I've been going to tennis class for the past three weeks. And have made absolutely no headway. I can play the rally and the volley with some semblance of competence, but when it comes to receiving a fast serve, I come up a cropper. This is because when playing otherwise, the ball bounces and sort of sits up to be hit and all you have to do is to sprint and position yourself and roll the racket over the ball. Running is not a problem. Run Forrest, run! is the sort of running that I do. However, when it comes to receiving a serve, the ball sort of tends to skid on towards you. The exact sort of delivery that you'd love to receive while opening the batting. This however, is not cricket, but a far more profound game with much deeper ramifications. For a change, it is nice to play a game without having to dress up like an astronaut. Cricket still is my favourite game, but it does have it's limitations. I must learn to control the ball and place it over the net when receiving the serve. And also learn to stop charging towards the net at the start of the serve. It does you no good, especially if you don't want to be carried away on a stretcher.
Um, I've so far been avoiding the subject of the actual service. No one knows how to make the perfect serve. In fact no one knows what the perfect serve in the first place really is! People are divided in their opinion. Perfectly sane people make completely insane remarks when asked to describe the perfect serve. Why, my own good friend Raja Deepak once launched into deep reminiscences about tackling a thrashing alligator in the course of serving an ace.
In essence, it is simple. You throw the ball up, hit it as hard as you can, score the point, walk over to the other corner and serve again till you get the game. However, when our coach first started explaining the dynamics behind the serve, most people left the court as a quivering mass of transparent green jelly. I mean, who can all at once stand with the feet spread apart so that it traces the top and bottom strokes of the number 1 (Who knew it had so many strokes in the first place?), hold the ball lightly in your non-throwing arm, bring it around in a semi-circle, throw it straight up so that you can point at it with your left hand, throw your shoulder backwards, ensure the ball travels at least above the height of the tip of your racket held straight up while standing upright, wait for the ball to come down, and then smack it hard, aiming at that small piece of real-estate so far away? In any case, my coach reckons we'd be good to go if we can put in 5 out of every ten serves because we're allowed two attempts to get each serve right. I can only do three or four at the most.
I've realised a lot also depends on who you are playing the game with. You don't want to play with copper mandaiyan because all he does is to make desperate attempts to take out his own eye. It does absolutely no good for your game. You should also avoid playing with the huge guy with tattooed arms not because he is a great player, but because he has the tendency to hit the ball out of the court and into the marshes, and given that the muscular tattooed ones have the tendency to boss over the puny, non-muscular, un-tattooed ones, you know on whom the onus of retrieving the astray ball falls.