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As those familiar with tennis already know, there is considerable controversy among the experts concerning the best approach to hitting the ball. Even the most eager novice soon finds himself bewildered by conflicting theories about eastern, western and continental grips, full and short backswings and open and closed stances. There is, however, one point of universal agreement: to improve your tennis game it is important that you play with opponents who are better than you. It therefore follows that your early efforts should be directed not at improvement of your backhand but rather at learning the secrets of conning superior players into a game, a process that, if repeated often enough, will automatically improve your game.
The technique of luring a more advanced player onto the same court with you is limited only by imagination. In its most basic form, for example, it consists of sidling up to the player of your choice with an off-hand comment such as: "Say, I was noticing your forehand the other day. Know how you can make it more effective?" No tennis player in his right mind is able to resist this kind of bait. As soon as you have parried his answer with, "There's an open court. Do you have a minute?" you will find yourself with a skilled opponent.
Beyond this simple approach lies a vast harvest of schemes ready for the using, and requiring nothing more than nerves, finesse, a little resourcefulness and, above all, the ability to disguise your actual inability as a tennis player.
First, to avoid being taken for a beginner, it is important not to behave like one. Present the image of a veritable veteran of the courts, someone who obviously knows what he is doing.
Unless you are determined to advertise your shortcomings, never pick up a ball with your hands. Always use your racket, keeping its face approximately parallel to the ground and tapping the ball three times: once with enough force to make it jump, and twice more as it bounces higher, until you can catch it in your hand.
But for all-around effectiveness, nothing can replace the spoken word. Here you need nothing more than good timing and a smattering of knowledge in a specialized area of tennis. For example, you might memorize the second-round European Zone pairings of this year's Davis Cup draw and have your wife question you about them within earshot of those with whom you wish to play.
A word of warning about your selection of clothes and equipment. If your sneakers have never been used, cover them with grass stains. If your racket lacks battle scars and sparkles with shiny lacquer, trade it in for an old one, or preferably two. And, above all, do not ever wear blue sneakers or carry your racket in a press.
All right. Having followed all these instructions, you have succeeded in coaxing a superior player or group of players into a game. As you stroll from the clubhouse to the court with your unsuspecting opponent, pay careful attention to the way you carry the racket. Make sure that it does not dangle loosely from your hand. Instead, clutch it firmly to your chest, handle downward, your palm on the throat and your thumb pressing against the lower strings.
Once on the court, bear down. Try this: "Net's a trifle low. isn't it?" When you open a new can of tennis balls, beware of betraying yourself by holding the can at arm's length as though there were dead fish inside. Rather, put it up to your ear. roll your eyes, give the key its last turn and, as the air escapes, sigh "aaahh" with all the rapture of a wine steward. Similarly, when asked which side of the court you prefer, do not shrug your shoulders and mumble, 'It doesn't matter." Pull a straw from your pocket, toss it into the air, follow its flight carefully and announce: "I'll start over here. My drop shot is more effective hitting into the wind." Who would ever suspect that you've never even executed a drop shot?
Of course, your opponent is going to suspect it pretty soon. When you dump a couple in the net and hit your first practice serve over the fence, you'll find him looking at you with a quizzical expression. Do not be dismayed. You can grab your elbow and bite your lip, rub your eye furiously or have a coughing fit. There are dozens of ways to make him think you are having a sensationally off day. But that's another story.