Autumn is a special time for tennis.
Players who have played and competed vigorously over the hot summer are sometimes nursing joint and muscle injuries, but they have grooved their strokes and taken part in tournaments, and often are in top hitting and cardiovascular form.
Also, players who are away on vacations or weekends over the summer have returned and are avidly looking to hit, widening the pool of partners, but also making the courts pretty busy through mid-October, when the fall season traditionally winds down.
But with the approach of winter, and the indoor season, the days are shortening and the sun is lower and comes in at a sharper angle, forcing players to hit in shadows, and play later in the morning and under lights earlier in the evening at clubs and public complexes with lit courts.
For those who play mostly on clay during the warm weather months, fall conditions can be more challenging as the clay blows off courts and dries out, and long shadows and flatter light makes the ball harder to see.
But this unusually hot and wet summer actually appears to have been good for court conditions in our region. The frequent rain deluges, while interfering with play, kept courts from baking and drying out.
Keeping soft courts in shape requires a lot of watering, and most clay court complexes have automatic watering systems. Even with sprinklers, though, it’s is challenging to keep courts hydrated and soft enough so they do not dry out and become scratchy and too slippery.
I talked to my old friend and tennis foe, David Updike of Cambridge, about the phenomenon of fall tennis. Updike makes a point of playing tennis outdoors during all four seasons, though he focuses on the indoor game in winter.
“I’d say it’s harder to play at this time of the year than during the rest of the year,” Updike said. “But there’s a renewed enthusiasm to play a few more times in these last few weeks because you know that the end is coming and it’s not 100 degrees out.”
A fairly big percentage of club players play pretty regularly in winter, keeping courts busy at our local indoor magnets, the Greendale YMCA in Worcester, Paxton Tennis & Fitness Club, Shrewsbury Club, Westboro Tennis and Swim Club and New England Tennis Center in Lancaster.
As for me, I put down my rackets for the winter and focus on the slopes. We’ll be skiing and snowboarding in about six weeks, so even if you’re a tennis person, please read my weekly snow sports column in these pages and at telegram.com, starting on Thanksgiving.
So, let’s think about the great Serena Williams meltdown earlier this month in the finals of the U.S. Open, where she was beaten decisively by 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, a Japanese citizen who lives and trains in the United States.
A lot of women — and men — said they felt that Williams was treated more harshly by the chair umpire than male players have been over the years, a consequence of perceived sexism in the sport.
The umpire gave Williams a game penalty for committing three infractions: illegal coaching, racket abuse and berating the umpire continuously, for which she later received a $10,000 fine. Each violation garners a point, and when players reach three they can be assessed a game.
This is pretty controversial.
It’s unclear whether there really is a double standard, in spite of the infamous antics of players like Nick Kyrgios of Australia, and Benoit Paire of France, and famous past serial violators of tennis decorum violators such as John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase.
A recent New York Times analysis of fines for misbehavior for male and female players at Grand Slam tournaments from 1998 to 2018 found that men have been fined much more frequently than women for every offense but illegal coaching. Women were fined at about double the rate of men for that particular offense.
A caveat is that more men play in Grand Slam tournaments, and they are on court longer because they play best three out of five matches instead of two out of three for women.
Even accounting for those factors, the Times article said men still appear to be sanctioned more than women proportionately.
Anyway, Updike’s view on this (and he’s a big Williams fan) is that her behavior — whether or not men are treated differently — was boorish and inexcusable, and the penalty well-deserved.
I now concur.
Initially I was swayed by the argument that men have been worse and gotten away with it. But after arguing with Updike and reading the Times article, I’m convinced Williams received just treatment for her implosion in a high-pressure situation, one she should have known better to avoid.
Oct. 12 — New England Tennis Center, Lancaster, USTA 14s, 16s, 18s Level 7 Futures Circuit boys’ and girls’ singles tournaments. Info: www.netenniscenter.com.
Oct. 13 — Westboro Tennis and Swim Club, 12s Level 7 Futures Circuit boys’ and girls’ singles tournaments. Info: www.thewestboroclub.com.
Oct. 20 — Westboro Tennis and Swim Club, USTA green ball early development camps, boys’ and girls’ singles. Info: www.thewestboroclub.com.
Oct. 26 — New England Tennis Center, NTRP 3.5 men’s and women’s singles and doubles tournaments, and combined mixed doubles. Info: www.netenniscenter.com
—Contact Shaun Sutner at firstname.lastname@example.org.