Enjoying Lower-Level Play
Lower-level players invariably want to play with higher level players so they can improve their game, and see how well they can compete. This often annoys higher level players who have grown used to a game involving standardized (“formal“) first and second shots, and then kitchen rallies. The advanced players don’t like it when the lower-level players poach at incorrect times, can’t get a serve in bounds, try to lob everything, and consistently pop up everything they return, leaving the advanced player to get smashed. The advanced player may even feel unsafe with a beginning partner who is swinging wildly at things coming down the middle, not knowing that ‘forehand takes the shot’ and not responding to “Got it,” or “I go.”
But, there is also joy in playing with the lower-level players. Keeping that in mind will keep your radiator from boiling over when you end up with a lower-level player, or three lower-level players on your court. It will make it so you’ll want to allow them time to play with you, eliminating elitism and hard feelings.
So what is this joy I’m talking about? There are at least eight ways you can enjoy beginner play:
1. It is an easy game. They don’t drop things so perfectly into the kitchen that you have to play defensively. They don’t have winning diagonal shots that put you out of position, and if they do manage to get you out of position, they don’t know how to take advantage of your out-of-positionness. In short, they can’t put anything past you.
2. They so admire the way you play! They are absolutely amazed when you block a hard forehand shot intended for the back court, and drop it ever so lightly into their kitchen. They are amazed when you run behind your partner and easily return a lob. They are flabbergasted when they work so hard to get things past you, and you casually return everything they try.
3. You can work on perfecting some of your technique. For instance, if you are trying to drop balls closer to the net, and have to arc them higher to do so, you don’t have to worry about offensive returns from just behind the NVZ.
4. You can play with things that you wouldn’t do in a high-level game, such as spin serves.
5. You can enjoy running them around. If you’ve got opponents who won’t come to the kitchen, keep sending them balls to one side of their half of the court or another, so they’ll be running as much as tennis players.
6. You don’t have to end rallies offensively. Instead, just keep gently returning everything they blast at you, until they finally make a mistake. You may be surprised at what they return, but of course every return they make will be high and right where you’d like it.
7. It feels nice to offer coaching to those who are willing to accept it, and see them become more successful right away.
8. And lastly, they are so grateful!
Those who are astute may recognize this as paraphrasing a little Ben Franklin essay: “On The Choice of a Mistress.”