Excerpts from Tennis For Anyone! by Sarah Palfrey


Excerpts from Tennis For Anyone! by Sarah Palfrey, 1972, Cornerstone Library, 172 pages
Out of print, but still readily obtainable used from Amazon.com.

    Tennis For Anyone! is a pleasantly written introductory book, which, although it has its weaknesses, is well worth the dollar-or-less-plus-shipping you would probably have to pay for a used copy.
    Although more illustrations would be desired, there are some great ones, including the photos shown here of Althea Gibson hitting an American twist serve. In addition to the tennis instruction, the book is laced with historical references to the way great players of the past played the game, written by a well-qualified witness.
    For example, Sarah reports that Alice Marble, who had a great American twist serve, also was a great volleyer, as was Maria Bueno. But they both were inconsistent because they used so much wrist. Margaret Osborne Dupont, on the other hand, though not as agile as Alice or Maria, was also a great volleyer, with tremendous consistency and accuracy.

Photos from the book:
1957 & '58 US & Wimbledon singles champ Althea Gibson demonstrated the American twist (in 1957)


Chapter 5. THE BASIC STROKES: THE SERVE (p. 49-60)

    [In 1912] a young man came out of the West... Maurice McLoughlin... nicknamed "The Comet."... No one had ever seen such a serve before; nobody had used the serve as such an important attacking weapon...
    Like most American boys, Red McLoughlin had played baseball... Alice Marble, Darlene Hard, and Althea Gibson, whose serves were outstanding in women's tennis, all played baseball as youngsters...

    ...The grip for the service is really like the backhand grip, except that the thumb stays around the handle, instead of diagonally across it [a continental or "hammer" grip]. The forefinger should be allowed to go a little way up the handle, for an added sense of touch and control.
    [To avoid foot faults] don't walk, don't run, don't jump, don't hop. Keep both your feet behind the baseline until your racket has hit the ball. Keep at least one foot on the ground at all times until the ball has left the racket [jump serves dominate pro tennis in recent years, but most great servers of the past, such as Jack Kramer, did not leave their feet].

    ...most of the leading players, when serving from the right [deuce] side in singles, stand near the center of the court (it's a foot fault if you go to the left of center, though). They do this for two reasons: one is to be able to protect any part of their court when the service is returned; the other is to have a more direct aim at the opponent's backhand. You'll be wise to follow their example...
    Place your comfortably apart, with the left foot in front and the right foot behind, and your body turned slightly sideways to the net. If, for instance, you were to draw an imaginary line between your two feet, this line should point in the direction of the court you are serving into.

    Hold the balls in your left hand... Rest the head or throat of your racket on or across your left hand and have the racket head point toward the service court to give yourself a last-minute aim in the right direction.

    ...The swing is very much like the throw of a baseball, without the preliminary windup... Practice swinging a few times without actually tossing up the ball... Swing the racket down and back and up to shoulder height. The elbow will automatically bend as you start swinging up and forward to meet the ball at the peak of the arc, with your right arm extended. Follow through straight out in front of you, almost as though you were going to throw the racket out after the ball, before the racket continues its course across the body and ends down toward your left side. Your weight shifts forward as you swing up and forward, stretching to meet the ball at the highest possible point in order to get the benefit of every inch of reach...

    The best way to decide where the ball should be thrown is to start a practice swing without the ball and then halt at its peak. When you stop the racket try to memorize exactly the spot above you where the middle of the gut is. This is the spot you must aim for in your toss, or a fraction above, because you ought to hit the ball near the top of the throw or just barely after it starts to drop... be sure to throw far enough in front so that your weight will be coming forward into the shot and enough to the right to enable you to swing clear of your body without bashing yourself on the knee.
    What I have just described is the plain serve, without spins or twists of any kind. At the moment of impact the racket face is flat against the ball. This is the one to learn first. After some practice with the plain [or "flat" or "cannonball"] serve, you will be ready to experiment with the two service variations, the slice and the American twist.

The Slice

To serve a slice, throw the ball a little farther to the right than you normally would and hit across it and down from right to left (the farther to the right you throw it, the sharper the slice). The spin imparted to the ball keeps it low, makes it bounce close to the ground and to your opponent's right side. This serve can be very useful on slow or wet courts or against a slow player who doesn't like to bend or be drawn out of court. It's most effective when used for change of pace, either before or after a fast serve. It can also be a safe second serve or a surprise first serve. Naturally, the harder you hit the ball, the better the spin.

The American Twist

    For the American, or reverse, twist--the one that bounces from left to right--throw the ball farther to the left than usual and back over your head. (But don't try this if you don't have a strong back.) Hit up and out at the ball, this time with the racket swinging from left to right and following through away from your body on the right side. The spin you give to the ball will cause it to bounce to your opponent's left side. As with the slice, the harder you hit, the better the spin. You can see how this serve will be especially useful against a person with a weak backhand. But in order to give the ball enough spin to produce a high-kicking bounce and to make the serve really effective, you must arch your back and really whack the ball, with a strong snap of the wrist. This motion, as you will see if you try, often proves too tiring for the average girl. And it's not worth the extra effort to a boy, either, unless he's unusually strong.
    Many players use the American twist as a reliable second serve in singles, especially on a court with a fast surface, like asphalt or cement, because the high bounce forces an opponent back. It's valuable in doubles too, because it also allows the server extra time to run in to the net himself...

Chapter 8. SINGLES TACTICS (p. 89-98)

    ...You find yourself on the court facing one opponent. If you have ever played against him before, or have watched him play, you will at least know what to expect from him. If not, you must try to find out as much about him as you can during the rallying or warming-up period before the match begins. Find out for instance which is his stronger and which is his weaker side, the forehand or the backhand (he'll usually let you know this by standing over to favor his good side). Find out whether his strokes are offensive or defensive. And, if one side does seem to be more offensive, perhaps it's also more erratic. If so, don't forget it...
    While observing your opponent, try to get your own strokes moving smoothly. If you didn't get a chance to hit some balls before the match (most tournament players rally on another court for ten or fifteen minutes before a big match), now is the time to loosen the muscles and swing with a rhythmical, relaxed feeling...

    As you get underway, spend the first few games finding your range...
    If you win the toss it is usual to serve first, and your opponent gets to choose the side of the court. Since you change courts on the odd game, that is, after the first, third, fifth, etc., you should select the worst side first, with the sun facing smack in your face, or with a strong wind blowing hard against you. In this way you'll get one more game on the good side. That one game may win you a set. There are times when you may choose to receive instead of serve, especially if you don't have a particularly formidable serve and your opponent does. I sometimes did this if I was playing someone like Louise Brough or Doris Hart, who had big serves--the reason being that you can often break through their serve on the very first game, before they are quite confident or sufficiently warmed up. Then if you can hold your own, it too may mean the set.

    All right, you have won the toss and elected to serve. You should concentrate all your energies on getting the first serve in the court... Concentrate also on serving to your opponent's weakness, if he has one. If he starts running around the ball to hit it on his strong side, serve to him on his strong side, very wide. This should keep him over where he belongs--for a while, at least.
    When you receive, watch the ball carefully, not merely when your opponent hits it, but actually while he is tossing it in the air: you can tell a great deal from the toss as to what kind of serve is coming, whether a slice, a flat serve, or an American twist... The first essential of returning serve is to keep the ball in play--don't try to do more than you think you can; the second is to return it as far from your opponent as possible. I can still hear Mrs. Wightman's familiar words to us youngsters, "Put the ball where the other fellow isn't." Easier said than done, as you'll soon find out...

    Sometimes it's all you can do just to get the ball back. Try at least to return it deep, so that your opponent can't start forcing right away. A deep return, either hard or soft, (preferably to the backhand, unless you're playing a Don Budge or a Pauline Betz) is a good reliable shot except against a player who runs in to the net behind his serve. If he's a net rusher, give him low, short returns, which will catch him at his feet or a wide angle. A good lob is often effective, too . . . high to the backhand.
    After making your return of serve, get back into position quickly. Above all, don't stand entranced, as do most beginners, waiting to see where your shot goes...
    Your best position in singles is in the middle of the court, a foot or so behind the base line, depending on your size, reach, and fleetness of foot. You should establish yourself here or up at the net. Try not to get caught in between, in no-man's-land, the territory between the service line and the base line. Getting caught here means that you will have to be an expert at the low volley or the half-volley (hitting the ball on the rise just after it bounces). Not many players can afford to spend much time in this region, A few have been able to get away with it . . . Henri Cochet, Dick Williams, Rapahel Osuna, Maria Bueno, to name some . . . but not really by choice. Since they weren't tall, they couldn't afford to get too close to the net on account of lobs; therefore they were forced to develop that halfway-up shot--not to be recommended for the average player.

The Running-In [Approach] Shot

    The moment to launch a net attack of your own is when your obliging opponent inadvertently hits you a short shot, one which lands near the service line. The higher the bounce, the easier your approach shot will be, because you'll be hitting down on it and will be able to choose whether to hit a deep shot or an angle. A low bounce, below the level of the net, gives you less of an option, since it is almost impossible to hit it deep and keep it in court. Wiser methods are to cut it back low, angle it to one side, or even try for a drop shot. But remember: when the ball lands short, either waist high or over, don't hesitate to hit it on the rise, or as near the top of the bounce as possible, thus giving your opponent less time to recover his position. You needn't hit this running in shot very hard either. If you meet the ball squarely, with your body weight coming into the ball (without beveling the face of the racket at the moment of impact), you will hardly ever miss...

    A straight down-the-line running-in shot is always more successful than a cross-court one. The distance up to the net is shorter for you, and, once there, you will be in a better position to handle your opponent's attempted passing shot. If he tries the straight-line passing shot, you'll be right there waiting for it. If he tries the cross-court one, he'll have to try for a risky wide angle and won't be giving himself much margin of safety.
    There are times when other running-in shots are wiser: if you have forced your opponent way out of position on one side of the court, you should obviously hit your running-in shot to the other; if your opponent has a glaring weakness, you should obviously shoot for that...
    Another useful running-in shot is a deep chop [heavy backspin slice]. Since it travels more slowly than a drive, a chop will give you more time to get to a good position at the net. However, it will also give your opponent more time to pass you, if he is capable of handling chops. Many players aren't...

    ...You'd be surprised how often you can force an error just by tearing up to the net as though you knew what you were doing (your opponent doesn't know that you don't)... when your opponent himself is a net rusher: you can steal his thunder by getting there first and hogging the net yourself...

    5' 3" Sarah Palfrey (RH, 1H-BH) won 59 national tennis titles during her long career. Sarah won the US National women's singles championship at Forest Hills twice, in 1941 and 1945, defeating Pauline Betz on both occasions.
    Sarah won the US National women's doubles title 9 times in 12 years, with 4 different partners: Betty Nuthall (1930), Helen Jacobs (1932, 1934 & 1935), Alice Marble (1937, 1938, 1939 & 1940), and Margaret Osborne (1941). Sarah and Alice Marble went undefeated at doubles for 4 years, from 1937-1940.
    Sarah also won the Wimbledon women's doubles twice, and the US National mixed doubles 4 times, with 4 partners: Fred Perry, Enrique Maier, Don Budge and Jack Kramer. In 1947 Sarah turned pro and went on a "barnstorming" tour of 1 night stands with Pauline Betz, who had been stripped of her amateur status by the USLTA because she was inquiring about the possibility of making a pro tour. They earned about $10,000 each.

    Born in Sharon, Mass. on September 12, 1912, Sarah, who was known in married life as Sarah Palfrey Fabyan, Sarah Palfrey Cooke, and Sarah Palfrey Danzig, was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1964. Sarah Hammond Palfrey Fabyan Cooke Danzig died at the age of 83, on February 27, 1996, in New York.
Sarah Palfrey

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