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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:
A person I play against always seems to come up with a good reason for his losses. Most of the time he'll say something afterwards like, "It was too windy" or "I'm just getting back into it." But the last time we played he made his excuse even before we walked on the court. Why does this annoy me so much?
-Vexed Vic

A) Dear Vic:

You're justifiably miffed because your opponent is tilting the etiquette of the game, in essence creating a situation where he can't lose and you can't win. If he loses, well, he was sick. If you win, all you did was beat a sick man. Should the opposite happen, you're a really big loser. 

It's fitting to receive this question on the eve of the Australian Open. No nation better showcases sportsmanship than the Australians. Here's the Golden Rule from the great Roy Emerson: "If you're hurt, don't play. If you play, you're not hurt. No excuses." In the 1966 Wimbledon quarterfinals, Emerson lost a chance to earn a third straight Wimbledon singles title when he injured himself mid-match. You'll never hear him utter a word about that injury, lest he tarnish the winning effort of his mate, Owen Davidson. The Aussies have another phrase about someone who constantly whines: "I've never played him when he was feeling well." It's a subtle way of calling someone a real jerk. 

The Aussie Code is really that simple, but it's staggering how emotionally weak recreational players are at playing by these terms. Even more odious are people who make excuses after they beat you. 

I've never quite figured out a way to successfully confront excuse-makers. Expressions of anger, clever comebacks and heartfelt pain may elicit some short-term apology, but over the long run I've come to separate the good sports from the whiners. What I'm working on now is letting words vanish into air and the oncourt
action speak for itself. It's not easy. The other alternative is to stop playing with that person. 

Q) Dear Roving Player:
I get nervous whenever I play league matches. How do I learn to be more calm?
-Nervous Nellie

A) Dear Nervous:

You've gotten to the crux of tennis: performing under pressure. Everyone deals with competitive stress in different ways. Billie Jean King would boil it down to staring at a tennis ball. Pete Sampras took a pre-match run through the hallways of Ashe Stadium. Others listened to music – loud, soft, classic, rock. The key is to find the technique that works for you and puts you in the best frame of mind to compete effectively. Most of all, though, I'd recommend getting to the courts at least 60-90 minutes early and hitting a lot of tennis balls. Emphasize volleys, overheads and serves, as these are the cornerstone shots of league play. If it's a road match, plan enough driving time so that you arrive at least 30 minutes early – both to get acclimated to the venue and to hit balls. Once the match starts, think more about consistency, basics and short-term goals – make this service return – than long-term matters of consequence. And remember: your teammates have all melted down too.  

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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."