In 1939 we moved to the Miami Gardens area of Miami. The house was more like a mansion to us for it had seven bedrooms, two baths, and multiple walk-in closets. A main attraction was our neighbors who had a lovely tennis court. Gardner Mulloy was rated second or third in the tennis world at that time. Just to watch him practice was the highlight of our day.
Mercer Beasley was his private coach. He was a graveled voice old-timer, much like Casey Stengel of the Yankees. I was eleven years old at the time, and along with a number of other neighborhood kids, we were a major distraction. After chasing us off a few times, he grew tired of the process, and one afternoon he demanded a hearing. “You boys”, he shouted. “Come here.” The voice demanded obedience. “You wanta learn to play tennis”, he bellowed. We swallowed hard and shook our heads in the affirmative enthusiastically. “Well take those rackets home and meet me back here in five minutes”.
We stood in a line as he looked us over like a drillmaster in the army. “Red”, he shouted. That was me, with my flaming red hair. “Catch this ball” and he bounced a tennis ball in my direction. I caught it with one hand and looked up for approval. “You didn’t catch that ball”, he growled. I opened my hand and showed him the evidence. “Bounce the ball to me and I’ll show you how to catch it”, he demanded. I can still see the ball in slow motion. He grasped it with both hands and covered it completely. He continued to look at his hands for at least fifteen seconds. “Did I catch the ball”, he shouted. We all thought he was “nuts”. “That’s what I want you to do for the next hour. Catch the ball with two hands. Cover it completely and continue to look at your hands for ten seconds. Seventy- five per-cent of all shots you miss is because you don’t look at the ball. Oh, you see it coming, and you watch it as the racket swings, but then the eye moves off of it and the shot is missed.”
He taught us the TEN COMMANDMENTS OF TENNIS. I thought of Mercer when I won the tennis championship in college. I used the simple instructions we had to memorize and when we made a mistake, we had to recognize and call out the number of the command that we broke. Tennis players, take them to heart. Memorize them and call out the number when you break one of these commands and loose the point or the game or the match.
- KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL. Practice on your own. Bounce it, catch it, cover it with both hands, continue to look at it for 10 seconds. It will change your game.
- GET THE FIRST SERVE IN. Sacrifice some speed on the serve and put it into play. This takes the pressure off of your game and keeps your opponent behind the base line. Try to average eighty per-cent, first serves in.
- HIT- MOVE-HIT-MOVE-HIT-MOVE. Never stand still. When you make a good shot, don’t look at it – move. Always have “angel feet”.
- STAY OUT OF NO-MAN’S LAND. Stay behind the base line, or move to the service line. In-between is “No Man’s Land”. The ball is always at your feet, and the angle you give your opponent is a ‘killer’.
- MOVE-STOP-MOVE-STOP-MOVE-STOP. This command is like number three, but it emphasizes the “stop”. Move to the ball, the stop and then make your return. Try not to hit the ball on the run. When you are moving, and the ball is moving and the racket is moving – three moves is often the ‘killer’. Move-stop-hit is the idea.
- FOOT WORK IS AN ABSOLUTE. The body cannot do what the feet will not allow it to do. Angel feet are always moving into place. There are no clod-hoppers that succeed in Tennis. Proper feet point the way.
- LET OVERHEADS BOUNCE. When you let it bounce, you have the following advantages. You can see the ball better. You can also see your opponent better and you can see if the ball is in bounds. Never hit a ball you don’t have to hit.
- GET DOWN – GET DOWN. Good foot work allows you the advantage of getting down. This is especially true of net play. Bend those knees and get down on your shots.
- HIT THROUGH THE BALL. Bending down, hitting through give you’re the advantage of the top-spin you want. Even drop shots demand the same if not more concentration.
- REALLY ENJOY THE GAME. Understand a simple principle that you only learn when you play someone better than you. Relax the mind. “Don’t want to win too much”; when you do, you tend to lose the focus on your own talent and fail to see the real purpose of the game, “enjoyment and fun”.
The apostle Paul wrote, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable in all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:8).