LAWN TENNIS is a curious game. It simply consists in hitting a ball over a net and back again. Nothing else, except that you try to hit it as hard as you safely can, and to put it out of your opponent's reach. It sounds easy enough, and yet think how few can play well. You see people play for years, and play very little better at the end. This would be right and natural enough if they took no real interest in the game, but many of them do.

In other games and sports it is not so. There seems to be no game that so many play and so few play well. Any ordinary man can learn to row, respectably at least, if he gives several years to it. Almost any boy can learn to play base-ball. Most men with practice can learn to shoot pretty straight.

And so on; but with lawn tennis it is different.

There the multitude are "duffers;" and "duffers" they remain all their lives. It is a few only who come forward out of the ranks.

Why should this be so? For many reasons; the game is not as easy as it looks. It is easy enough to hit the ball gently out of your hand over the net into some part of the opposite court, but it is not so easy to hit it hard and keep it in court. It has to go very close to the net to do that. Then again, it is not enough to hit it into any part of the court; it must be placed in some particular spot to gain any advantage. It may be necessary to place it within a few inches of the side line. On top of all this, you may have to run at the top of your speed to reach the ball at all.

All this does not sound so easy. Yet there is something more, the faculty of playing the right stroke every time. It comes to a very few men as an instinct. It comes to a larger number as the result of years of thought and practice. To the immense majority it never comes at all; in fact, they do not know that such a faculty exists. Even now we have not got through with the difficulties of the game. Running about the court is not easy work. The distance of each man is not great, nor need the speed always be high; but you must start very quickly, almost, in fact, before you are sure where the ball is coming. It is really a succession of jumps, rather than a steady run. For this you need great quickness and agility, and, beyond all, great endurance. In other words, the game needs young men in good condition to play it well. On the other hand, it requires judgment and experience that usually come only later in life.

Such are some of the difficulties of the game; and one does not wonder, as he thinks of them, that the game is not better played. Why, then, some one will ask, is the game so popular? Why do so many play it, if they know that they can never play it well? Because the "duffers" have just as good a time as the "cracks." Sometimes I think that they have a better time even, for with them it is all play; with the better players it is serious work.

I remember well the first time I ever played the game. It was at Nahant, in the summer of '74. A set of lawn tennis had been brought over from England early in the summer; but we had taken no interest in it - too little, indeed, to try it. At length one day we put up the net, marked out a rude court, and started, more in jest than earnest.

In a few moments we were playing in earnest indeed. There was all the feeling of personal antagonism which is to me one of the great attractions of the game. My first opponent was Mr. F. R. Sears, an elder brother of the ex-champion. I remember that each won a game, and that in the afternoon we played in the rain in rubber coats and boots. How odd it would look now!

Of course we could not play much, but the interest was just as great. I fancy that one reason for the great popularity of the game lies in the fact that you do not need to play well to have a good time. You need only an opponent of about your own strength, so that there may be a continual struggle for the mastery. For this very reason, two players are apt to get into the habit of always playing together, and they naturally improve very slowly. Often they see no good play, they have the same ideas about the game as when they started, they have the same faults, because they know no better.

Playing the Right Stroke.

Playing the Right Stroke.

I look to see much better lawn tennis in the future than exists at present. The game has been generally known about a dozen years; and it was first taken up largely by grown men, who had played rackets, or base-ball, or cricket. They learned all they could with no one to teach them, comparatively soon, and before this time have dropped out of active play because the exertion is beyond them. I am an example of the class myself; though I lasted longer than most, as I cared more for the game.

Of course all this time boys were learning to play, but very few of them turned out well. They learned as they chose; few of them wished for any teaching; fewer got it. So for a long time the older men were in front.

There has now come another change, and in the right direction. The interest in games of all kinds has increased so much, and so much attention is devoted to training boys in the preparatory schools and afterward in college, that we have not only a very large class of trained athletes, but boys have learned how important good "coaching" is. They go into the game more earnestly than they used. Owing to the large n u m b e r of tournaments, they see the best players, and they copy their styles. Each has some one whom he looks up to as a model of what good play should be.

Now, too, they play in tournaments themselves; and playing in public, they are more careful as to their faults and peculiarities than they used to be in private, for fear of seeming ridiculous. In this way they learn to play well at an earlier age than any class before them. Thus they have their agility and their knowledge of the game at the same time. Heretofore I used to say that the trouble with the game was, that few had brains enough to play it properly until they got too old to play it at all.

With no Side Twist.

With no Side Twist.

This, I think, is no longer true; and the change is due to the improvement of the boys. For instance, I do not see any great improvement in the best players in the past few years, but among the middle-class players the improvement is enormous. They are largely young players, and are still improving. The number, too, of good players has increased very much; and in the first class itself there are twice as many players as there were a few years ago.

The practical part of all this discussion is, "Can we do anything to help the advancement of young players?" Something we can do: we can encourage tournaments between the different schools, etc. The interscholastic tournaments held at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are good examples. If any one doubts the value of this system, let him look at the success of the foot-ball competition between the different preparatory schools in training players for Harvard. Harvard has not won with them, but that is a different story.

By giving tournaments, we help the boys in several ways. They get used to matches, a very necessary thing. They get interested in the game, and their ambition is aroused. They see good play and good players; and they meet every variety of style, instead of having their practice confined to playing against one or two players only.

A Well Matched Game.

A Well-Matched Game.

This is surely good. Can we now add any preaching that can be of use? I hardly know; I look on preaching with great disrespect. Few listen, few believe you, and fewer still take the trouble to try to put the teaching into practice. There are, however, some general instructions so simple that it would seem folly to write them, if it were not that they are constantly lost sight of.

Take a boy at the beginning. Probably he cannot get one of the most expensive rackets. It really does not matter. Some of the cheaper ones are practically as good, but it matters a great deal what sort of a cheap one he gets. Let him get one of fourteen or fourteen and a quarter ounces, a little lighter in the head than most rackets are made. Have nothing fancy about it, no gold braid, no curious stringing, no fluted handle. It needs to be well balanced and well strung, and that is enough. As to flannels and shoes, there is nothing to be said, except that the shoe should be comfortable and solid enough to hold the foot tog-ether, else there is a good deal of danger of straining the foot.

As to balls, I do not know what to say. Balls are very expensive, and last a very short time. A boy cannot expect to have new balls every day; and if he is in earnest, and does not mind taking trouble in order to learn, the best thing that he can do is to practise with two or three balls only. They will need a good deal of chasing, but he will always have them in good condition. If he brings out a boxful, they will all suffer more or less the first day, and he will have to use poor balls till he can get another box. It is a great mistake to use uncovered balls or last year's balls. Neither are of the slightest use.

No advice can be given about courts. One must play on the best available.

To begin with, the player may make up his mind that it will take a long time to play even tolerably well. The first thing to do is to learn to hit the ball straight - that is, with no side twist. The ball should go directly down the court. If the player stands on the central line, the ball should drop on the central line on the other side of the net. This is the very essence of a good stroke.

If you can play straight, you can tell where the ball is going. If you have a curve on it, you will be constantly hitting out of court on the side, or else bringing the ball into the middle of the court when you intended it to go down the side line.

Next in importance is the length of the court. You must learn to hit from one base line to the other; that is, to hit from the back of your own court and make the ball drop about a yard from the other base line. A moment's thought will show that if the ball goes only as far as the service line, your opponent can easily come forward to volley.

These two points are the foundation of the game. As to the service, don't bother about it. A very fast service is terrible to bad players; but good ones return it easily. Wait till you play fairly well before you try for a very fast service. Next comes the volley. Wait till you have brought the ground strokes under control before you begin to practise much volleying. When you do begin, keep one point clearly in mind: you must always hit the ball. You must not let it hit your racket. The only exception is when you are close to the net; then you may block the ball, if your opponent is far back. Don't try any wild "smashing." Hit quietly, but always hard. As a principle, never hit a ball easy; always make a real stroke. One word more. Don't play very long at a time. Three or four sets are enough. Always play with a better player if you can, and take odds enough to make him work as hard as he can.

A Girl Champion.

A Girl Champion.

A Rest in the Game.

A Rest in the Game.

Win quietly; lose quietly, and don't get angry.