Over the years, tennis is the sport that has had the greatest impact on my writing. Figuring out how to get that fuzzy green ball over a 3’36” net and, more importantly, figuring out where to place the ball, in an open court or angled along a line where the opponent, however quick-footed and athletic, has no chance of getting a racquet on it, always reminds me of writing. It’s the structure of the game, I think, that has a likeness to prose; point by point, set by set, a good tennis match resembles sentences, paragraphs, and pages of text. A fun, three set game you play against a friend in the park -I’m thinking The Great Gatsby or The Old Man and the Sea; a grueling 5 setter you play in a champion’s league against a top ranked opponent, the hot August sun baking the court like a kiln, that’s more like Ulysses, if not Finnegans Wake.
The Elements of Style
Today, men’s tennis is dominated by booming serves and heavy ground strokes. While many of the big name players (Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Murray) have light feet and soft hands, the old school serve and volley technique has been replaced by power and string theory, unless of course you’re playing on the grass courts of Wimbledon; the pros still like to leap and dive on those esteemed patches of lawn.
However, the big name players are ranked in the ATP top ten because they have versatility. Topspin, slice, offense, defense, they have the total tennis package. The tools and techniques of tennis are analogous to writing. You need a different style of game if you’re playing on clay than if you’re playing on hard court, and the same is true when your writing an article on travel, green living or technology. If you want to hit blistering aces and ring up double bagels (6-0, 6-0), then you need a versatile and adaptable game, even if content writing prices are so low you want to throw a curse-laden tantrum like John McEnroe.
The Mental Game
While there’s no “I” in team, there’s nothing but “I” on the tennis court. Coaches talk about the importance of mental toughness, and there are countless examples of top players who botched tournaments because they choked, lost confidence, focus, and got mentally outplayed by their opponents.
Writing, like tennis, is a solo act. Sitting alone in front of a computer, watching the cursor blink on an empty page, can be daunting. Furthermore, if you have a client or editor who sends a scorching critique at you, an overhead smash that leaves you with a temporary loss of balance, you’re going to need a tough skin and strong will to pull yourself back up and play the next point. In other words, you’re going to have to adapt, change your style, and refigure how to get that fuzzy green ball over the net.
Damon H is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.