I’ve already alluded to how important your court manners are in every match, but let’s dive into some specific areas that are particularly important. Think of your court manners as a secondary means of communicating with your opponent. If the game play is like a phone call, your court manners are like text messages. They deliver short quick bursts of information to the other side of the court. You will want to control what is delivered, why and when.
Think About How You Hit the Ball Back Between Points
Unless you are playing at some crazy competitive level (and you likely would have stopped reading by now), you will be shagging down the balls between points and hitting them back to your opponent or keeping them, depending on who is serving.
When you are playing a match you probably are at least semi-aware of how the opponent is hitting the balls back to you between points, especially if they are hitting them hard, or away from you. You are certainly aware if they are spiking the ball in anger.
This is one area where I think being super courteous is the only route to take. Anything other than gently hitting the balls back, right to them, is going to show anger or weakness on your side. Plus if you are playing strong mental tennis, keep it focused on more important aspects to the game that have a direct impact on the score.
One thing I will say about hitting balls back between points is that you should always hustle to balls that are a long walk or on an adjacent court. If you appear tired, and mope your way all the way to the ball, only to mope all the way back, your opponent will know you are tired. Even if you are tired, hustle. If you sprint to the ball your opponent will feel much differently about your stamina and ability to stay strong, regardless of how you really feel.
Now, if you are stalling the pace of the game, it’s a bit different. I would walk slowly, but confidently, shoulders up. You do not want your opponent to think you are tired. When I see that I start moving them around the court like crazy, wait until they get more exhausted, then hit an approach shot and charge the net to put the point away. And of course, try to speed up the pace of the game…
Outbursts Are Inevitable, But You Must Keep the Train on the Rails
I know this sounds virtually impossible, but I would really think through whether or not an outburst is going to benefit you. Sometimes you will start an outburst, and after the initial, uncontrollable action (or commonly, the reaction), you need to dial it back and decide if it’s really worth it.
Your outburst could be occurring for a number of reasons. You may have lost an important point. You may have hit a crappy shot. The ball may have hit a crack on the court and you blew it. You may have whiffed an overhead because the sun was in your eyes. Maybe your opponent made a horrible call. Whatever it is, make sure your outburst is going to yield you some benefits, and not your opponent.
I had a big outburst in some competitive doubles play last year, probably my biggest in several years. We were leading 5-4 in a third and deciding set. The score was 30-30 with the opponent serving to tie up the game score. At the end of a very long point, I was pulled off to the side by a wide shot from my opponent, and I hit a beautiful, down the line, around the guy at the net, shot that clearly dropped inside the doubles alley. The way I saw it, it wasn’t even on the line, it was inside the court. The ball was called out.
I went nuts, not even following my own advice here. I couldn’t help it. It was a crucial point, and I had earned it with a great shot. The opponent, who called my ball out, immediately looked shaken. I knew right then I had him. He was unsure of the call, and quickly unsure of himself.
I see my team stand up against the fence, as does the opposing team, like you would see when a hockey fight breaks out. This is great, just what I wanted. The opponent’s partner suggests we play the point over, but I protest (on purpose to perpetuate this further) saying I want them to simply admit a mistake on the call and give us the point. They refuse. So they want to stand their ground, I thought. That’s ok. I huff and puff a little more (posturing), and then agree to play it over.
Guess what happened? They double faulted the redo point. This outburst totally threw them off, and we went on to win the match. They had put themselves in an unrecoverable position at the most crucial part of the match. Afterward, I smiled when I shook hands with them. They did not. But this match was in the books, and I walked away with a W.
Be careful with your outbursts. If you’re going to have one, and can pick when you want to get upset, do it early if you think you can rattle your opponent. That way you get the benefit for the whole match. But some people aren’t as easily rattled as others. You need to recognize those types of people, avoid outbursts when playing them, and focus on being unrattle-able yourself.
Be Consistent When Calling a Let
A ball from another court comes on to your court in the middle of a point. This is another one that I think you need to be really courteous on at all times. The key is to be consistent, and not advantageous. I’ve played plenty of people who have called a let after the momentum in the point swings away from them. In that case, I frown internally, but will say “absolutely, good call.” Often times I don’t mean it because I may have been one volley away from winning the point. But calling lets can really screw with your head.
If you are playing an opponent who is calling a lot of them, or only in advantageous situations, I would try to switch it up by calling the let before they do. And then immediately afterwards (or while the words “let” are coming out of your mouth) hit a weak shot so it appears that your opponent is the one who got jipped on the let call.
I would only do this if you feel it is being taken advantage of. It doesn’t happen that often.
Complimenting Your Opponent’s Good Shots
This is a tricky part of court manners, but I usually default to doing what feels right. I’ve already listed quite a few ways to mess with your opponent. When they hit a good shot, I say nothing (most of the time) or I will say “good shot” if it truly was a good shot, hit off a good shot from me, and was a ball that I couldn’t get a racket on. They have to surprise me.
It doesn’t hurt to be a good guy during a lot of the match. It may net you some favorable calls in cases where your opponent doesn’t get a good look at your shot, or when they hesitate just a bit. It really depends where the other pieces to your match’s puzzle are falling, and how and when you are picking them up.
Compliment Your Partners Good Shots Right Away
When it comes to doubles, and your partner hits a good shot, the rules are completely different. You can of course say whatever, whenever, but if there is any hesitation on a call from the opponent, you need to immediately say “great shot” and start to move to the other side and prepare for the next point.
I will do this religiously on good serves that hit the line, sometimes saying “great shot” and moving into a new position before the opponent has even had a chance to process what had happened. It makes it much more difficult to call it otherwise, particularly if there’s any hesitation.