Another source of information was hosting semi-pro or “money
tournaments.” BB&T (Branch Banking and Trust) hosted a fine tournament
with people like Freddie McNair and other great college players of the
mid-70s. The most impressive, though, was an older Texan, Jimmy Parker.
What a nice guy and great player. Jimmy could stand on the service line
and return serve. He also ran a below 10-second 100 yards. Blink and he
was at the net. We also hired Tim Wilkison and Charlie Owens for our local
exhibitions. If you couldn’t learn from those guys, don’t take calculus.
I learned a shot from Tim’s brother, Andy, who played for North Carolina
State. Andy, troubled with a bad knee, was a fine player himself.
Watching him return serve caused me to define his return as “Z” shaped.
I never told Andy, but his quick move to the left and in, accompanied by
moving his weight in toward the target, became the model for our
doubles return.
Charlie Owens perfected a “just high enough” forehand lob down the
line to force the net player to hit a lukewarm backhand overhead to his
only logical cross-court target. Charlie would be there waiting for it with a


Another shot from our opponents is etched in my memory. However
my memory fails on his first name. A Carson Newman College player, last
name of Yentilmez, had a “flop” shot that he’d perfected. No matter how
you approached, he’d spin a “semi-topspin lob” cross court at a pace that
left you just short of comfortable. We added the “Yentilmez flop.” Many got
out of deep trouble with the “flop.” Takes some practice!


  1. Hit the serve up enough.
  2. Learn a good backhand underspin one hander.
  3. The service grip is the most functional grip in tennis.
  4. “No man’s land” is a myth. You have to learn many shots from mid-
    court. These are “shortened” shots (service returns, approach shots,
    etc.). They are most often hit with underspin. Particularly in doubles.
  5. Basic tennis strategy (singles) says: Down the line, come in. Cross
    court to stay back.
  6. Hitting on the rise takes court and time away from your opponent.
    It’s harder, but essential. We played “21,” restricting all rallies to be
    made from within the court, i.e., you step behind the baseline or out
    side the side line, and you lose the point. You can go to the net any
    time after the first rally.
  7. Add one shot each fall. You don’t have time in the spring. In the
    spring you play. Examples:
    • A one-handed backhand chip
    • Backhand service return
    • Forehand service return (underspin, too)
    • Backhand approach (often a weakness)
  8. The game is the best teacher. If you play enough tough matches
    (practice-challenge-varsity) you will get better. It’s not high school
    and every match is tough. You have to rebound from yesterday’s 7–6
    in the third loss to play again today. Tough-minded players survive
    and learn from these matches.
  9. Learn to acclimatize to early morning play. Lots of important
    matches occur early. College kids have different “clocks,” and they wil
    resist this suggestion.
  10. Beer and idle dorm conversations cause the most “causalities.”


After open heart surgery, two back surgeries, and a hip replacement, I
was beginning to get straightened out (2001).
My good friend Athletic Director Alan White called me into his office,“Tom, you’re looking much better, and by the way you’re adding the
women’s team to your job next fall.”
Good friend, did I say? Actually I’ve taught women or girls all my career.
The tennis boom (late ’60s) hit when I first started teaching and in Wilson,
North Carolina, alone I taught three generations of girls, women, mammas,
and grandmas. But I’d never coached the college women’s team.
Thirty-seven years of men’s tennis, now they let me coach the girls. What
bothered me wasn’t all I’d observed about the women. (There are some
“horror” stories out there). It was coaching two teams at once. I later said
you had to have a M.W.A. degree to do it (Management While
Wandering Around).


I had watched our previous four women’s coaches enough to know they
were good coaches; two were men, two women. Very good people and
coaches, and I worked easily with all four. The job just didn’t pay much. So, I
was somewhat surprised by the initial response at the returning girls team
meeting. Before I said anything, one young lady offered, “we are so glad we
now have a man coach.” They all shook their heads in agreement. I didn’t
agree and told them so, in my first “coaching” of women. I offered, “You
wouldn’t mind a good woman coach. What you don’t want is a poor coach,
man or woman.” Many times I’ve heard women say, “I don’t want to work
for a woman boss.” I’ve seen too many good women in leadership positions
not to object to this logic. Elon University itself has several fine women
leaders and two-thirds of its students are women.


It was tough to find adequate coaches in 1960 when there were no
women’s collegiate sports. You have to remember women’s collegiate
sports as we now know them began, really, only in the ’70s. How could
women have the experience men coaches had? They had been denied
the formal opportunity of learning by playing. Another overlooked factor
were the backyard games boys played in childhood. It irked me to hear
“girls can’t serve because they can’t throw.” They couldn’t throw as well
as teenaged boys, who’d grown up with baseball and football free play
experience. If you think women are anatomically limited in throwing,
watch modern women’s tennis, or better still, collegiate women’s softball.


Perhaps a problem harder than experience for women coaches was
society itself. Title IX may rule the gym but not the home. Women who
coached early on now had three jobs: Teaching, coaching, and running the
home. Unless you had a husband willing to help at home it was extremely
difficult for these young, often very capable, wives and mothers to coach
long. There was a period of time we lost a lot of potentially great women
coaches. Many survived. Many men saw the light and began to share the
load. All things being equal, women should coach women’s tennis. Until
we get to “equal,” I’d rather my granddaughter play for a competent coach,
male or female.


The next “myth” about women tennis players (often posed by men) was,
“they should go to the net more.” The men coaches would corner me and
tell me “about girls and the net.”
Once, during practice, I brought the women over to observe the men in a
drill designed for aggressive approaching and volleying. The women were
very courteous.
I then asked the men, “What would you change if this court were five feet
wider and five feet longer?”
Immediately one of the guys said, “We couldn’t go to the net as much.”
I ushered the women back to the “girls’ side” and explained, “If you are a
little smaller, not quite as quick and maybe not quite as strong, then the
court is bigger for you, or for most women. It makes sense not to want to
go in as much and that’s okay.”
Later I asked the guys if they’d still go in on a larger court? “Yes, but with
more caution.”
There is a situation where you can take a “percentage advantage,” by
going to the net and pressuring the other player. You have to design your
skills at attacking and learn to identify the proper ball to go in on.


Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. How do you identify these
differences as far as coaching goes? The best source for a “crash course”
on the subject would be to consult Anson Dorrance’s book on the subject.
Dorrance, legendary women’s soccer coach at UNC-Chapel Hill, does a
clinical job sharing his discoveries. I found one of his first suggestions to hold truth immediately. You’ve got to give the girls about 20 minutes prior
to when practices start to discuss the day. Seriously. This is actually part of
practice. And if you view this as a waste of time, you’ll probably witness a
lousy practice. Once they “air the day” they’re ready to go. Try it.