Tag Archives: tennis player

Tennis Serves

Context & Background:

Informant: High school friend and tennis partner. Collected via telephone. This conversation highlights one of the common beliefs in the game of tennis. As high school tennis players, this belief wasn’t taught like the rules of the game, but rather picked up on by practice and seeing senior players play. RK – informant, SD – collector

Performance: (via phone call)

RK: One thing I remember from tennis is the time I took too long to serve the ball. I couldn’t get the toss right for the serve, so I tried like five or more times to toss the ball. Take in mind that I was a beginner, an absolute freshman, so I didn’t know the unspoken rules. But yea, basically, you’re not supposed to take more than 2 or 3 tosses to serve. I found out when some guy who was watching yelled at me, “you don’t have all day!” (laughs)

SD: Oh my god, I’ve had the same thing happen to me, and you’re right, you aren’t really aware of this until you actually start playing. 

RK: To be fair, I still do that to mess with people sometimes. Just kidding! (laughs again). 


When I first started playing tennis, I felt exactly like RK. I too didn’t know about the toss limit for serving, although it is very common knowledge in the sport. There are unspoken rules in many games and it is a type of folklore to know them, spread it to younger players, and keep the knowledge going. Another unspoken rule might be that, at least in girls tennis in the high school level, before the conference or match, the team captain would pat on the butt for good luck and a sort of ‘you got this’ moment. Sports folklore is there, it’s just hard to know if you aren’t part of the sports community, just like all other folklore. 

Main Piece: Tennis Court Lines

Background: The informant grew up playing tennis every single day after school. She and her family members were professional players, and there was an expectation that everyone becomes an expert at the game through endless hours of training and tournaments. She played tennis in college and once she graduated, she coached players on the tour. She is very well respected in the tennis world. The rituals she performed as she was playing competitively never faltered. One of which was the belief that she could never step on the lines of the tennis course. This is a custom that is practiced by many players today because stepping on the lines is a sign of disrespect and bad luck. Player’s go out of their way to ensure that they never touch the white tape in between points.

Context: “As a tennis player, all of my life, I never stepped on the lines of a tennis court. If you watch tennis on TV today, I am in the majority. It was always something- it was something superstitious for many tennis players. It started with John McEnroe and I know that Roger Federer also does not step on the lines. Certainly, Rafael Nadal- I mean would pull a hamstring to step over the alley so he didn’t have to step on the lines… he’s psycho. Do you know what it was…it was more that it made the moments when you weren’t in the point and when you weren’t in the mindset of competition-it made when you didn’t have a lot of control in the point more bearable because the time in between points seemed like they were controllable, right.”

Thoughts: I think that this folk ritual and superstition signals that you respect the game and know the sport intimately enough to practice this custom. Moreover, as the informant explained, became a strategic, calming tactic as well. Having the power to deliberately step over the line and make a decision on the outcome of your movements gives the player a sense of control and is grounding when in such a high-intensity state. The folk tradition has many beneficial implications and has become more popular as more and more players step over the lines. It is interesting to watch how careful some players are never to touch the white lines, and now that I understand this ritual, it is so obvious when watching a game.