The last time I played tennis, I did – several times – a thing tennis players do. I adjusted the strings of my racket. The impact of the ball at the moment of contact shifts the strings ever so slightly depending on many things like whether the shot has backspin or topspin, how tightly the racket is strung to begin with, the speed of the racket as it heads toward making contact with the ball, the physical strength of the player (mine being not much). Watch those players during the USOpen or Wimbledon and see them do this quite often between points.
Roger Federer likes his racket strung loosely, so the strings easily (considering his spin and strength) shift and get out of their perfect perpendicular formation and into all kinds of wacky, wavy patterns. He often has to adjust the strings that get, one could say, out of whack. Rarely (possibly never) can I use that phrase without remembering when Samuel was five and watching me adjust my strings. I explained what I was doing and he said, “Momma, why can’t the strings just stay in whack?” (Hold that thought.)
See how Roger stands there looking at the racket, fingering the strings?* All us tennis players do this sometimes. (Did you catch that: “All us…” 😊 This is, in fact, one of the only characteristics I have in common with players who really know how to play the game, but I’m darn proud of it!) Besides bringing your strings into correct position (which makes for a better next shot in theory anyway), this activity gives you a moment of focus to (if you are Roger Federer) rethink your strategy for the next point or (if you are me) mentally beat yourself up for the last bonehead shot that was so easy – how could I miss that!!??
Cheryl, Scott, Pat and I play as often as we can on the har-tru hydrocourts at Keswick Golf Club, a holdover perk from my years as Resident Historian there. Here is an old photo to give you an idea of the lovely setting.
Cheryl, Scott, Pat and I spend close to as much time talking as playing, but we do play, and we occasionally have great points – deft angles, slamming overheads, forehand alley shots that slip right down the line past the net person. We congratulate each other, go collect the ball(s) that went astray and set up for the next point.
So there I was, mid-game, waiting, feigning focus, fingering strings, when I saw something astounding: DIRT!! Tennis is a clean game, I assure you. Dirt??!! Do you see it?
In case you don’t, allow me to show you.
I puzzled. I wondered. I was fully distracted from the next point. Then I remembered Willow.
Willow was here, beautiful Willow, a dog that will chase a tennis ball all the day long. I’d been out there with her as often as I could, more times per day than I kept track of. Imagine what happens to a tennis ball that gets hit onto a gravel driveway bordered by some grass and a lot of dirt and then mixed with dog slobber? Here she is post-chase taking a quick break under the car with her disgusting prize.
Ah, that’s where the dirt came from! The thought of her boundless energy warmed my heart as I stared at the dirty racket. She had brought that ball back to me over and over again, and I (with my garden gloves on when I remembered them!) had picked it up and whacked it with my racket yet again and off she would tear in hot pursuit. No wonder my strings were dirty!
As you see though, (and I noticed sadly) my strings are not out of whack. Pathetic, weakling stroke I must have these days. Maybe the workouts at the gym will remedy that, but alas, another conversation.
Now back to the phrase: Charming and adorable as Samuel was at five (still is at 25!), we simply don’t say that the strings of a tennis racket are in whack! What else don’t we usually say?
Lincoln was talking about Sandy the other day, about how he keeps going despite sometimes not feeling well. Lincoln said, It wouldn’t do for him to think he was vinsible.
Why do we say right as rain but not right as sunshine?
Why do we say the kiss of death, not the kiss of life?
Why is it always discombobulated and never combobulated or simply bobulated?
Why do we tell people not to be a wet blanket but we never encourage them to be a dry blanket?
Why do we call a small person (in jest of course) a shrimp and not a plankton?
Why hasn’t the handwriting on the wall morphed to the printout on the wall?
Something with this system is surely out of whack!
Thank you, WSJ, for the Federer photo!