A Real Dispute About Tennis by Two Philosophers

Chang lost the point but won the match in part by “pushing” during certain points

Philosophical Divide

A friend of mine named David who has his doctorate in philosophy relayed to me a story about a dispute that broke out after he played tennis with a friend who also has a doctorate in philosophy.  David is extremely quick and tends to hit the ball aggressively from the baseline.  He tries to impose his will on a rally and force an error or hit a winner after taking control of a point.  His friend apparently plays a more defensive style of making an opponent hit one extra shot while waiting for an error.

Just add water bottles and towels for a post-match tennis scene w/ 2 philosophers

While David won the match, he was talking to his friend about how frustrating he found playing against someone content to hit the ball back without trying to press the point in any given direction.  His friend objected saying the purpose of tennis is to not lose points while David contended tennis should be about trying to win points.   The discussion apparently got somewhat heated and went on for some time.*

Gonzo obviously worked points but also played to win the point as often as possible

David’s dissertation was on John Dewey and currently works on the origin and nature of the novel as a literary form.  I am not sure if any of this contributes to his more risk-friendly view of tennis.  I do not know his friend’s research interests so I cannot say at all how his intellectual approach might play into his more risk-averse approach to tennis.**


Basic Divide? Not so Fast

On one hand, two philosophers arguing about the essence (ousia?) of tennis is a humorous scene.  On the other hand, I think they get to a basic divide that explains how many of us play tennis as well as how our rooting interests as tennis fans shake out.  I don’t think a binary attacking vs defensive approach to the sport is adequate, but that is likely the first of many telling questions about how one plays or what one enjoys watching.

Connors and Lendl generally forcing the issue during rallies (spoiler alert – patiently aggressive tennis?)

A Dialectic Synthesis? Patiently Aggressive Tennis

Andre Agassi said in a semi-recent interview that hitting hard used to be a risk in tennis, but that hitting hard now allows for more spin and a greater margin for error.  A former challenger tour player once asked me about Stefan Edberg’s baseline error count after watching me play a baseline error-filled serve and volley strategy in a junior match.  His point was Edberg made nearly no errors when he had to rally.  He waited for his chance to attack.  He told me slapping for winners when I could not get to the net was a recipe for losses (one of my favorite recipes looking back on it).  Few players are chipping and charging or playing what Courier called “ready, fire, aim” tennis from the baseline.  Few players are just retrieving the ball unless they are forced to do so.  Most players in every era of tennis have blended being consistent with opportunistic attacks on an opponent.

* I did coach a player who referred to tennis as one long game of pitch-and-catch in which one hopes to drop the ball less frequently than his opponent.

** I used to serve and volley, but these days I try to force the issue when possible but am not as wedded to net rushes.  Philosophically I tend to be a proponent of Alfred North Whitehead’s metaphysics so I am not sure if these are tied together or not.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Mike Swanquis says:

    Perhaps that explains why my tennis is often referred to* as “dystopian, with a touch of existentialism”.

    *by the deep state Fake News imbedded deep within this mental plain of mine we call reality…and by Jon Wertheim

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