William Tatem Tilden.

The Art of Lawn Tennis online

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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

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Online LibraryWilliam Tatem TildenThe Art of Lawn Tennis → online text (page 1 of 12)