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Original Issue


Tim Gallwey, author of The Inner Came of Tennis, was giving a lesson recently on an indoor court in New York City. After he had quietly worked on the pupil's volley for several minutes, Gallwey loped up to the net and said, "O.K., I want you to judge these shots on the 'fun-meter.' I don't care if they go in or out, hit the net or hit the ceiling. The object is simply to have fun. Rate your volleys from one to 10, and save 10 for your favorites." The ratings were low at first, but gradually the student forgot about style or results and started whacking the ball. Eights and nines began to come in bunches, and the student smiled as he stroked. After a particularly good volley, Gallwey shouted, "Man, just returning that one was a 10 on my fun-meter."

Because he was enjoying himself so much, the student did not realize until later that his volleys had become crisper, deeper, stronger, better. Walking off the court, Gallwey and his pupil passed another lesson in progress. Between shots, they could hear the familiar refrain of "Bend your knees; watch the ball." Gallwey smiled and shook his head.

Gallwey has been hacking away at tennis-teaching shibboleths for years (SI, Aug. 13, 1973), and his latest efforts are on view in a six-week television series called Inner Tennis that is based on his book and produced for PBS by KCET, Los Angeles. The half-hour shows ran on consecutive Sundays in May and June, and luckily for tennis buffs who missed them the first time around, PBS has put them back on the air. Here is a second chance to take a fresh approach to the game, one that includes advice such as "Try loving the ball a little," and "Ride across the net with the ball; experience the wind and feel the gravity pull you down to earth." Beginning this week, the reruns of Inner Tennis will be shown on more than 200 PBS stations on Friday mornings at 11:30 and Sundays at 11 p.m.

Now 38, Gallwey has been playing and thinking about tennis all his life. A top-ranked junior, he went on to become captain of the Harvard team. A trip to India and an encounter with the Guru Maharaj Ji ("who showed me what winning is") led Gallwey to develop what he calls "yoga tennis."

The TV segments have impressive-sounding titles, for instance, "Fear" and "Awareness." They were filmed during a three-day span at the Malibu Beach (Calif.) Racquet Club on a modest $72,000 budget. Each show takes the form of a clinic in which Gallwey instructs 25 players chosen at random right on camera. The instructees range from beginners to professionals.

Gallwey is an engaging and intelligent host. He begins each segment with a short discussion of the subject to be covered, then he and his students step onto the court. Once the lesson begins, there is a generally good balance between talk and tennis, and Gallwey remembers to speak to the clinic audience, not to the camera.

In one sense, Gallwey tricks his students into better tennis. He takes their minds off the traditional do's and don'ts with drills like the "bounce-hit." The bounce-hit consists of saying "bounce" every time the ball touches the court and "hit" every time it is struck. The clinic participants showed remarkable improvement simply because they were concentrating on the ball.

Gallwey's method is especially effective with beginners, who have not had time to develop bad habits. In the third show, which is entitled "Basics," Gallwey plays a game with a girl named Yvonne who had never faced an opponent across the net. As they took the court, Gallwey gave her absolutely no instruction and...Presto! Firm ground strokes. Graceful rallies, lasting up to 25 shots. No double-faults. A pro who was in the clinic audience commented that most beginners would take six to eight weeks to reach the level of play that Yvonne had attained in five minutes. "Was she believable?" Gallwey asked later. "We had trouble getting her to hit any bad shots." A close look at Yvonne's racket even revealed a broken string.

Inner Tennis has its shortcomings. The limited budget reduced the number of cameras and camera angles. The cameramen apparently were unaccustomed to filming tennis; one player is often off-center in the picture or entirely missing from it. Occasionally a question from an onlooker is lost in the wind. And members of the audience seem too aware of the cameras. As a result, their comments at times sound forced.

The fourth and fifth shows ("Concentration" and "Awareness") are too long on talk and too short on action. They include several yoga-type exercises that are of little use to the average player. In the final chapter of his book, entitled "The Inner Game off the Court," Gallwey applies his theory to daily life. The TV series wisely sticks to tennis.

The best show is the last, which is called "Competition." Gallwey divides tennis players into five categories—defensive specialist, aggressive net-charger, stylist, win-at-all-costs and detached Buddhist—and gives amusing renderings of each. Then he suggests a useful drill: pick the style that least resembles your own and try to play that way. You are sure to start hitting shots you did not know you were capable of.

Gallwey is no miracle worker, nor does he claim to be. Inner Tennis may not work for you. Or you may experience temporary improvement, then regress to old habits.

But there is no danger for your game in giving Inner Tennis a try. Go on out and yell "bounce" and "hit," ride that ball across the net, try for a 10 on the fun-meter. Feel silly? Sure, but wasn't that the first topspin backhand you ever hit?