The Skill of Tennis
“The exercises that I have you to use…. are running, leaping, wrestling, fencing, dauncing, and playing at caitche or tennise.”
King James I to his son
It can be said with some justification that tennis is the most difficult of all ball games to play. A correspondent of The Times newspaper described it as “running, jumping and hitting chess”. The reason is that since the ball is solid, it can be hit hard and fast and can be spun in all directions. Furthermore the angle of wall and floor and the peculiar hazard of the tambour (which diverts the ball across the court) makes an inexperienced player very uncertain in which direction a ball will travel. Finally the racket head is small and to hit the ball in the middle of the racket is at all times extremely difficult. To spectators it may seem easy to hit the ball. To players it often seems unbelievably difficult.
If the ball is undercut, then, when it strikes the wall at the other end of the court it will drop sharply downwards, making it difficult to return. For this reason good players cut the ball and do not, as in lawn tennis, top spin the ball which causes it to bounce high off the back wall and presents an easy shot to the opponent. The winning openings provide both players with ever present opportunities of winning points; and the tambour is tactically very important since a ball hitting it will change direction abruptly through about 90°.