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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:
I'm a teaching pro in a rural area, working to build a tennis community. I'm frustrated by the players who don't want to practice with anyone who is weaker than them. They say things like "I play better when I play Sue", without any recognition that it is because Sue is a better player who is giving them consistent balls to hit. Then in the next breath, they complain that they don't want to play a weaker player, because it's no fun.

I usually point out that they can help a weaker player improve, thus have more people to play with, and they do understand that concept. However, many aren't willing to do it and remain completely oblivious to the fact that the people they love to play with are willing to play with a weaker player - them!

I'm wishing for a tactful way to point out how other players are helping them, is it possible?
-Polly Pro

A)Dear Polly:

In many ways you have gotten right to the heart of what makes this game so hard for so many: personal self-delusion. Of course it's easier to play with Sue. Get on the court with her and receive nice, user-friendly balls. Most of all, there's no true pressure to compete, move one's feet and face the genuine limits of one's game. 

My advise to you is to tell players that they have choices. If they want to improve as both ball-strikers and competitors, they'll have to learn how to generate pace against the weaker players and face the pressure that comes with expectation. Or they can opt to wrap themselves in the cocoon that accompanies playing better players. It's a free country. But if they choose the latter, don't come whining next time there's a self-implosion in a league match. Lynne Rolley, director of tennis at the Berkeley Tennis Club and the former head of coaching for the USTA, says if you want to improve it's best to put yourself in situations where you can win approximately 66 percent of the time. The matches and practices with better players can be useful, but only to a point. If you can't get great grades at a community college, what makes you think you've got the goods for Oxford? 

The British former pro John Lloyd once told me after he'd graciously hit with me for an hour, "You can hit with anyone and work on your game. You can work on your footwork, on different parts of your strokes - and if the person's not that much worse than you, you can also try different tactics. If you're a baseliner, why not serve and volley against someone worse than you?” 

Q) Dear Roving Player: 
How do I get more pace on the ball? I'm a 4.0-4.5 player, 55 years old. I play singles once or twice a month, doubles three-four times a week. I'd really like to hit harder.

A)Dear Richard:

To paraphrase Tina Turner, what's pace got to do with it? Just because you want something doesn't mean you necessarily need it. At this stage of your life, I'd seriously doubt that even if you played singles every day and took two lessons a week that you would add much velocity to what you've already got. My recommendation instead is that you learn to become more consistent and accurate with your existing weapons - and most of all, improve your court positioning. The name of the game is to force your opponent to win, and so, by learning to move forward into a good volleying position, you can establish control of points. This holds true in both singles and doubles. So rather than work on adding more heat, I'd instead spend time honing such shots as your volleys and overhead.

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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."