matches that
have ever been held in one year, the invasion of France and
England by an American team, the first appearance in America of
Mlle. Suzanne Lenglen and her unfortunate collapse, and finally
the rise to prominence of Japan as a leading factor in the tennis
world that I have incorporated a record of the season's
outstanding features and some sidelights and personality sketches
on the new stars in the new addition of this book.
The importance of women's tennis has grown so tremendously in the
past few years that I have also added a review of the game and
its progress in America. Not only has Mlle. Lenglen placed her
mark indelibly on the pages of tennis history but 1921 served to
raise Mrs. Molla Bjurstedt Mallory to the position in the world
that she rightly deserves, that of the greatest match winner of
all women. The past season brought the return to American courts
of Mrs. May Sutton Bundy and Miss Mary Browne, in itself an event
of sufficient importance to set the year apart as one of highest
The outstanding performances of the two juniors, Vincent Richards
and Arnold Jones, must be regarded as worthy of permanent
recognition and among the outstanding features of a noteworthy
year. Thus it is with a sense of recording history- making facts
that I turn to the events of 1921.
I trust this initial effort of mine in the world of letters will
find a place among both novices and experts in the tennis world.
I am striving to interest the student of the game by a somewhat
prolonged discussion of match play, which I trust will shed a new
light on the game.
May I turn to the novice at my opening and speak of certain
matters which are second nature to the skilled player?
The best tennis equipment is not too good for the beginner who
seeks really to succeed. It is a saving in the end, as good
quality material so far outlasts poor.
Always dress in tennis clothes when engaging in tennis. White is
the established colour. Soft shirt, white flannel trousers, heavy
white socks, and rubber-soled shoes form the accepted dress for
tennis. Do not appear on the courts in dark clothes, as they are
apt to be heavy and hinder your speed of movement, and also they
are a violation of the unwritten ethics of the game.
The question of choosing a racquet is a much more serious matter.
I do not advocate forcing a certain racquet upon any player. All
the standard makes are excellent. It is in weight, balance, and
size of handle that the real value of a racquet frame depends,
while good stringing is, essential to obtain the best results.
The average player should use a racquet that weighs between 13
1/2 and 14 1/2 ounces inclusive. I think that the best results
may be obtained by a balance that is almost even or slightly
heavy on the head. Decide your handle from the individual choice.
Pick the one that fits comfortably in the hand. Do not use too
small a handle or too light a racquet, as it is apt to turn in
the hand. I recommend a handle of 5 1/4 to 5 3/8 inches at the
grip. Do not use a racquet you do not like merely because your
best friend advises it. It may suit him perfectly, but would not
do for you at all. Do not start children playing tennis with an
under-sized racquet. It weakens the wrist and does not aid the
child in learning strokes. Start a child, boy or girl, with a
full-sized racquet of at least 13 ounces.
After you have acquired your racquet, make a firm resolve to use
good tennis balls, as a regular bounce is a great aid to
advancement, while a "dead" ball is no practice at all.
If you really desire to succeed at the game and advance rapidly,
I strongly urge you to see all the good tennis you can. Study the
play of the leading players and strive to copy their strokes.
Read all the tennis instruction books you can find. They are a
great assistance. I shall be accused of "press- agitating" my own
book by this statement, but such was my belief long before I ever
thought of writing a book of my own.
More tennis can be learned off the court, in the study of theory,
and in watching the best players in action, than can ever be
learned in actual play. I do not mean miss opportunities to play.
Far from it. Play whenever possible, but strive when playing to
put in practice the theories you have read or the strokes you
have watched.
Never be discouraged at slow progress. The trick over some stroke
you have worked over for weeks unsuccessfully will suddenly come
to you when least expected. Tennis players are the product of
hard work. Very few are born geniuses at the game.
Tennis is a game that pays you dividends all your life. A tennis
racquet is a letter of introduction in any town. The brotherhood
of the game is universal, for none but a good sportsman can
succeed in the game for any lengthy period. Tennis provides
relaxation, excitement, exercise, and pure enjoyment to the man
who is tied hard and fast to his business until late afternoon.
Age is not a drawback. Vincent Richards held the National Doubles
Championship of America at fifteen, while William A. Larned won
the singles at past forty. Men of sixty are seen daily on the
clubs' courts of England and America enjoying their game as
keenly as any boy. It is to this game, in great measure, that
they owe the physical fitness which enables them to play at their
advanced age.
The tennis players of the world wrote a magnificent page in the
history of the World War. No branch of sport sent more men to the
colours from every country in the world than tennis, and these
men returned with glory or paid the supreme sacrifice on the
field of honour.
I transgressed from my opening to show you that tennis is a game
worth playing and playing well. It deserves your best, and only
by learning it correctly can you give that best.
If in my book I help you on your way to fame, I feel amply repaid
for all the time spent in analysing the strokes and tactics I set
before you in these pages.
I am going to commence my explanation by talking to the players
whose games are not yet formed. At least once every season I go
back to first principles to pull myself out of some rut into
which carelessness dropped me.
From a long and, many times, sad experience over a period of some
ten years of tournament tennis, I believe the following order of
development produces the quickest and most lasting results:
1. Concentration on the game.
2. Keep the eye on the ball.
3. Foot-work and weight-control.
4. Strokes.
5. Court position.
6. Court generalship or match play.
7. Tennis psychology.
Tennis is a game of intimate personal relation. You constantly
find yourself meeting some definite idea of your opponent. The
personal equation is the basis of tennis success. A great player
not only knows himself, in both strength and weakness, but he
must study is opponent at all times. In order to be able to do
this a player must not be hampered by a glaring weakness in the
fundamentals of his own game, or he will be so occupied trying to
hide it that he will have no time to worry his opponent. The
fundamental weakness of Gerald Patterson's backhand stroke is so
apparent that any player within his class dwarfs Patterson's
style by continually pounding at it. The Patterson overhead and
service are first class, yet both are rendered impotent, once a
man has solved the method of returning low to the backhand, for
Patterson seldom succeeds in taking the offensive again in that
I am trying to make clear the importance of such first principles
as I will now explain.
Tennis is played primarily with the mind. The most perfect
racquet technique in the world will not suffice if the directing
mind is wandering. There are many causes of a wandering mind in a
tennis match. The chief one is lack of interest in the game. No
one should play tennis with an idea of real success unless he
cares sufficiently about the game to be willing to do the
drudgery necessary in learning the game correctly. Give it up at
once unless you are willing to work. Conditions of play or the
noises in the gallery often confuse and bewilder experienced
match-players playing under new surroundings. Complete
concentration on the matter in hand is the only cure for a
wandering mind, and the sooner the lesson is learned the more
rapid the improvement of the player. An amusing example, to all
but the player affected, occurred at the finals of the Delaware
State Singles Championship at Wilmington. I was playing Joseph J.
Armstrong. The Championship Court borders the No. 1 hole of the
famous golf course. The score stood at one set all and 3-4 and
30-40, Armstrong serving. He served a fault and started a second
delivery. Just as he commenced his swing, a loud and very lusty
"Fore!" rang out from the links. Armstrong unconsciously looked
away and served his delivery to the backstop and the game to me.
The umpire refused to "let" call and the incident closed. Yet a
wandering mind in that case meant the loss of a set.
The surest way to hold a match in mind is to play for every set,
every game in the set, every point in the game and, finally,
every shot in the point. A set is merely a conglomeration of made
and missed shots, and the man who does not miss is the ultimate
Please do not think I am advocating "pat-ball." I am not. I
believe in playing for your shot every time you have an opening.
I do not believe in trying to win the point every time you hit
the ball. Never allow your concentration on any game to become so
great that you do not at all times know the score and play to it.
I mean both point score and game score. In my explanation of
match play in a later chapter I am going into a detailed account
of playing to the score. It is as vital in tennis as it is in
bridge, and all bridge players know that the score is the
determining factor in your mode of bidding. Let me urge again
concentration. Practise seriously. Do not fool on the court, as
it is the worst enemy to progress. Carelessness or laziness only
results in retrogression, never progress.
Let me turn now to the first principle of all ball games, whether
tennis, golf, cricket, baseball, polo, or football.
Just a few statistics to show you how vital it is that the eye
must be kept on the ball UNTIL THE MOMENT OF STRIKING IT.
About 85 per cent of the points in tennis are errors, and the
remainder earned points. As the standard of play rises the
percentage of errors drops until, in the average high-class
tournament match, 60 per cent are errors and 40 per cent aces.
Any average superior to this is super-tennis.
Thus the importance of getting the ball in play cannot be too
greatly emphasized. Every time you put the ball back to your
opponent you give him another chance to miss.
There are several causes for missing strokes. First, and by far
the largest class, is not looking at the ball up to the moment of
striking it. Fully 80 per cent of all errors are caused by taking
the eye from the ball in the last one-fifth of a second of its
flight. The remaining 20 per cent of errors are about 15 per cent
bad footwork, and the other 5 per cent poor racquet work and bad
The eye is a small camera. All of us enjoy dabbling in amateur
photography, and every amateur must take "action" pictures with
his first camera. It is a natural desire to attain to the hardest
before understanding how to reach it. The result is one of two
things: either a blurred moving object and a clear background, or
a clear moving object and a blurred background. Both suggest
speed, but only one is a good picture of the object one attempted
to photograph. In the first case the camera eye was focused on
the background and not on the object, while in the second, which
produced the result desired, the camera eye was firmly focused on
the moving object itself. Just so with the human eye. It will
give both effects, but never a clear background and moving object
at the same time, once that object reaches a point 10 feet from
the eye. The perspective is wrong, and the eye cannot adjust
itself to the distance range speedily enough.
Now the tennis ball is your moving object while the court,
gallery, net, and your opponent constitute your background. You
desire to hit the ball cleanly, therefore do not look at the
other factors concerned, but concentrate solely on focusing the
eye firmly on the ball, and watching it until the moment of
impact with your racquet face.
"How do I know where my opponent is, or how much court I have to
hit in?" ask countless beginners.
Remember this: that a tennis court is always the same size, with
the net the same height and in the same relation to you at all
times, so there is no need to look at it every moment or so to
see if it has moved. Only an earthquake can change its position.
As to your opponent, it makes little difference about his
position, because it is determined by the shot you are striving
to return. Where he will be I will strive to explain in my
chapter on court position; but his whereabouts are known without
looking at him. You are not trying to hit him. You strive to miss
him. Therefore, since you must watch what you strive to hit and
not follow what you only wish to miss, keep your eye on the ball,
and let your opponent take care of himself.
Science has proved that given a tennis ball passing from point A
to point B with the receiving player at B, that if the player at
B keeps his eye on the ball throughout its full flight his chance
of making a good
A 1 2 3 4 B
return at B is five times as great as if he took his eye off the
ball at a point 4, or 4/5 of a second of its flight. Likewise it
is ten times as great at B as it is if the eye is removed from
the ball at 3, or 3/5 of a second of its flight. Why increase
your chances of error by five times or ten times when it is
The average player follows the ball to 4, and then he takes a
last look at his opponent to see where he is, and by so doing
increases his chance of error five times. He judges the flight of
the ball some 10 feet away, and never really sees it again until
he has hit it (if he does). A slight deflection caused by the
wind or a small misjudgment of curve will certainly mean error.
Remembering the 85 percent errors in tennis, I again ask you if
it is worth while to take the risk?
There are many other reasons why keeping the eye on the ball is a
great aid to the player. It tends to hold his attention so that
outside occurrences will not distract. Movements in the gallery
are not seen, and stray dogs, that seem to particularly enjoy
sleeping in the middle of a tennis court during a hard match, are
not seen on their way to their sleeping quarters. Having learned
the knack of watching the ball at all times, I felt that nothing
would worry me, until three years ago at the American
Championships, when I was playing T. R. Pell. A press- camera man
eluded the watchful eye of the officials, and unobtrusively
seated himself close to our sideline to acquire some action
pictures. Pell angled sharply by to my backhand, and I ran at my
hardest for the shot, eyes fixed solely on the ball. I hauled off
to hit it a mighty drive, which would have probably gone over the
backstop, when suddenly I heard a camera click just under me, and
the next moment camera, pressman, and tennis player were rolling
in a heap all over the court. The pressman got his action picture
and a sore foot where I walked on him, and all I got was a sore
arm and a ruffled temper. That's why I don't like cameras right
under my nose when I play matches, but for all that I still
advocate keeping your eye on the ball.
Footwork is weight control. It is correct body position for
strokes, and out of it all strokes should grow. In explaining the
various forms of stroke and footwork I am writing as a right-hand
player. Left- handers should simply reverse the feet.
Racquet grip is a very essential part of stroke, because a faulty
grip will ruin the finest serving. There is the so-called Western
or Californian grip as typified by Maurice E. M'Loughlin, Willis,
E. Davis, and, to a slightly modified degree, W. M. Johnston, the
American champion. It is a natural grip for a top forehand drive.
It is inherently weak for the backhand, as the only natural shot
is a chop stroke.
The English grip, with the low wrist on all ground strokes, has
proved very successful in the past. Yet the broken line of the
arm and hand does not commend itself to me, as any broken line is
weak under stress.
The Eastern American grip, which I advocate, is the English grip
without the low wrist and broken line. To acquire the forehand
grip, hold the racquet with the edge of the frame towards the
ground and the face perpendicular, the handle towards the body,
and "shake hands" with it, just as if you were greeting a friend.
The handle settled comfortably and naturally into the hand, the
line of the arm, hand, and racquet are one. The swing brings the
racquet head on a line with the arm, and the whole racquet is
merely an extension of it.
The backhand grip is a quarter circle turn of hand on the handle,
bringing the hand on top of the handle and the knuckles directly
up. The shot travels ACROSS the wrist.
This is the best basis for a grip. I do not advocate learning
this grip exactly, but model your natural grip as closely as
possible on these lines without sacrificing your own comfort or
Having once settled the racquet in the hand, the next question is
the position of the body and the order of developing strokes.
In explaining footwork I am, in future, going to refer in all
forehand shots to the right foot as R or "back" foot, and to the
left as L or "front." For the backhand the L foot is "back" and R
is "front."
All tennis strokes, should be made with the body' at right angles
to the net, with the shoulders lined up parallel to the line of
flight of the ball. The weight should always travel forward. It
should pass from the back foot to the front foot at the moment of
striking the ball. Never allow the weight to be going away from
the stroke. It is weight that determines the "pace" of a stroke;
swing that, decides the "speed."
Let me explain the definitions of "speed" and "pace." "Speed" is
the actual rate with which a ball travels through the air. "Pace"
is the momentum with which it comes off the ground. Pace is
weight. It is the "sting" the ball carries when it comes off the
ground, giving the inexperienced or unsuspecting player a shock
of force which the stroke in no way showed.
Notable examples of "pace" are such men as W. A. Larned, A. W.
Gore, J. C. Parke, and among the younger players, R. N. Williams,
Major A. R. F. Kingscote, W. M. Johnston, and, on his forehand
stroke, Charles S. Garland.
M. E. M'Loughlin, Willis E. Davis, Harold Throckmorton and
several others are famous "speed" exponents.
A great many players have both "speed" and "pace." Some shots may
carry both.
The order of learning strokes should be:
1. The Drive. Fore- and backhand. This is the foundation of all
tennis, for you cannot build up a net attack unless you have the
ground stroke to open the way. Nor can you meet a net attack
successfully unless you can drive, as that is the only successful
passing shot.
2. The Service.
3. The Volley and Overhead Smash.
4. The Chop or Half Volley and other incidental and ornamental
The forehand drive is the opening of every offensive in tennis,
and, as such, should be most carefully studied. There are certain
rules of footwork that apply to all shots. To reach a ball that
is a short distance away, advance the foot that is away from the
shot and thus swing into position to hit. If a ball is too close
to the body, retreat the foot closest to the shot and drop the
weight back on it, thus, again, being in position for the stroke.
When hurried, and it is not possible to change the foot position,
throw the weight on the foot closest to the ball.
The receiver should always await the service facing the net, but
once the serve is started on the way to court, the receiver
should at once attain the position to receive it with the body at
right angles to the net.
The forehand drive is made up of one continuous swing of the
racquet that, for the purpose of analysis, may be divided into
three parts:
1. The portion of the swing behind the body, which determines the
speed of the stroke.
2. That portion immediately in front of the body which determines
the direction and, in conjunction with weight shift from one foot
to the other, the pace of the shot.
3. The portion beyond the body, comparable to the golfer's
"follow through," determines spin, top or slice, imparted to the
All drives should be topped. The slice shot is a totally
different stroke.
To drive straight down the side-line, construct in theory a
parallelogram with two sides made up of the side-line and your
shoulders, and the two ends, the lines of your feet, which
should, if extended, form the right angles with the side-lines.
Meet the ball at a point about 4 to 4 1/2 feet from the body
immediately in front of the belt buckle, and shift the weight
from the back to the front foot at the MOMENT OF STRIKING THE
BALL. The swing of the racquet should be flat and straight
through. The racquet head should be on a line with the hand, or,
if anything, slightly in advance; the whole arm and the racquet
should turn slightly over the ball as it leaves the racquet face
and the stroke continue to the limit of the swing, thus imparting
top spin to the ball.
The hitting plane for all ground strokes should be between the
knees and shoulders. The most favourable plane is on a line with
the waist.
In driving across the court from the right (or No. 1) court,
advance the L or front foot slightly towards the side-line and
shift the weight a fraction of a second sooner. As the weight
shifts, pivot slightly on the L foot and drive flat, diagonally,
across the court. Do not "pull" your cross-court drive, unless
with the express purpose of passing the net man and using that
method to disguise your shot.
The forehand drive from the No. 2 (or left) court is identically
the same for the straight shot down your opponent's forehand. For
the cross drive to his backhand, you must conceive of a diagonal
line from your backhand corner to his, and thus make your stroke
with the footwork as if this imaginary line were the side-line.
In other words, line up your body along your shot and make your
regular drive. Do not try to "spoon" the ball over with a delayed
wrist motion, as it tends to slide the ball off your racquet.
All drives should be made with a stiff, locked wrist. There is no
wrist movement in a true drive. Top spin is imparted by the arm,
not the wrist.
The backhand drive follows closely the principles of the
forehand, except that the weight shifts a moment sooner, and the
R or front foot should always be advanced a trifle closer to the
side-line than the L so as to bring the body clear of the swing.
The ball should be met in front of the right leg, instead of the
belt buckle, as the great tendency in backhand shots is to slice
them out of the side-line, and this will pull the ball cross
court, obviating this error. The racquet head must be slightly in
advance of the hand to aid in bringing the ball in the court. Do
not strive for too much top spin on your backhand.
I strongly urge that no one should ever favour one department of
his game, in defence of a weakness. Develop both forehand and
backhand, and do not "run around" your backhand, particularly in
return of service. To do so merely opens your court. If you
should do so, strive to ace your returns, because a weak effort
would only result in a kill by your opponent.
Do not develop one favourite shot and play nothing but that. If
you have a fair cross-court drive, do not use it in practice, but
strive to develop an equally fine straight shot.
Remember that the fast shot is the straight shot. The cross drive
must be slow, for it has not the room owing to the increased
angle and height of the net. Pass down the line with your drive,
but open the court with your cross-court shot.
Drives should have depth. The average drive should hit behind the
service-line. A fine drive should hit within 3 feet of the
baseline. A cross-court drive should be shorter than a straight
drive, so as to increase the possible angle. Do not always play
one length drive, but learn to vary your distance according to
your man. You should drive deep against a baseliner, but short
against a net player, striving to drop them at his feet as, he
comes in.
Never allow your opponent to play a shot he likes if you can
possibly force him to one he dislikes.
Again I urge that you play your drive:
1. With the body sideways to the net.
2. The swing flat, with long follow through.
3. The weight shifting just as the ball is hit.
Do not strive for terrific speed at first. The most essential
thing about a drive is to put the ball in play. I once heard
William A. Larned remark, when asked the most important thing in
tennis, "Put the ball over the net into the other man's court."
Accuracy first, and then put on your speed, for if your shot is
correct you can always learn, to hit hard.
Service is the opening gun of tennis. It is putting the ball in
play. The old idea was that service should never be more than
merely the beginning of a rally. With the rise of American tennis
and the advent of Dwight Davis and Holcombe Ward, service took on
a new significance. These two men originated what is now known as
the American Twist delivery.
From a mere formality, service became a point winner. Slowly it
gained in importance, until Maurice E. M'Loughlin, the wonderful
"California Comet," burst across the tennis sky with the first of
those terrific cannon-ball deliveries that revolutionized the
game, and caused the old-school players to send out hurry calls
for a severe footfault rule or some way of stopping the
threatened destruction of all ground strokes. M'Loughlin made
service a great factor in the game. It remained for R. N.
Williams to supply the antidote that has again put service in the
normal position of mere importance, not omnipotence. Williams
stood in on the delivery and took it on the rising bound.
Service must be speedy. Yet speed is not the be-all and end-all.
Service must be accurate, reliable, and varied. It must be used
with discretion and served with brains. I believe perfect service
is about 40 per cent placement, 40 per cent speed, and 20 per
cent twist.
Any tall player has an advantage over a short one, in service.
Given a man about 6 feet and allow him the 3 feet added by his
reach, it has been proved by tests that should he deliver a
service, perfectly flat, with no variation caused by twist or
wind, that just cleared the net at its lowest point (3 feet in
the centre), there is only a margin of 8 inches of the service
court in which the ball can possibly fall; the remainder is below
the net angle. Thus it is easy to see how important it is to use
some form of twist to bring the ball into court. Not only must it
go into court, but it must be sufficiently speedy that the
receiver does not have an opportunity of an easy kill. It must
also be placed so as to allow the server an advantage for his
next return, admitting the receiver puts the ball in play.
Just as the first law of receiving is to, put the ball in play,
so of service it is to cause the receiver to fall into error. Do
not strive unduly for clean aces, but use your service to upset
the ground strokes of your opponent.
There are several style services in vogue in all countries. The
American twist has become one of the most popular forms of
delivery and as such deserves special treatment. The usual forms
of service are (1) the slice service, (2) the American twist, (3)
the reverse delivery, (4) the "cannon ball" or flat serve.
The slice service is the easiest and most natural form for all
beginners, and proves so effective that many great players use
it. It is the service of William M. Johnston, A. R. F. Kingscote,
Norman E. Brookes, and many others.
Service should be hit from as high a point as the server can
COMFORTABLY reach. To stretch unnecessarily is both wearing on
the server and unproductive of results.
The slice service should be hit from a point above the right
shoulder and as high as possible. The server should stand at
about a forty-five degree angle to the baseline, with both feet
firmly planted on the ground. Drop the weight back on the right
foot and swing the racquet freely and easily behind the back.
Toss the ball high enough into the air to ensure it passing
through the desired hitting plane, and then start a slow shift of
the weight forward, at the same time increasing the power of the
swing forward as the racquet commences its upward flight to the
ball. Just as the ball meets the racquet face the weight should
be thrown forward and the full power of the swing smashed into
the service. Let the ball strike the racquet INSIDE the face of
the strings, with the racquet travelling directly towards the
court. The angle of the racquet face will impart the twist
necessary to bring the ball in court. The wrist should be
somewhat flexible in service. If necessary lift the right foot
and swing the whole body forward with the arm. Twist slightly to
the right, using the left foot as a pivot. The general line of
the racquet swing is from RIGHT to LEFT and always forward.
At this point and before I take up the other branches of serving,
let me put in a warning against footfaulting. I can only say that
a footfault is crossing or touching the line with either foot
before the ball is delivered, or it is a jump or step. I am not
going into a technical discussion of footfaults. It is
unnecessary, and by placing your feet firmly before the service
there is no need to footfault.
It is just as unfair to deliberately footfault as to miscall a
ball, and it is wholly unnecessary. The average footfault is due
to carelessness, over-anxiety, or ignorance of the rule. All
players are offenders at times, but it can quickly be broken up.
Following this outburst of warning let me return to the American
twist service. The stance for this is the same as for the slice,
but the ball is thrown slightly to the left of the head while the
racquet passes up and over the call, travelling from left to
right and slightly forward. The result is a curve to the left and
the break of the bound to the right. This service is not fast,
but gives an excellent chance to follow to the net, since it
travels high and slowly and its bound is deep. The American twist
service should be hit with the muscles of the side. The slice is
a shoulder swing.
The reverse twist is of an absolutely distinct type. The stance
is facing the net with both toes fronting the line. The racquet
is gripped as a club. The ball is thrown in front of the body and
not high. The swing is a sharp wrist twist from right to left,
the ball carried for some distance on the face of the racquet.
The curve is from left to right while the bound is high and
breaks sharply to the left. This delivery is slow, ineffective
and very uncertain. There is little opportunity to follow it to
the net.
The "cannon-ball" service is nothing but a slice as regards swing
and stance, but it is hit with a flat racquet face, thus
imparting no spin to the ball. It is a case of speed alone. This
service is a point winner when it goes in; but its average must
necessarily be poor since its margin of error is so small. It is
only useful to a tall man.
Varied pace and varied speed is the keynote to a good service. I
spent hours in serving alone, striving to disguise the twist and
pace of the ball. I would take a box of a dozen balls out on the
court and serve the whole dozen to No. 1 court with one style of
delivery. Then, crossing, I would serve them back with another
type of service. Next, I would try the left court from both
sides. My next move would be to pick out a certain section of the
service court, and serve for that until I could put the ball
where I wanted it. Finally, I would strive to put it there with
All the time spent in this practice has stood me in good stead,
for to-day it is my service that pulls me out of many a deep
hole, and causes many a player to wish he was delivering the
ball. William M. Johnston, the American Champion, has a
remarkable service for so short a man. He times his stroke
perfectly, and hits it at the top of his reach, so that he gets
the full benefit of every inch of his stature and every pound of
his weight. He uses the slice delivery in the majority of
Do not try freak services. They are useless against high-class
players. Sharp breaking underhand cuts can be easily angled off
for points by a man who knows anything of the angles and effects
of twist. These deliveries are affectation if used more than once
or twice in a long match. A sudden shift may surprise your
opponent; but to continue to serve these freaks is to destroy
their use.
Mishu, the Rumanian star, has many very peculiar deliveries; but,
when playing against high-class tennis, he has brains enough to
use a straight service. The freak services delight and yet annoy
a gallery, for once the novelty has worn off, nothing but the
conceit remains.
The object of service is to obtain the maximum return with the
minimum effort. This statement holds true for all tennis strokes,
but in none so strongly as in service.
The average player hits, his first service so hard, and with so
little regard for direction, that about nine out of ten first
deliveries are faults. Thus, one half your chances are thrown
away, and the chance of double faulting increased
There is a well-known tennis saying to the effect that one fault
is a mistake, but two faults are a crime--that sums up the idea
of service adequately. A player should always strive to put his
first delivery in court. In the first place it is apt to catch
your opponent napping, as he half expects a fault. Secondly, it
conserves your energy by removing the need of a second delivery,
which, in a long five-set match, is an item of such importance
that it may mean victory or defeat.
I urge all players to put their service into court with just as
much speed as they can be sure of, but to serve both deliveries
at about the same speed. Do not slog the first ball and pat the
second, but hit both with average pace.
Try for service aces whenever reasonable, but never do so at the
risk of double faulting. The first ball is the ball to ace. The
second should never be risked. Your aces must at least equal your
double faults, or your service is a handicap and not an
The importance of service in doubles is more pronounced than in
singles as regards holding it; but the need for individual
brilliancy is not so great, as you have a partner already at the
net to kill off any weak returns.
Service is an attack, and a successful attack should never break
The net attack is the heavy artillery of tennis. It is supposed
to crush all defence. As such it must be regarded as a
point-winning stroke at all times, no matter whether the shot is
volley or smash.
Once at the net hit from the point at the first opportunity given
to get the racquet squarely on the ball. All the laws of footwork
explained for the drive are theoretically the same in volleying.
In practice you seldom have time to change your feet to a set
position, so you obviate trouble by throwing the weight on the
foot nearest to the ball and pushing it in the shot.
Volleys are of two classes: (1) the low volley, made from below
the waist; and (2) the high volley, from the waist to the head.
In contradistinction to the hitting plane classification are the
two styles known as (1) the deep volley and (2) the stop volley.
All low volleys are blocked. High volleys may be either blocked
or hit. Volleys should never be stroked. There is no follow
through on a low volley and very little on a high one.
You will hear much talk of "chop" volleys. A chop stroke is one
where the racquet travels from above the line of flight of the
ball, down and through it, and the angle made behind the racquet
is greater than 45 degrees, and many approach 90 degrees.
Therefore I say that no volleys should be chopped, for the
tendency is to pop the ball up in the air off any chop. Slice
volleys if you want to, or hit them flat, for both these shots
are made at a very small angle to the flight-line of the ball,
the racquet face travelling almost along its plane.
In all volleys, high or low, the wrist should be locked and
absolutely stiff. It should always be below the racquet head,
thus bracing the racquet against the impact of the ball. Allow
the force of the incoming shot, plus your own weight, to return
the ball, and do not strive to "wrist" it over. The tilted
racquet face will give any required angle to the return by
glancing the ball off the strings, so no wrist turn is needed.
Low volleys can never be hit hard, and owing to the height of the
net should usually be sharply angled, to allow distance for the
rise. Any ball met at a higher plane than the top of the net may
be hit hard. The stroke should be crisp, snappy, and decisive,
but it should stop as it meets the ball. The follow through
should be very small. Most low volleys should be soft and short.
Most high volleys require speed and length.
The "stop" volley is nothing more than a shot blocked short.
There is no force used. The racquet simply meets the oncoming
ball and stops it. The ball rebounds and falls of its own weight.
There is little bounce to such a shot, and that may be reduced by
allowing the racquet to slide slightly under the ball at the
moment of impact, thus imparting back spin to the ball.
Volleying is a science based on the old geometric axiom that a
straight line is the shortest distance between two points. I mean
that a volleyer must always cover the straight passing shot since
it is the shortest shot with which to pass him, and he must
volley straight to his opening and not waste time trying freakish
curving volleys that give the base- liner time to recover. It is
Johnston's great straight volley that makes him such a dangerous
net man. He is always "punching" his volley straight and hard to
the opening in his opponent's court.
A net player must have ground strokes in order to attain the net
position. Do not think that a service and volley will suffice
against first-class tennis.
I am not a believer in the "centre" theory. Briefly expressed the
centre theory is to hit down the middle of the court and follow
to the net, since the other player has the smallest angle to pass
you. That is true, but remember that he has an equal angle on
either side and, given good ground strokes, an equal chance to
pass with only your guess or intention to tell you which side he
will choose.
I advise hitting to the side-line with good length and following
up to the net, coming in just to the centre side of the straight
returns down the line. Thus the natural shot is covered and your
opponent's court is opened for an angle volley 'cross. Should
your opponent try the cross drive, his chances of beating you
clean and keeping the ball in court are much less than his
chances of error.
Strive to kill your volleys at once, but should your shot not
win, follow the ball 'cross and again cover the straight shot.
Always force the man striving to pass you to play the hardest
possible shot.
Attack with your volleys. Never defend the ball when at the net.
The only defensive volley is one at your feet as you come in. It
is a mid-court shot. Volleys should win with placement more than
speed, although speed may be used on a high volley.
Closely related to the volley, yet in no way a volley stroke, is
the overhead smash. It is the Big Bertha of tennis. It is the
long range terror that should always score. The rules of
footwork, position, and direction that govern the volley will
suffice for the overhead. The swing alone is different. The swing
should be closely allied to the slice service, the racquet and
arm swinging freely from the shoulder, the wrist flexible and the
racquet imparting a slight twist to the ball to hold it in court.
The overhead is mainly a point winner through speed, since its
bounce is so high that a slow placement often allows time for a
The overhead is about 60 per cent speed, and 40 per cent combined
place and twist. Any overhead shot taken on or within the
service-line should be killed. Any overhead, behind the
service-line, and back to the baseline, should be defended and
put back deep to, allow you another advance to the net.
The average overhead shot that is missed is netted. Therefore hit
deep. It is a peculiar fact that over 75 per cent of all errors
are nets with only 25 per cent outs. Let this be a constant
reminder to you of the fact that all ground strokes should have a
clear margin of safety of some 8 inches to a foot above the net,
except when attempting to pass a very active volleyer. In the
latter case the shot must be low, and the attendant risk is
compensated by the increased chances of winning the point with a
Do not leap in the air unnecessarily to hit overhead balls. Keep
at least one foot, and when possible both feet, on the ground in
smashing, as it aids in regulating the weight, and gives better
balance. Hit flat and decisively to the point if desired.
Most missed overhead shots are due to the eye leaving the ball;
but a second class of errors are due to lack of confidence that
gives a cramped, half- hearted swing. Follow through your
overhead shot to the limit of your swing.
The overhead is essentially a doubles shot, because in singles
the chances of passing the net man are greater than lobbing over
his head, while in doubles two men cover the net so easily that
the best way to open the court is to lob one man back.
In smashing, the longest distance is the safest shot since it
allows a greater margin of error. Therefore smash 'cross court
when pressed, but pull your short lobs either side as determined
by the man you are playing.
Never drop a lob you can hit overhead, as it forces you back and
gives the attacking position to your opponent. Never smash with a
reverse twist, always hit with a straight racquet face and direct
to the opening.
Closely connected to the overhead since it is the usual defence
to any hard smash, is the lob.
A lob is a high toss of the ball landing between the service-line
and the baseline. An excellent lob should be within 6 feet of the
Lobs are essentially defensive. The ideas in lobbing are: (1) to
give yourself time to recover position when pulled out of court
by your opponent's shot; (2) to drive back the net man and break
up his attack; (3) to tire your opponent; (4) occasionally to,
win cleanly by placement. This is usually a lob volley from a
close net rally, and is a slightly different stroke.
There is (1) the chop lob, a heavily under-cut spin that hangs in
the air. This, is the best defensive lob, as it goes high and
gives plenty of time to recover position. (2) The stroke lob or
flat lob, hit with a slight top spin. This is the point-winning
lob since it gives no time to, the player to run around it, as it
is lower and faster than the chop. In making this lob, start your
swing like a drive, but allow the racquet to slow up and the face
to tilt upward just as you meet the ball. This, shot should
seldom go above 10 feet in the air, since it tends to go out with
the float of the ball.
The chop lob, which is a decided under cut, should rise from 20
to 30 feet, or more, high and must go deep. It is better to lob
out and run your opponent back, thus tiring him, than to lob
short and give him confidence by an easy kill. The value of a lob
is mainly one of upsetting your opponent, and its effects are
very apparent if you unexpectedly bring off one at the crucial
period of a match.
I owe one of my most notable victories to a very timely and
somewhat lucky lob. I was playing Norman E. Brookes in the fifth
round of the American Championships at Forest Hills, in 1919. The
score stood one set all, 3-2 and 30-15, Brookes serving. In a
series of driving returns from his forehand to my backhand, he
suddenly switched and pounded the ball to my forehand corner and
rushed to the net. I knew Brookes crowded the net, and with 40-15
or 30-all at stake on my shot, I took a chance and tossed the
ball up in the air over Brookes' head. It was not a great lob,
but it was a good one. For once Brookes was caught napping,
expecting a drive down the line. He hesitated, then turned and
chased the ball to the back stop, missing it on his return. I
heard him grunt as he turned, and knew that he was badly winded.
He missed his volley off my return of the next service, and I led
at 30-40. The final point of the game came when he again threw me
far out of court on my forehand, and, expecting the line drive
again, crowded the net, only to have the ball rise in the air
over his head. He made a desperate effort at recovery, but
failed, and the game was mine: 3-all. It proved the turning-point
in the match, for it not only tired Brookes, but it forced him to
hang back a little from the net so as to protect his overhead, so
that his net attack weakened opportunely, and I was able to nose
out the match in 4 sets.
Another famous match won by a lob was the Johnston-Kingscote
Davis Cup Match at Wimbledon, in 1920. The score stood 2 sets
all, and 5-3 Kingscote leading with Kingscote serving and the
score 30-all. Johnston served and ran in. Kingscote drove sharply
down Johnston's forehand side-line. Johnston made a remarkable
recovery with a half volley, putting the ball high in the air and
seemingly outside. A strong wind was blowing down the court and
caught the ball and held its flight. It fell on the baseline.
Kingscote made a remarkable recovery with a fine lob that forced
Johnston back. Kingscote took the net and volleyed decisively to
Johnston's backhand. Johnston again lobbed, and by a freak of
coincidence the ball fell on the baseline within a foot of his
previous shot. Kingscote again lobbed in return, but this time
short, and Johnston killed it. Johnston ran out the game in the
next two points.
If a shot can win two such matches as these, it is a shot worth
learning to use, and knowing when to use. The lob is one of the
most useful and skilful shots in tennis. It is a great defence
and a fine attack.
The strokes already analysed, drive, service, volley, overhead
and lob, are the orthodox strokes of tennis, and should be at
every player's command. These are the framework of your game. Yet
no house is complete with framework alone. There are certain
trimmings, ornaments, and decorations necessary. There are the
luxuries of modern improvements, and tennis boasts of such
improvements in the modern game.
Among the luxuries, some say the eccentricities, of the modern
game one finds (1) the chop stroke, (2) the slice stroke (a close
relative), (3) the drop shot, (4) the half-volley or "trap" shot.
All these shots have their use. None should be considered a stock
I am called at times a chop-stroke player. I SELDOM CHOP. My
stroke is a slice.
A chop stroke is a shot where the angle towards the player and
behind the racquet, made by the line of flight of the ball, and
the racquet travelling down across it, is greater than 45 degrees
and may be 90 degrees. The racquet face passes slightly OUTSIDE
the ball and down the side, chopping it, as a man chops wood. The
spin and curve is from right to left. It is made with a stiff
wrist. Irving C. Wright, brother of the famous Beals, is a true
chop player, while Beals himself, being a left- hander, chopped
from the left court and sliced from the right.
The slice shot merely reduced the angle mentioned from 45 degrees
down to a very small one. The racquet face passes either INSIDE
or OUTSIDE the ball, according to direction desired, while the
stroke is mainly a wrist twist or slap. This slap imparts a
decided skidding break to the ball, while a chop "drags" the ball
off the ground without break. Wallace F. Johnson is the greatest
slice exponent in the world.
The rules of footwork for both these shots should be the same as
the drive, but because both are made with a short swing and more
wrist play, without the need of weight, the rules of footwork may
be more safely discarded and body position not so carefully
Both these shots are essentially defensive, and are labour-saving
devices when your opponent is on the baseline. A chop or slice is
very hard to drive, and will break up any driving game.
It is not a shot to use against a volley, as it is too slow to
pass and too high to cause any worry. It should be used to drop
short, soft shots at the feet of the net man as he comes in. Do
not strive to pass a net man with a chop or slice, except through
a big opening.
The drop-shot is a very soft, sharply-angled chop stroke, played
wholly with the wrist. It should drop within 3 to 5 feet of the
net to be of any use. The racquet face passes around the outside
of the ball and under it with a distinct "wrist turn." Do not
swing the racquet from the shoulder in making a drop shot. The
drop shot has no relation to a stop-volley. The drop shot is all
wrist. The stop-volley has no wrist at all.
Use all your wrist shots, chop, slice, and drop, merely as an
auxilliary to your orthodox game. They are intended to upset your
opponent's game through the varied spin on the ball.
I have now reached the climax of tennis skill: the half volley or
trap shot. In other words, the pick-up.
This shot requires more perfect timing, eyesight, and racquet
work than any other, since its margin of safety is smallest and
its manifold chances of mishaps numberless.
It is a pick-up. The ball meets the ground and racquet face at
nearly the same moment, the ball bouncing off the ground, on the
strings. This shot is a stiff-wrist, short swing, like a volley
with no follow through. The racquet face travels along the ground
with a slight tilt over the ball and towards the net, thus
holding the ball low; the shot, like all others in tennis, should
travel across the racquet face, along the short strings. The
racquet face should always be slightly outside the ball.
The half volley is essentially a defensive stroke, since it
should only be made as a last resort, when caught out of position
by your opponent's shot. It is a desperate attempt to extricate
yourself from a dangerous position without retreating. NEVER
Notwithstanding these truths, there are certain players who have
turned the half volley into a point winner. The greatest half
volleyer of the past decade--in fact, one of the greatest tennis
geniuses of the world--George Caridia, used the stroke
successfully as a point winner. R. N. Williams, the leading
exponent of the stroke in the present day, achieves remarkable
results with it. Major A. R. F. Kingscote wins many a point,
seemingly lost, by his phenomenal half-volley returns,
particularly from the baseline. These men turn a defence into an
attack, and it pays.
So much for the actual strokes of the game. It is in the other
departments such as generalship and psychology that matches are
won. Just a few suggestions as to stroke technique, and I will
close this section.
Always play your shot with a fixed, definite idea of what you are
doing and where it is going. Never hit haphazard.
Play all shots across the short strings of the racquet, with the
racquet head and handle on the same hitting plane for ground
strokes and the head above the handle for volleys. The racquet
head should be advanced slightly beyond the wrist for ground
A tennis court is 39 feet long from baseline to net. Most players
think all of that territory is a correct place to stand. Nothing
could be farther from the truth. There are only two places in a
tennis court that a tennis player should be to await the ball.
1. About 3 feet behind the baseline near the middle of the court,
2. About 6 to 8 feet back from the net and almost opposite the
The first is the place for all baseline players. The second is
the net position.
If you are drawn out of these positions by a shot which you must
return, do not remain at the point where you struck the ball, but
attain one of the two positions mentioned as rapidly as possible.
The distance from the baseline to about 10, feet from the net may
be considered as "no-man's-land" or "the blank." Never linger
there, since a deep shot will catch you at your feet. After
making your shot from the blank, as you must often do, retreat
behind the baseline to await the return, so you may again come
forward to meet the ball. If you are drawn in short and cannot
retreat safely, continue all the way to the net position.
Never stand and watch your shot, for to do so simply means you
are out of position for your next stroke. Strive to attain a
position so that you always arrive at the spot the ball is going
to before it actually arrives. Do your hard running while the
ball is in the air, so you will not be hurried in your stroke
after it bounces.
It is in learning to do this that natural anticipation plays a
big role. Some players instinctively know where the next return
is going and take position accordingly, while others will never
sense it. It is to the latter class that I urge court position,
and recommend always coming in from behind the baseline to meet
the ball, since it is much easier to run forward than back.
Should you be caught at the net, with a short shot to your
opponent, do not stand still and let him pass you at will, as he
can easily do. Pick out the side where you think he will hit, and
jump to, it suddenly as he swings. If you guess right, you win
the point. If you are wrong, you are no worse off, since he would
have beaten you anyway with his shot.
A notable example of this method of anticipation is Norman E.
Brookes, who instinctively senses the stroke, and suddenly bobs
up in front of your best shot and kills it. Some may say it is
luck, but, to my mind, it is the reward of brain work.
Your position should always strive to be such that you can cover
the greatest possible area of court without sacrificing safety,
since the straight shot is the surest, most dangerous, and must
be covered. It is merely a question of how much more court than
that immediately in front of the ball may be guarded.
A well-grounded knowledge of court position saves many points, to
say nothing of much breath expended in long runs after hopeless
It is the phenomenal knowledge of court position that allows A.
R. F. Kingscote, a very short man, to attack so consistently from
the net. Wallace F. Johnson is seldom caught out of position, so
his game is one of extreme ease. One seldom sees Johnson running
hard on a tennis court. He is usually there awaiting the ball's
Save your steps by using your head. It pays in the end. Time
spent in learning where to play on a tennis court is well
expended, since it returns to you in the form of matches won,
breath saved, and energy conserved.
It is seldom you need cover more than two-thirds of a tennis
court, so why worry about the unnecessary portions of it?
Tennis psychology is nothing more than understanding the workings
of your opponent's mind, and gauging the effect of your own game
on his mental viewpoint, and understanding the mental effects
resulting from the various external causes on your own mind. You
cannot be a successful psychologist of others without first
understanding your own mental processes, you must study the
effect on yourself of the same happening under different
circumstances. You react differently in different moods and under
different conditions. You must realize the effect on your game of
the resulting irritation, pleasure, confusion, or whatever form
your reaction takes. Does it increase your efficiency? If so,
strive for it, but never give it to your opponent.
Does it deprive you of concentration? If so, either remove the
cause, or if that is not possible strive to ignore it.
Once you have judged accurately your own reaction to conditions,
study your opponents, to decide their temperaments. Like
temperaments react similarly, and you may judge men of your own
type by yourself. Opposite temperaments you must seek to compare
with people whose reactions you know.
A person who can control his own mental processes stands an
excellent chance of reading those of another, for the human mind
works along definite lines of thought, and can be studied. One
can only control one's, mental processes after carefully studying
A steady phlegmatic baseline player is seldom a keen thinker. If
he was he would not adhere to the baseline.
The physical appearance of a man is usually a pretty clear index
to his type of mind. The stolid, easy-going man, who usually