I have always trusted people who play tennis. I know that that sounds kinda silly but my experience has been that the majority of tennis-players have a well-developed sense of integrity and fair play.
I can count on one hand the exceptions to this statement. For instance, I remember a family of tennis players who would cheat their way to wins. If your serve hit the line, they would call it out. If your volleys got the corner pocket, they would claim an error. They were so completely dishonest as a family that everyone knew them. Of course, in umpired matches, they could not cheat, but then they would make such scenes on the court protesting calls that you just wanted to hand them the match to get it all over with. Or live in fear of running into one of them in a dark alley after you won a match. They were a thoroughly scary bunch.
But this is not the norm in tennis. The norm is a great deal more honest and sporting. And the rules of tennis reinforce this basic justice and honesty.
For example, tennis players are allowed to call a ‘let’ when a ball or other object strays onto the court, even if the point is almost over and a winner seems clear. A server may catch the serve in mid-air if the positioning is wrong. If a call is unclear, players simply replay the point. If you get a point on a netball, you say “sorry” to your opponent. If players on a neighboring court are in the middle of a game, you wait until the game is over before exiting the court. These are just a few examples of the courtesy and fair play of this sport that I love so much.
Against this background, you may understand the naïve trust that I tend to bring to the sport. So it was that when I first moved to the city that I now live in, one of my first objectives was to find people to play with. I called around and was told that if I just showed up at some upscale public courts, I would have no difficulty finding players. I knew that my game was a bit rusty so I decided to try to find a coach instead.
And sure enough, within 10 minutes of my arrival, I was introduced to a coach. We knocked for a few minutes and, after praising my game, he told that he could have me back to top form in a few lessons. I gave him $150. for five pre-paid lessons, a fee consistent with market value in this city. This was in November of last year.
We started off swimmingly. One lesson, then two, a third, then a fourth. Things were going so well, that I agreed to his price of an additional $140. for six more lessons – in other words, he offered me a package of 10 pre-paid lessons for $290. That was his offer and I accepted.
Then we had a fifth lesson. And then he sort of disappeared. Not completely, mind you, but suddenly he just was not as available he had been in the preceding weeks. After several persistent calls, I got another lesson just before Xmas. I felt badly that it was cold and windy and we probably had no business on a tennis court. I felt badly that his wife was waiting inside with their child while we played. But I had paid and I had insisted – and he had complied. And that was the last time I saw him or the rest of my money.
After several of my calls, he finally offered me a lesson on a Sunday morning at 8am. I showed up and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually I called him. He sent me a text saying that he was out of town and was sorry that he had forgotten. Another time, he offered me a lesson and then went off on vacation. Then a member of his family died – or was it his wife’s family? I’ve lost track of the excuses. He once offered me an extra lesson to make up for one of his errors, but of course this never materialized. He never calls me and never takes my calls. It has gone on like this for four months.
Being ripped off is a frustrating experience. The rules of tennis do not allow for rip-offs and other low-life kind of behavior. That is why Justine Henin’s dishonesty was such a big deal. It just goes against the grain when people behave despicably in tennis.
Last week I joined a new tennis club. The front desk greeted me as if I was a long-lost member of the family. The day after I joined, the owner gave me a key to the backcourts so that I may come and play tennis late in the evening after the clubhouse is closed. This is the kind of trust and trusting that I am used to. I intend to get my money back from the dishonest coach. It will cover several lessons with the coach at my new tennis club.