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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Resuscitating the Old Guys

In "The Hierarchy of Balls" I explained how undervalued the senior members of the hierarchy are and how their retirement options are few and undignified, to say the least.  Being interned in ball communes against their will, suffering the humiliation of shuffling along the floor on the stems of a walker and other assorted travesties. 

In response, I received a comment from none other than Rich Neher (tennis promoter and reporter for who informed me that there are methods of reinvigorating tennis balls.  Curious, I researched the subject and discovered, to my surprise, much discussion, research and invention devoted to resuscitating the old guys.  Who wouldn't want to breathe new life into their tennis buddies?

Men, women, stand-up comics, players and budgeteers of all kinds are interested in prolonging the life of their balls.  And it can be done.  Perhaps it should be done, because, apparently "playing with flat balls can increase the liklihood of tennis elbow".  More importantly, however, "flat balls tend to behave in a less than consistent manner".  No one likes inconsistent ball behavior.  (see my prior post titled, "Balls Behaving Badly".) 

Some players involved in the debate were skeptical and insensitive.  "Used balls usually have less hair," said one protester.  "It doesn't make sense to restore them."  Clearly, vanity prevailed over compassion in her decision.  She wouldn't bother with bald balls no matter their bounce.

"It's a gimmick.  Wouldn't you rather play with brand new balls?" said another.  (Sporting goods salesman, perhaps?)

WARNING:  It is not a procedure to be taken lightly.  The balls must undergo pre-operative testing to determine whether or not they are resuscitation worthy.  First they are 'scragged' (stretched to a certain length).  OUCH!  Then, using a pneumatic 'pick and place' robotic arm, the ball is grabbed and rotated until placed in just the right position upon a platform. . .naked.  After that, the brutal machine compresses the captive ball and applies extreme pressure to measure the force needed to squash it.  (Hmm, 'mammogram' comes to mind.)

Once the 'deformation testing' is complete, there are a couple of options.  Treatment in a microwave or conventional oven (barbaric and ineffective in the long run) leaves the ball traumatized and your baked goods tasting like old tennis ball.  YUCK!  While it's true that warm balls perform well, they tend to return to their deflated state upon cooling.  Gamma ReviveTM with hand pump, or Tennis Ball SaverTM are more humane and effective choices.  Whatever you decide, think through your answers to the following:

  • Will the few added games on court outweigh the trauma experienced?
  • How will my racquet respond to the improved and returning rival?
  • If using the 'Pump N Bounce' TM model, do I have the time necessary to lubricate its O-ring? 
Finally, ask yourself, What is my motive?   Then, as Dr. Laura Schlessinger would say, "Go and do the right thing."

(Next week's post: Love to Game, Scoring in My Favorite Sport.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Balls Behaving Badly

Yeah, we're bad!  What's it to ya, Net?
My earlier posts describe the fun and excitement experienced by virgin tennis balls, unleashed on court for the very first time.  These are the flirtatious, carefree, naive, unmarred newbies that claim the spotlight momentarily.   They are debutantes ushered in while an  announcement of their arrival booms over the loudspeaker,  "New Balls" and pause is given for the can opening ceremony.
I followed that up with a candid expose of the hierarchy of balls.  The hierarchy is a much kept secret among players--an embarrassing commentary on a dismal reality in an otherwise prestigious sport.  The truth is that the working class balls are under appreciated and relegated to a life of  indentured service as walker bumpers, dog toys, and parking assistants. 

The topic of balls behaving badly rarely comes up either.  There is so much talk during the televised tennis matches about the professional players, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Marion Bartoli, Maria Sharapova and their amazing abilities.  Little attention is given to the bad boys of tennis--the incorrigible, defiant, traitorous rebel-balls that make their appearance all too often, thwarting the strokes of even the highest ranked athletes at the US Open, Wimbledon, French Open, Australian Open.

The antics of these wayward delinquents include the following:
  1. refusing to clear the net (no matter how skillfully coaxed)
  2. returning time and time again to the alley during singles, where no good can come of their mischief
  3. attempting to get attention by engaging in extreme sport maneuvers (i.e. leaping to heights comparable to outer space, resulting in head-on collisions with lamp posts and retractable roofs)
  4. occasionally they form an unlikely alliance with the otherwise adversarial net, and resist the serve, dropping mockingly into their own service box.  "Fault!" they hear and feel devious satisfaction.  When they repeat their rebellious act, resulting in "double fault" they feel inwardly MORE devilish, their little green faces remaining grinless, expressionless, poker-face perfect 
  5. challenging bigger, stiffer, more durable opponents--the mighty racquets (what are these balls thinking?) 
That's just it, they aren't thinking!  Like juvenile delinquents they challenge the authority of the masters, aforementioned Djokovic, Williams, Nadal, Bartoli, etc.  They engage in risky behaviors, without one ounce of consideration for the consequences.  There may be no reforming these guys.  The tennis community (balls, racquets, nets, players and coaches alike) has to embrace their behavior as a component of a whole.  We need to be accepting and forgiving.  We need to steer them over the net and between the lines and hope for more compliance than not.  A gentle reminder that their mishaps are now caught on camera to be revealed at a moment's notice may be the best deterrent ever invented! 

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Secret Life of Virgin Tennis Balls

Balls just wanna have fun !
(re-posted from July 30, by request)
In tandem they wait--a hard core trio or foursome of premium beauties, holding their breath until the plastic lid comes off; then the pop top.  Pshzz-ah.

That is the sound of virgin balls sighing in unison.  Free at last.  Tattooed party girls (Dunlop, Wilson, Penn) with boundless energy; wearing only fuzzy sweaters the color chartreuse, parakeet green.  Sweaters that show off their curves--roundness for bouncing to and fro.  Harder, faster; left, right; shallow, deep.  Top spin, pleeease.  And rally, volley, slice, lob.  WHEE!

They experience the exhilarating momentum of play leading to downright giddiness for all this frivolity; arcing, teasing, kissing the flat, white lines that wait in anticipation.  They flick the net tape flirtatiously with fickle desire.  "Hmm, this side or that?  I know, this one now, the other later."  True to neither, but ever eager to gain on-court privileges again and again in constant pursuit of love-love.  And, eventually, followed by match point.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hierarchy of Balls

My maiden voyage into blogging about tennis was appropriately titled, "The Secret Life of Virgin Tennis Balls".  It describes those new, tough girls that unleash their power upon emerging from the tight quarters of their tubular cribs.

It seems logical to next address another member of the tennis ball community, working class balls, and their place in the hierarchy.  Make no mistake, there is a hierarchy of balls.  From the underprivileged, no name, thin skinned waifs offered in mesh bags in bulk, like some kind of underfunded orphans (doomed to a life of canine abuse) to the country club set of balls, offered to members only, that flaunt their plush coats and family crests.

There are even designer tennis balls, whose pedigrees may be questionable, but whose outward appearance is fashionable, even runway worthy, in their leopard skin print or two-tone neon orange and purple--the attention-getters among balls.  Sadly, they are often sheltered and put on high with no opportunity to mingle, let alone PLAY with others.  Like toddlers in tiaras they are put on display, never to touch the grid-dy face of a racquet, guarded as they are.  Always on the inside looking out.  Shelved for life, they never feel the freedom that their high flying sisters have.  They never experience the exhilaration of a launch that results in traveling 136 miles per hour. 

It's the working class balls, the veterans, that see the most action.  Day in, day out they show up for work ready and able to begin their repetitive duties: depart one side of the court, fly low at bullet speed across to the other side.  Again and again and again.  Compliant whipping boys willing to take a beating, they obediently engage in ball to racquet combat, plunging (often with immense force) over the net and between the lines.  They are the unsung heroes, excused after battle, hurried out of the arena by ball wranglers (a.k.a. ball boys and girls) without so much as a "thank you".

When the trophies are presented these guys are out of sight.  They receive no credit for their dare devil flights, their smash landings or tactical top spinning.  There's no mention of the strategic way they strike the net to drop sneakily to the ground, fooling the racquet-wielding humans and the gasping spectators.

Not long after their most triumphant feats they are retired to ball communes at community centers or junior colleges, haphazardly tossed into a wire basket or the chute of a cannon where they quickly experience diminished inner strength and irrecoverable loss of fuzz.  A few are re-commissioned in pairs to pose as bumpers on walkers.  The most unfortunate destiny awaits those noble green orbs that end up suspended from garage ceilings, tethered by string knotted in their bellies.  Left alone in the dark. . .with nothing to do but ponder their glory days.

 (Next week look for "Balls Behaving Badly" here at