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The only official website –- and, in all probability, the only factually correct website –- for the author Benjamin Hoff.

In February 2012, I submitted the following proposed article to Tennis magazine. At the end of June, having received no reply to my submission, I decided to have it put on my website for the possible benefit of other tennis players.



As a recreational serve-and-volleyer who’s been spending a ridiculous amount of time off due to non-tennis-caused injuries, I’ve been experiencing a great opportunity to observe what other players are doing, and to analyze my own tennis habits. As a result, I’m herein offering some playing suggestions in the form of a “what if” story about how one might overcome what I believe to be the worst enemy a tennis player can have: intimidation.

I don’t just mean the intimidation caused by an obnoxious jerk who bullies and tennis-tantrums his way through a match; I also -- and mostly -- mean the intimidation that a great many of us create in our own minds: “My opponent is Chairman of the Board of Everything. He’s beaten me ten times. I wish I were somewhere else.”

I’d better state that I’m not a teacher. I’m a learner, an observer. My background is largely in Chinese philosophy and martial arts. What, one might ask, do they have to do with tennis? The answer is simple: Although tennis is a sport, in spirit it’s a martial art. Its strategies and attitude-training knowingly or unknowingly involve Eastern-philosophy principles.

Being a serve-and-volleyer by nature (impatient, easily bored), I have a hard time understanding why so many recreational and professional players are intimidated by even the idea of volleying, when in reality there’s no time at the net for intimidation of any kind -- no time to be intimidated by the status, prowess, or lack of sanity of one’s opponent, by the fear of being passed, or by anything else; there’s only time for racquet-and-ball, racquet-and-ball, hit-hit, hit-hit. It’s at the baseline that there’s time for intimidation to happen. Unfortunately, everyone including us net-rushers spends time at the baseline. So, unfortunately, in one way or another, sooner or later, we can all be intimidated by someone or something.

My “what if” story involves the principles of a mental game that serve-and-volleyers play at the net, without necessarily being aware that they’re playing it -- and without necessarily being aware that its principles can be applied to baseline play as well as net play. I call that game Ghost Tennis.

Imagine that you’re in a tournament, and that your opponent for the first match is listed as “The Ghost.” When you see that odd title or non-name on the list, you think that it’s someone’s idea of a joke. But when you step onto the court for the match, you find that it’s no joke. Across the net from you is only a racquet, suspended in the air in ready position. Your opponent is invisible. Your opponent is, in fact, a ghost.

Who or what, you wonder, are you up against? You’re not going to intimidate this tennis player, you reflect, but your invisible adversary is already intimidating you. You haven’t a chance of winning, you think -- you can’t see your opponent. You start to panic. But suddenly you’re reassured by the thought that you can see your opponent’s racquet -- and the ball.

Play begins. Every time the ball enters the other court, you watch your invisible rival’s racquet and the ball. When The Ghost’s racquet moves to head off the ball by dropping low, opening its face, and turning toward the deuce court, you know how and where the hit ball’s going to go, so you move accordingly. And so on, with every move the competing racquet makes. You keep watching and responding, watching and strategizing, watching and moving that racquet around the court with your shots... And because you’re focusing only on the racquet and the ball, you’re winning points. But so is The Ghost.

After a while, due to your concentration, there’s no longer in your mind any intimidation, any distraction, any thought of winning or losing -- just that racquet and the ball. Time seems to slow down. You feel as if you’re floating, in slow motion, as you hit... hit... hit...

As you watch and move, move and watch, you notice that The Ghost seems to be growing distracted by your actions and reactions, and is consequently making errors. You’re pulling ahead. And then the trickery begins. The Ghost’s racquet face closes, the racquet pulls back -- but at the last moment, it opens and jabs forward, bunting a lob. Or it opens and pulls down and back for a higher lob, then closes and whips around to slam the ball crosscourt. The Ghost wins a few points in this manner, but loses as many because those last-instant racquet tricks are throwing the racquet wielder’s timing and marksmanship off. You’re still ahead.

Several points later, you’re wise to The Ghost’s arsenal of tricks and are watching the racquet more knowingly than before, without a break in your concentration. Your lead is increasing. Why, you wonder, is The Ghost’s game disintegrating? Why are you scoring higher than an opponent you can’t even see? Then you have the answer: Your opponent has a racquet, a ball, a face, and a body to watch and be distracted by; you have only a racquet and a ball to watch.

You win the match -- but you gain something greater than that. Because...

From then on, match after match, you see no opponent on the other side of the net; you see only the racquet and the ball. You’ve learned something from The Ghost.

© 2012 Benjamin Hoff

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