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In tennis, the racket thrower is considered the lowest form of life. Posh clubs tolerate his outbursts but wish he would join the rival outfit across town. On public courts other players shake their heads in disapproval when he slams his racket. Etiquette clearly doesn't allow that sort of conduct.
But it should! The time has come to make some positive statements about racket throwing. Properly executed, the racket throw is the most satisfying move on the court. It releases tension, harms no one and stimulates the sporting goods industry to ever greater efforts to produce an indestructible racket. At its best, it's a bellowing act of self-disgust, an expression of perfect congruence between inner feeling and outward action that vents all the anger gathered in other areas of life and leaves the thrower free to be an amiable fellow. How many business tensions have accompanied a racket over the fence? How many petty frustrations have exploded along with a racket on the court? Indeed, the throw is an elegant protest against the condition of being human and fallible.
There's abundant historical and experimental evidence to suggest that our natural urge to throw rackets has been artificially stifled by the traditions of sportsmanship and the genteel origin of tennis. Blaming the racket for a missed shot is logical. The English had a concept in medieval times called deodand, whereby inanimate objects were held responsible for the harm they caused. And even now, who has not thrown a wrench after it has slipped and scraped a knuckle?
The problem with racket throwing is that not just anyone can stumble onto a court and throw well. It's true that the physical act of tossing it is simple enough, but as with so many other things, it's not so much the toss as how it's executed that's important.
The only requirements for good racket throwing, strictly speaking, are a racket and an unsteady game. True, some quality players have been known to produce prodigious heaves, but generally they're not as practiced in the art as hackers, who perfect better techniques through repetition. A sparkling exception to this rule is occasionally pulled off by a proficient player who throws his racket after a winning, but not perfect, shot to indicate that the shot didn't measure up to his high standards of play. Frequently, such action will undermine the morale of his opponent.
Some thought should go into selection of a proper throwing racket. Metal and graphite rackets sail farther, but wood on pavement makes a more satisfying sound. Opinion is split—as are many rackets—over whether cost can enhance the beauty of a throw. There's something breathtaking about a $200 graphite sailing through the air, but since the object of the throw is emotional expression, a drugstore special should do. You should buy a racket appropriate to your means that feels good as it leaves your hand. Part of the joy of racket selection is to stand in the aisle of a classy pro shop, drop a racket and listen to the sound as it hits the floor. Shopper beware, however: Store personnel tend to frown on such forms of testing. Oh, yes, make certain the racket you choose is tightly strung to allow for the slack that will inevitably develop from repeated throws.
Once on the court, you must make clear to your opponent that your rage is directed against the racket or yourself. There's no room in tennis for anger aimed at an opponent or partner. Many throwers fail to understand this point and so place onlookers in a constant state of terror. The sight of a grown man exploding produces uneasiness in other players and bystanders, so you must tell them it's nothing personal.
When to throw is as important as how to throw. A player who chucks his racket after every missed shot is simply boorish. His opponent will lose interest in the contest as it becomes evident that the thrower is self-destructing. No, racket rages must be rational. Timing is everything. Only serious error deserves quick and certain reaction.
There are times, however, when it's effective to delay the throw, and they occur when you are not quite sure of your feelings—they just haven't jelled after a missed shot. Place the racket down gently on the court, walk slowly around it until your anger seethes into proper focus and then ever so deliberately pick up the racket and slam it into the fence. The subtle message communicated to the world is that you tried to forgive yourself and the racket, but the offense was just too egregious.
Purity of motive is another critical element in throwing. There are many ways to make it appear you're merely throwing your racket, but in fact what you're doing is trying to turn your game around. The time it takes to retrieve your racket from the petunias may cool off a hot opponent. Yours truly recalls hanging a racket up in a tree, whence 15 minutes were needed to retrieve it; when the match resumed, the tide had turned. And bouncing the racket on the court may shake up some delicately constituted souls so that they lose their composure.