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A Ball Toss as Unruly as Elon’s Twitter Habits

A Ball Toss as Unruly as Elon’s Twitter Habits

Mel Kenny is a writer, based in New York. Follow her on Instagram here. Here, she pens an essay on her relationship to the serve of tennis and the anxiety that it at times can bring with it.

"Hello, I’m a good enough recreational player with a dreadful serve, due in major part to a dreadful ball toss. I need help. Can you help me? "


Former world number one and thrice Grand Slam champion, Arthur Ashe, once proclaimed, “Life is like a tennis game. You can’t win without serving.” He of course meant serving well, and Arthur, I want that. If you’d prefer to ignore the sage words of an icon in favor of a flippant Pinterest quote, I’ll extend to you some relative optimism: “You only live once. But you get to serve twice.” Lucky for me, there’s no limit on how many times you can toss and catch your ball before—at last!—striking it. Know what else is limitless? The multitude of ways you can torture yourself for repeatedly tossing trash balls. Any upstanding masochist will agree it’s the best way to make yourself more anxious!!

In pursuit of self-improvement, I’ve videoed myself committing toss crimes, and reader, it is humiliating. I’d sooner die than show you the videos, but if I did, you’d find parallels to that of an inflatable car yard mascot: limbs flailing gracelessly; movements born without rhyme or reason; a woman-child detached from her own body. As someone who first picked up a racquet more than twenty years ago and played competitively as a teen, this is a regression of the most tragic kind. 

The foremost theory is your toss should be somewhere between 12 and 1 o’clock. My balls do not belong on any timepiece. They are too far behind my head or too far in front. They spin unintentionally, or curl too far left or right. I have been known to catch tosses 3-5 times before striking a ball, and even then, I might make contact just to spare my opponent further tomfoolery. Three simple principles are said to unite in a perfect toss: keep your arm straight; hold the ball in your fingers; release at the top of your forehead. I resent *simple* recipes like this because they reveal my gracelessness, and neglect the other things you should be doing concurrently: your racquet traveling back and caressing your shoulder blade as you lift the ball, your knees bending as you release, your racquet hand making a smooth, uninterrupted motion. Some people (me) have never been coordinated enough to pat their head and rub their belly at the same time, and it shows. 

I assign some blame to a thing that is ordinarily, famously great to have: full control. Thing is, starting the point means making your own momentum, and having nothing to react to means you have to invent from scratch. That's right: if you serve, you are an inventor!! And being an inventor is difficult, no matter who you ask!! This page was blank when I started writing and having to invent these words was intimidating, but not as intimidating as serving. The cruel irony is that I could be intimidating if I could hit serves half as well as I can hit backhands. Preposterously, I work on backhands frequently (ego), and rarely face my affliction (coward). 

Anecdotally, it seems that the toss and serve at large are *problematic* for many recreational players. I treasure this flimsy hearsay. It is kind when compared with my contrarian peers who look at me incredulously, mouths agape, like “Really?” when I describe my quandary. I’m frankly furious with the school of thought that a ball toss is effortless.  

David Foster Wallace maybe gets it? The tossed ball rises and seems for a second to hang, waiting, cooperating, as balls always seem to do for great players,” he posits in String Theory, his poetic body of work about our beloved game. His wistfully worded thesis might reveal something about his own toss plight, or I might just be looking for a comrade in someone much more prolific than I. In any case, I know i should stop expecting balls to “cooperate”, and start *doing the work* (Instagram activism voice). Again, reader: Can you help me?

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