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"Ask Bill" Year In Review

May 25, 2008 01:28 PM

First of all, a hearty year-end THANKS to all of the loyal readers of this column. I have compiled some ABA’s that represent a good cross-section of the questions I receive each week.

I can only hope that the readers enjoy my responses half as much as I enjoy reviewing all the questions and comments each week. Happy Holidays to all the fellow tennis fanatics out there!

January 11th, 2006
Q: I have only just started playing tennis and I’m not to sure where to begin?

Aled - Wales, UK

Keep it simple. Understand the object of the game, which is hit one more ball over the net, and inside the lines, than your opponent. As long as you do this successfully, you will never lose a point.

- Bill

February 15th, 2006
Q: I'm just starting to play tennis for the first time. I'm in 10th grade, is it to late to become a great player before the season starts in spring 2006.

Whitney - Surrency, GA

Well, “great” is a relative term... I have heard some former professional tour players refer to themselves as “below-average players” and I have listened to club-players tell me how they could compete in the US Open (“with just a little more practice”).

When you are new to the game, which you are, improvement can be rapid. In fact, I expect that you can make a 100% improvement to your overall game in three months. Is that good enough?

How can you get better? Practice, Whitney, practice. There are no shortcuts. Hit a LOT of balls and play a LOT of matches. With patience, you will make progress. Enjoy the process.

- Bill

March 29th, 2006
Q: When should you flip the game score card at mid court? Is there proper etiquette for this? And, if the score cards are black and red, then who is who?

Lisa - Mission Viejo, CA

Whichever player gets to the sideline first (on changeovers after odd games) ought to flip the score cards. This does not always occur, as usually the player who is losing is less inclined to switch the cards, because it announces the bad news to all spectators. Therefore, it seems like the player who is winning does all this “work.” It should be a cooperative effort though.

As for who should be red and who should be black, it is merely a matter of choice. If you are playing for a team (high school, college, USTA League, etc.) make sure that the teams use the same color on every court though.

- Bill

April 19th, 2006
I saw my partner hit the ball after two bounces but she claims she got to it before the second bounce. Opponents questioned the double hit and I said it bounced twice and gave them the point. My partner said it was her call. What should I have done?

Hedy - Ellicott City, MD

If you and your doubles partner have a disagreement over a judgment or a specific line call, then you ought to always give the benefit of doubt to your opponents.

- Bill

May 10th, 2006
Q: What's the key to a good consistent second serve?

Kirk - Hillsboro, OR

The biggest key is… to get it in! Develop directional accuracy, plenty of spin, and- eventually- pace. Make certain that you swing at least as hard on your second serves as you do on your first serves. Players who struggle with developing a strong second serve tend to guide the ball by slowing down their swing. Instead, swing fast. You will eventually develop feel and confidence, but you must be bold enough to try.

- Bill

May 17th, 2006
Q: If you were going to institute a major rule change in tennis, what would it be and why?

Timothy - Chicago, IL

I would enforce the “play shall be continuous” rule. There is way too much dawdling on-court, which slows down the pace of play and, thus, the enjoyment of our great game.

In the professional ranks, the rule change that I would most like to see is the installation of a shot clock in the corner of the court. After the completion of a point, players would have fifteen seconds to begin the next point. If not, they would be warned. After a warning, they would be penalized a point for each ensuing violation. Of course, applause from the fans in the gallery would have a subtle affect. If there is a particularly exciting point, the inevitable cheering would create a natural pause in the action. That would be fine. A long delay after a routine, abrupt point is NOT appealing though.

- Bill

May 31st, 2006
I've been playing for three years and I've gotten to the point of frustration with my game that I want to take a break from tennis or maybe just quit altogether. Is this normal?

Renitha - Newport News, VA

Frustration is pretty normal. Playing perfect tennis is an elusive quest. Arthur Ashe always said that in tennis, you are competing against yourself more than an opponent.

If you become so agitated that you feel like you need to take some time away from the sport, then that is unfortunate. Try to maintain perspective. Have some fun and enjoy the exercise. Not being able to play is worse than occasionally losing.

- Bill

June 14th, 2006
critical points per match, while the rest of the time calling them as "The Code" intended. It also appears to be a family trait (little brother follows big sister’s example). We (multiple players, parents and coaches) have asked tournament officials how to handle this situation. Without mentioning the player's name they know who we're talking about and are sympathetic of the situation; but their suggestion "get a line judge" does not address the fact that a critical game / set is already lost. Do you have any suggestions on how her opponents should handle this situation?

Tom - Atlanta, GA

Be prepared. The “players, parents, and coaches” that you write about are probably psyched out by this pattern of cheating. If getting a line judge does not seem to address the issue (or addresses it too late), then make sure that the player has a clear plan of action so that being “hooked” on a crucial point does not send your player into a tailspin. Excuses are easy to find out there; instead teach him how to overcome adversity.

Frankly, the REACTION to being cheated does more damage than the actual cheating (of one or a few points) over the course of a match. Rise above this nonsense! I hate to read about scenarios like this. However, if the cheating is inevitable (as you write), then determine- in advance- how to overcome this treachery.

- Bill

June 21st, 2006
Q: My 11 year old son plays tennis daily and tournaments on the weekends. Should his training include anything in addition to matches?

Susie - Santa Clara, CA

Cross-training, by playing other sports, is always good for his overall athletic development. It will also allow his mind to become refreshed and recharged.

Make sure that you factor in an appropriate number of rest/recovery days for your son. Playing a lot has always been a fast way to improve quickly. Playing too much, however, is counter-productive. You need to be careful- and precise- in finding the optimum balance for your child.

- Bill

June 28th, 2006
Q: My 13 year old son plays in tournaments where there are no "officials". What can he do when his opponent makes several questionable "out" calls? We had one who hit a ball that had double bounced and my son let him have the point. Afterwards I told him he had to hold his ground on such things.

Stacie - Ennis, TX

First of all, your son sounds like a gentleman. Choosing to not argue a judgment call indicates that he possess maturity and perspective. He may also feel a little shy or intimidated during tournament play, and this is normal (and will eventually subside).

My best advice on “bad calls” during tournaments is a three step process:

  • On the fist questionable call, always give your opponent the benefit of doubt. (You, not he, could be wrong!)
  • On the second questionable call, ask the opponent firmly but politely: “Are you sure?”
  • If a third questionable call occurs and you feel cheated, stop the match and request a line judge.

If he is playing a tournament with NO available line judges or maybe an un-officiated high school match, then he needs to deal with the adversity of some missed calls. The way he reacts to questionable calls is almost always more crucial then the calls themselves.

- Bill

July 12th, 2006
Q: I work at the Boys and Girls Club up here, and this month and next I am teaching a day camp for beginning and intermediate tennis players. I am on my high school tennis team, and I know the game, but my problem is that I am not sure how to go about teaching 8-10 year olds how to play. They have the attention span of a goldfish!! How many things can I cover per day? At what pace do I introduce them to new things? Help!!!

Amanda - Ronan, MT

My best advice when teaching 8-10 year old goldfish, errr, children is to make it fun. If they have fun, they will play more. If they play more, they will get better quickly. How do you know if they are having fun? Look for smiles and listen for laughter. That is even more important than specific drills, games or exercises.

- Bill

September 13th, 2006
Q. I’ve been repeatedly asked: How do you become a contestant in the US Open? Is there a tryout? Do you get invited?

Nathan – Highland, MD

The US Open is “open” to any qualified player. The entry list is based on world rankings for the men (ATP Tour) and women (WTA Tour).

If you are interested in playing, then you should attain a world ranking by entering some entry-level professional events (which are called Futures tournaments). Unless the qualifying draws are “open” (which means unlimited), you will likely need a ranking to get in (National or, at least, Sectional ranking will help). When you experience success at that level, you will earn enough computer ranking points to become eligible for mid-level professional tournaments (Challenger Series events). The next step would be to play in some regular series ATP/WTA Tour events. To gain direct entry into any of the four Grand Slams, you need to be ranked (approximately) 110 or better; to gain a spot into the Qualifying, you generally need to be ranked around 250 or better.

Good luck!

– Bill

September 20th, 2006
Q: At what age do you recommend children ideally begin competing in USTA tennis tournaments?

Perrone - Boston, MA

As soon as they are ready.

Sorry for a seemingly inconclusive answer, but every child is different. If they enjoy the competition and look forward to the experience, then give them the opportunity. If they are lukewarm about it, then give them additional time (and find “back door” ways of motivating them, like bringing them to some big tournaments to watch).

Good luck… and be careful!

- Bill

Hi Bill! I am 14 years old and I have been playing tennis for some time now. I have never played any tournaments and I do not have a ranking. My dream is to become a professional tennis player when I turn 18. I am afraid that I will not be able to do this because I don’t have a ranking. My question is do you have to be a junior player and have a ranking before you can become a professional tennis player?

Cecil - Silver Springs, MD

Nobody in professional tennis gives a damn what your junior rankings were. The only requirement is to be good enough to win matches so that you actually earn money.

However, it would be fairly unprecedented to arrive among the professional ranks without any competitive experience. I would urge you to begin competing to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, about your “ceiling” and/or your limitations, and- ultimately- to determine if this is really something that you are willing to pour your heart and soul into. Good luck in the process.

- Bill

September 27th, 2006
Q: I was wondering if age 13 is too late to start playing tennis (to become good for college or professional). Anyway, I was wondering if 13 is as good as starting at age 8 or 9, and if I do become good in the future, what are the steps in becoming a professional?

Ulric – Edison, NJ

It is never too late! Get cracking though. Try to practice with a purpose every single day, enter many tournaments to gain competitive experience, read all you can about techniques, tactics, training, etc.

Most of the players on the tour did get an earlier start than you, but if you possess enough talent, then anything is possible. Good luck!

- Bill

October 25th, 2006
Q: I play for fun against my friends and my dad a lot, but I'm going to enter my first USTA Sanctioned tournament on November 24th. I was just wondering if you had any advice for me. Also, I have a problem putting too much pressure on myself and getting mad at myself during matches, I was wondering if you could help me "control" myself a little bit.

Matt - East Stroudsburg, PA

Have fun. Competition should always be enjoyable. Tournament tennis can become- and feel- serious, but ultimately it must be a pleasure.

How to do this? Maintain perspective. Breathe out when you hit the ball. Smile. Enjoy the moment, instead of worrying about the results.

- Bill

Additional thoughts to end the year…
in the form of some predictions

Grand Slam singles champions for 2007…
Australian: Lleyton Hewitt and Martina Hingis.
Roland Garros: Roger Federer and Elena Dementieva.
Wimbledon: Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova.
US Open: Roger Federer and Justin Henin-Hardenne.

2007 Davis Cup: The Americans will regain the Cup! If they can get through the tricky 1st round tie at the Czech Republic, they will hold the all-important choice of surface for home ties against probable opponents the rest of the way.

2007 Fed Cup: The Russians will emerge. In fact, if the Russians were allowed to field two (or three) teams, each would make the World Group (top eight teams in Fed Cup).

The on-court coaching that the WTA Tour, sorry the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, will experiment with will spark heated debate among tennis journalists. That is good for our sport. Should it be allowed? Well, let’s put it this way, there is virtually no way that a chair umpire can control this bending of the rules.

The round-robin format that the ATP Tour is embracing is a spectacular idea. It will allow the “smaller” one-week events to be assured of having more matches with top players. It will become easier to market when the general public gets the hang of the format. I have my fingers crossed for this one.

I expect Pete Sampras, and probably Andre Agassi, to join the Outback Champions Tour for some dates with/against their old pals. This will be great for the tour, for interest in our sport, and for these former champions.

Lastly, I predict that some young talent will emerge and just mesmerize the tennis world. It happens every few years in our sport. Expect this young contender to possess the well-rounded skills of Federer, the athleticism of Sampras, and the spirit of Agassi. Stay tuned…


  • Eugene L. Scott (1937-2006). Tennis’ Renaissance Man was the leading conscience for our sport.
  • Ted Schroeder (1921-2006). “Lucky Ted” was a masterful net-rusher, a Wimbledon, US National, and Davis Cup champion. He was as opinionated in retirement as he was fiercely competitive during his prime, and his candor will be mossed.
  • Lamar Hunt (1932-2006). This gentleman invested millions of dollars into developing the World Championship Tennis (WCT) circuit. When a skeptic asked how long Hunt could afford to lose so much money each year in supporting professional tennis, his brother suggested that the funds would dry up in “about 200 years.” All players on the current ATP Tour owe a debt of gratitude to this man’s vision and generosity.
  • Ham Richardson (1933-2006). A Davis Cup stalwart, who retired with a 20-2 Cup record, Richardson played on two Cup-winning teams (in 1954 and ’58). He was twice ranked as the top American (1956 and ’58) and won two NCAA singles titles for Tulane University (1953-54).


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