Girls playing tennis are prettier than anybody—and if you don't believe it, look at the following pages—but they are not necessarily more effective. Even the hardest-fought women's matches at country clubs from Newport, R.I. to Newport Beach, Calif. usually are ground stroke duels marked by long, graceful rallies during which neither competitor is likely to approach the net or the backstop. This kind of tennis looks very pretty, and it's a fine way to catch a date for the Saturday dance from the gallery, but it's no good for winning matches against either men or other women.
As it happened, I was interested only in getting a date for the Saturday dance when I ran into an agitated blonde tennis player at a club in Ohio a good many years ago. But she was more interested in winning tennis. "Oh, Bill," she almost sobbed, "I'll actually die if Candace beats me in the club tournament this year. Can't you show me how to beat her?"
I saw no problem. "Stick with me, honey," I said, "and I'll make you a champ." At least, I thought, I might get a date when the tournament was over. For the next two weeks my friend (whom we will call Serena) and I held daily practice sessions on a court conveniently hidden from the clubhouse, developing some new strokes. On the Saturday afternoon of the women's finals, she unveiled them against Candace (which wasn't her name either) and won the tournament.
What were the strokes? A drop shot and a lob.
These are effective strokes in anybody's repertoire, and I had first learned their true value only a few months before, when I was matched against a player far more experienced than I. He was picked to win easily, so, being young and brash, I decided to alter things a bit. On his first four serves, I answered with a drop shot just over the net which brought him lunging and stumbling from the baseline. When he returned the ball successfully, I floated a lob over his head, sending him panting to the backstop. The result: I won the match 6-0, 6-1.
I can't pretend that strategy based on two stroke s would sweep through the national championships, but I can practically guarantee—as, in fact, I did to Serena—that in run-of-the-country-club women's tennis it will produce a winning game and, provided your opponent is not also reading this article, a club championship.
The drop shot has been called the whipped cream of the stroke menu. It is produced by the gentlest kiss of the racket on the ball, just enough to drop the ball over the net for a quick death. To give a drop the disguise and spin that make it most effective, you approach it just as you would a normal ground stroke. Then, a split second before impact, you turn the racket face under to impart backspin, relax your grip and tap the ball. The more backspin you use, the harder you can hit the ball but the more difficult it is to make the shot. The almost horizontal position of the racket in extreme backspin means that the slightest mistiming of the stroke will cause you to hit the wood.
For the best drop shot, a ball at waist height should be hit with the racket face tilted at about 30° from the vertical. The follow-through is in a downward direction and can be as short as one foot.
There are two kinds of lob, both of which should be mixed with the drop shot for a winning combination. The offensive lob can be hit either flat or with a slight topspin. I recommend the latter, because it bounces away from the player running back to retrieve it.
The defensive lob is best hit with an underspin. This serves two purposes: 1) it makes for better control, particularly in a wind, and 2) its backward rotation tends to slow the ball so that it hangs in the air to give the defensive lobber a chance to recover his position.
Many people think of a lob as no stroke at all, but merely a kind of push or shovel shot. It is no such thing. A good lob demands just as much precision as any other stroke. Because its greatest value lies in its disguise, it should be started off either side in the same, way as the corresponding ground stroke. The only difference is in the angle of the racket face at the moment of impact and on the follow-through. In placing lobs, you should generally aim for the player's backhand area and as close to the baseline as you can get.
It takes practice to learn such placement, but when you have it and can use it in conjunction with the drop shot, you will have a one-two punch that will soon make a wreck of the steadiest backcourt duelist.
Try it out, girls, and I promise you'll all be club champions. But if you care to get invited to the Saturday dance, don't try it on your dates.