Tennis players are doing it wrong. All of them. Roger Federer? Improper form. Serena Williams? Same. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic? Bad, bad. At least that’s what Professor Tennis believes.
Don R. Mueller, a former physics professor who calls himself Professor Tennis, has been on a yearslong campaign to persuade tennis players that they could be so much better if they considered physics.
He is an advocate for two-racket tennis — meaning, play with a racket in each hand. “Eliminates the problem if you have no backhand,” he said. He also wants players to reconsider how they grip the racket. With a slight adjustment, they could blast their serves so much harder.
Still with me?
I went with Mueller to his latest campaign stop, a booth at a recent conference for coaches at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Queens. His hope was that he would have an opportunity to get into an argument with the McEnroe brothers. (They did not attend.)
“Tennis is a social game,” Mueller said. “People are embarrassed by new things.”
Any respectable guru with a booth at a convention would not have signage. So was the case for Professor Tennis. It would be anyone’s guess why he was behind a table filed with strange rackets, a deflated medicine ball, a speed radar gun and homemade gadgets used to demonstrate his principles of ball revolution and revolutionary serve motions. Despite all that, his favorite way of explaining his thinking is through songs, with titles like “You Can’t Always Get the Serve You Want.”
Is Anyone Listening to Me?
Meanwhile, everyone attending the conference was elsewhere — at lectures on the mental game, and learning new training methods out on the tennis courts. I was enjoying the talks but also felt bad wondering how Professor Tennis was doing back at the black hole of the vendor hallway.
So I sneaked out and returned to see that he had mosied over to other vendors to hit them with an unexpected cacophony of physics about dead spots on the racket (they’re actually good for your serve). He occasionally stopped a straggler to show the mechanical principles of center of mass (“The key to C. C. Sabathia’s success”).
His Chance to Shine
Finally, the moment Professor Tennis had been waiting for: John Embree, chief executive of the United States Professional Tennis Association, arrived. He patiently listened to Mueller’s lecture.
“So what do you propose?” Embree asked.
“That people don’t hit correctly and …”
I suggested to the Professor he enter tournaments himself to prove the merits of his work. My proposal is for selfish reasons. I would love to see how well he would do in competition. He has athletic gifts and does a lot right, never mind that his revolutionary techniques could change sports.
When I played him, I never saw a net game, only blistering serves like I have never witnessed (I have played against pro players who serve in 130s.). But he believes he needs no net game. His strategy is to never have his serves come back.
“Well, I’d like to play — but with two rackets, and no one would allow me to do that,” he said. “You know, James Blake and McEnroe talked about me and two-racket tennis on the air. I challenged James Blake. He threatened to outhit me, but he never shows up.
“Bud Collins told me several times, ‘Professor, why do you persist in your ideas which the tennis world will never accept?’ The former USTA head called my ideas ‘Madness. Insanity.’ I got no problem with that. Set up the radar gun. Thus far I’ve been able to beat everyone.
“I sent a tweet to Andy’s Murray’s mother telling her I can help her son. But does anyone want to listen?”