Six Basics of Player-to-Player Communication
by Craig Lambert
On the court, tennis players exchange not only ground strokes but lots of information. It’s a richly interactive sport, both verbally and non-verbally. If players communicate clearly, simply, and consistently, the game will proceed more quickly, and with less fuss and misunderstanding. Here are a few guidelines that can make the game more fun, friendly, and fair for all.
1. Call the lines. That is, the lines on your side of the net. If a ball is not played and hits the ground, call it good or out immediately in a clear, loud voice. Sounds obvious, but many—perhaps most—players fail to do this. Don’t assume that the ball was so "obviously" in or out that no call is needed. Instead, actually call the lines. For one thing, your opponent’s view may have been obstructed. Ever notice that the linesmen at Wimbledon make calls on shots in singles that land well outside the doubles sideline? Emulate them. Raising one arm vertically with index finger pointed up is generally accepted as a visual out signal, and holding out one hand horizontally, palm down, signifies good. Do not call balls on your opponent’s side of the net. At times, however, an opponent may ask if you had a better view of a particular shot. That is his or her prerogative, not yours.
2. The rule is simple: if you saw it out, it is out; if you didn’t see it out, it is good. Period. That’s all there is to it. On every line call there are only two possibilities: out or good. When you are unsure of a call, this rule will drastically simplify your life. There are no "lets" or "do-overs" or "let’s play two." If you cannot confidently say that you saw the ball out, then it is good. Imagine playing a point when you exchange several ground strokes, then slice a terrific approach shot down the line, come to the net and angle a crosscourt volley near the sideline to win the point. And then your opponent says, "Gee, I didn’t see it. Let’s play two." No, let’s not play two. If you didn’t see it, the ball is good. Some people believe that playing "do-overs" and "lets" makes for a "friendlier" game. Actually the opposite is true; playing by the rules makes for a friendlier game. This rule, for example, always gives your opponent the benefit of the doubt.
3. Interceptions in football, not in tennis. During a point a tennis ball is in play until it hits a player, the net, or the ground outside the court. This means that you cannot stand at the baseline and catch your opponent’s shot in the air with one hand and call it "out." Sorry, you just lost the point. That ball was in play. It doesn’t matter if you are three feet behind the baseline and you have to reach high over your head to catch the ball. That ball is in play. If you think a ball is going out, then let it go out. When it hits the ground the point is over, and if it touches down outside the lines, it is your point. Your opponent is entitled to see where his or her shot landed—even if the ball is well out, that is useful information that may help correct the next shot. It doesn’t matter if the ball is headed for the back fence on the fly: you cannot snatch it from the air and say "out."
4. During play, please do not call balls "good." Silence is golden, unless a ball is out. If the ball lands inside the court, play it and say nothing. Especially when returning serve. If the serve lands one inch inside the service line, there is no need to reassure the server by exclaiming, "Good!" Your silence means it is good, so just shut up and play the ball. Shouts, syllables and exclamations uttered during play are sometimes illegal (you cannot purposely distract your opponent) and are often incomprehensible from 80 feet away. Your superfluous "good" call may confuse your opponent, who may think the point is over, because during play your voice is supposed to be audible only when you are calling a ball out. Tennis players should be seen and not heard (take note, Monica Seles)—unless the ball is out.
5. Speak up LOUDLY. Shout out your calls lustily. Again, take as your model the Wimbledon linesmen who bawl out their calls in voices that could wake the dead, or even the Royal Box. A tennis court is not an indoor living room where we chat in conversational tones with someone six feet away. Instead we are outdoors and perhaps 78 or more feet apart. Traffic noise, ambulance and fire truck sirens, jet airplanes passing overhead, dogs barking in the nearby park, people acting up on adjoining courts, wind and weather all interfere. So bellow. Yell. Sing it out. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. And one that She can hear.
6. Keep score. Yes, actually keep score. Out loud. The rule is this: the server shall announce the game score before every point, and announce the set score before every game. Actually do this. Don’t assume that both you and your opponent know the score, and agree on what it is. Most times you do, but quite often you do not. And then what ensues is this: "What, 40-15? No, I thought it was 30-all." Next you tediously attempt to figure out the correct score together, sometimes groping to reconstruct three or four previous points. If the server simply obeys this rule and keeps score, a lot of this nonsense (not all, but a lot) disappears. Do not imagine that there is something refined or genteel about never mentioning a crass matter like the score. Mention it, and loudly, even when you are up 5-0 or 40-0—or when your opponent is. This is not a matter of taste or ego. It is for clarity. It is the rule. And it is the server’s responsibility.