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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:
My friend Don is constantly urging me to play his wife, Evelyn. I'm a 4.0 male, and she's a 4.5, so Don figures we're pretty closely matched. But then a bunch of my buddies were razzing me about the idea of losing to a woman, and so I'm worried. Should I even play this match?

A)Dear Henry:

I once lost a three-hour match to a 13-year-old girl in a third-set tiebreaker. The next day a friend of mine said, "Boy, I'd sure hate to lose to a teenage girl." I countered with words I'd first heard from legendary coach Vic Braden: The ball doesn't know how old you are.

The psychological issues that tennis players bring to competing versus players of a different gender, age and, more subtly, playing style, are sad commentaries on human insecurity. Surely your identity isn't so fragile that a loss to a woman would damage it. Don is right: the difference in NTRP ratings between men and women is approximately .7 in the man's favor - so therefore, a 4.0 man and a 4.5 woman are indeed likely to have a good match. If you want to improve, play Evelyn - it can only help you become a better player. But here's your caveat: Don't let Don act as the booking agent. You and Evelyn should talk among yourselves to schedule your match.

Q)Dear Roving Player: 
I'm thinking of taking lessons. What should I look for in a teaching pro? 

A)Dear Louise:

It's not easy to find a good teaching pro. All too often, people let geography and lazy personal references guide them down the path of least resistance. Even more annoying is the way many instructors teach. The classic lesson involves feeding user-friendly balls and then telling the student what's wrong with their technique. But what about the matter of actually seeing how the student plays tennis? All too many students mostly learn how to take lessons - but not how to become better players.

Any prospective instructor should take time to talk with you about your tennis - your game, your goals, shots you'd like to improve, reasons you lose (and win) matches, etc. Most of all, you want to feel that this person is committed to helping you improve - not just specific shots, but give you a broader appreciation and understanding of the game. So while in large part, a good student-teacher relationship revolves around chemistry, make it your mission to determine the right mix of chemicals. That is, as you talk with instructors, use those conversations to help clarify and articulate what you really want from your lessons. If it's technical input, then be clear which shots you'd like to most improve - and to what purpose (for example, if you mostly play doubles, it's probably better to work on volleys and overheads than build a big topspin forehand). If it's tactical, you might consider taking lessons with one of your tennis pals so that the two of you can play points in front of the instructor and simulate competition.

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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."