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Respected tennis writer Joel Drucker answers your questions about the thrills and spills of the recreational player. Got a hole in your game or a question for Joel? Drop him an email at and you may find yourself in a future column.

Q)I'm a 50 year old (older than you) 4.5 player (like yourself). Most of the time I'm conscious of which side of the strings I'm hitting my forehand and backhand with (I use different sides for each) and wonder if the pros care as well. I see pros twirling their rackets when receiving serve and can't imagine they know which side ends up hitting each stroke. Don't they care?
Thanks, Gene F.

A) Dear Gene:

You are very observant. First off, the twirling is done as a means of both dissipating nervous energy and keeping the hands relaxed in between points and prior to contact. Secondly, 99.9 percent of the people who play strike the ball on different sides of the string bed. There's simply no time to do anything else; though there was a player in the '90s, Alberto Berasateguei, who took such an extreme backswing on his backhand that he ended up hitting the ball on the same side of the strings as his forehand. This was viable on slowbouncing clay but not so functional on faster surfaces.

While just about anyone who plays should be able to hit the ball with the proper side of the strings, it doesn't really matter which end of the racket head is pointed in which direction, as most racket head are not balanced towards one side or another. Occasionally a player such as Jimmy Connors will put lead tape on one side of the frame, which meant he always wanted that lead tape side pointed up. And there have also been players who have their racket grip carved in such a way that they must always hold it in a certain position. These folks better be fast twirlers.

Q) We were playing doubles, and I called a ball out, which I was close to, the girl I was playing says it was good. Needless to say it puts me in a position not to call balls out, as I feel the ball was out. What do you do when you are over ride on a call?
Thank you, a 4.5 player

A) Dear Fellow 4.5:
The way tennis works is that each player makes calls on her own side of the net. The opponent has no right whatsoever to overrule your calls. So here's your response: "It's my call." Granted, the opponent can disagree with you, but it's still your call. At best, should the opponent not like your calls, after two or three she might politely ask, "Are you sure?" And you can say, "Yes." But if you're not sure, then you must assume the opponent's shot was in.

A few more nuances:
1. If a doubles team disagrees about a call, then the benefit of the doubt must go to the opponent.
2. In social or practice matches (that is, anything that's not an official competitive occasion), it's reasonably acceptable early on in a match to overturn line calls in your favor. My friend David will sometimes call balls of mine that are clearly wide "in," but if I can see it was obviously out I'll tell him that's the case. Then again, past the first few games in a set that won't happen much. One major notion of tennis is fair sportsmanship and faith in the opponent's linecalling skills. Players who take the law into their hands too often are annoying.
3. Whenever I'm asked, "Are you sure?" my temptation is to say, "Not quite, but it's a big point and it's my call." Fortunately for my health, I've never done this.
4. Finally, you have the right not to play with someone who questions or attempts to overrule your calls. Life is too short.

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Oakland-based Joel Drucker is one of the world's leading tennis writers. Author of the book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, Drucker's work has appeared in a wide range of print and broadcast media, including Tennis, USTA Magazine, ESPN, CBS and The Tennis Channel. For The Tennis Channel he's worked as an on-air analyst and is co-producer of the program, Center Court with Chris Myers. An avid recreational player, Drucker's lefthanded 4.5 game attempts to combine the tactical array of Brad Gilbert with the variety of John McEnroe, a style he fondly refers to as "Spinning Ugly."