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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) Dear Roving Player:
An opponent of mine occasionally asks me, "How did you see it?" whenever I hit a ball close to the line. What should I say? 
-JB, Seattle

A) Dear JB:

Any opponent who asks that question is cheating. The rule is that if you cannot see a ball out, then it is good. Lacking conviction, your opponent is basically saying, "I'd like to cheat you, but I don't have the nerve to do it myself, so I'd like to enlist you as my accomplice. Please call your own shot out and then I can feel good about hooking you." 

So here are my guidelines: If it's a tournament or league match, simply say, "It was good." End of story, regardless of location. An opponent who attempts this kind of cheating should know better and not be rewarded. 

In practice forms of competition, if the question comes fairly early in the match – such as the first 4-5 games -- I tend to respond accurately, as I'm reluctant to take a point from an opponent I generally respect. But I'll also say, "It's your call, not mine." From that point on, when asked, I'll say it's good, regardless of location. This game is tough enough that we shouldn't let devious opponents make it harder. 

Q) Dear Roving Player:
In league tennis I have first hand experience in playing with a few sandbaggers and have heard more than once apparent bragging about their ability to circumvent the system. I would be most entertained to hear what you might have to offer on the general subject.
-Leigh Jackson

A) Dear Leigh:

The desire to win is quite powerful, even if it's for something as puny as winning league matches. The unstated corollary is the fact that many league players are unwilling to assert themselves and will let sandbaggers play on their team. As a friend of mine once said, "Everyone does it, so why not us?" Another buddy of mine has intentionally thrown matches so that he could stay at another rating level. 

But one pitfall built into league play is that there is no age-group level higher than 4.5. One reason for this is that there are very few men 50 and over who can compete with younger 5.0 players. So, in essence, in the context of league player, past the age of 50 a player is penalized for improving. What then happens is that men aged 50 and over who might well be approach the 5.0 level will stay 4.5 as long as possible, in effect squeezing down the ratings at all levels.

So here's my suggestion. First, the nationals should be eliminated. Ninety-nine percent of people who play league tennis never go to the nationals anyway, so I say get rid of this carrot that is one of the major catalysts for sandbagging. League play is intended primarily as a way to play tennis locally. Will sandbagging occur locally? Perhaps, but at least in a smaller community it can hopefully be more effectively policed. 

Second, and this gets tricky, I would let anyone over 50 drop his or her rating half a point for league play. Encourage people to improve, but also make concessions for age. 

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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."