If you must be mediocre at tennis, at least be a mediocre player who wins

May 03, 1970

Some men can endure almost anything—crabgrass, an inconstant spouse, a life of quiet desperation—but the fact that they will never be really good tennis players is unthinkable and lies in their subconscious like an undigested lump. But the sad truth, let's begin to face it, is that most of us are not going to become really good tennis players. At best, our game is a patchwork of bits and scraps from books by Don Budge or Bill Talbert, held together by some subliminal body English picked up while watching our betters on the center court. At worst, it can come embarrassingly unraveled without warning on any given Sunday afternoon.

But now let us rejoice and join with Dr. Simon Ramo who contends in his book Extraordinary Tennis for the Ordinary Player (Crown, $4.95) that as long as you're going to be an ordinary player you might as well own up to it and start concentrating on how to be an ordinary player who wins.

Dr. Ramo himself is extraordinary at a number of things, but by his own admission, he is an ordinary—indeed, even mediocre—tennis player.

As a scientist, Dr. Ramo knows how to get right to the heart of the matter by defining his terms. First, he says, there are two distinct games of tennis—the pro game and the ordinary, or mediocre, game. If you are an ordinary player, and it's just possible that you are, then it's ridiculous to try to play pro tennis with all that silliness about rushing the net, smashing the first serve, and playing low volleys at midcourt. Mediocre tennis calls for another strategy entirely, including the careful study and exploitation of the weaknesses of other mediocre players.

Since everybody has been concentrating on the pro game all these years, Dr. Ramo has had to invent some new terms to describe the techniques of mediocre tennis. There's the "micro-cannonball" serve, for example, which is useful not because it's particularly fast but because it tends to land in the box more often and has a high spin and a low bounce which your ordinary opponent will tend to hit into the net.

Explanations of the finer points are enhanced by Dr. Ramo's own droll drawings illustrating mediocre play in doubles matches between such mediocre teams as Mercedes and Neiman vs. Marcus and Benz, or Funk and Mozart vs. Penrod and Wagnalls. Incidentally, according to Ramo, doubles is the only game for the mediocre player.

Of course it may be that you are not a mediocre player and that none of this will interest you. But if you happen to be in a bookstore maybe the name of a good, or rather mediocre, friend may come to mind.

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