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Cummings and Goings XX by Jim Cummings

May 28, 2009 09:51 PM

Singular Singles Sticks

There it was, something I had never seen on a clay tennis court before; but knew immediately what it was; a singles stick placement marker. Neatly nailed into the alley underneath the net was a 2x2 inch piece of line tape; its center exactly 36 inches from the outside edge of the singles sideline. There would be no doubt or measurement needed where the center of the singles stick was to be placed. But what was connected to the net post by a brass ring holder was no stick. It was a work of art; the Rolls Royce of singles post.

Almost with reverence, I picked it up out of its brass ring holder, but not without effort. It weighed close to 5 pounds. What I held in my hands was a 3x3 inch milled teak post 42 inches long with the crest of the Chevy Chase Country Club branded near its top. It had a beautiful, majestic heft to it that seemed to have a life of its own. An elegant fixture for our elegant game.

Where can you buy these posts? You can't. They are one of a kind, the creation of Peter Eason, Tennis Facilities Manager at the Chevy Chase Country Club.

And I am not the only one who appreciates Peter's artistry. At the urging of the club manager, Peter entered his work in the Club Managers Association Of America competition for tennis innovation. It was a Blue Ribbon winner.

X Marks The Spot

Getting back to the clay court singles stick marker, I had always thought a tape nail would fill the bill. Peter Eason's innovation beats that idea all to pieces. The 2x2 patch has enough substance so that it won't get buried by the clay or get scraped away during court maintenance. Did I say patch? That is exactly what the maintenance people at Chevy Chase call the markers: Peter's Patches. I'll bet they are grateful for them when setting up the courts for play. No, it is not that big a deal to get a measuring stick, mark off the spot, place the singles stick, pick up the measuring stick and return it to its storage location. But it becomes a big deal when you consider the number of times this is done during the course of a year. It seems inane to have to keep measuring a spot that never changes. Yet, that is exactly what is done at most tennis facilities and at last reckoning, that includes the venues of most major tournaments including the US Open at Flushing Meadows. What would it take to put a Peter's Patch or white paint spot on these courts?

Why is it not a specification for all new court construction or resurfacing; just like a center mark on the base line?

Do We Need Singles Sticks?

Just about all singles is played on courts laid out for both singles and doubles using a doubles net. Just about all recreational singles and a good many singles tournaments, are played without singles sticks in which case the doubles posts and the doubles net are treated as the singles net and singles net post for the match. The USTA Comment to ITF Rule 13 where this is stated is 13.3. The addition of this comment to Rule 13 about 15 years ago had many purist grinding their teeth, but there was no getting around the fact that most singles play was being done without the use of singles sticks. Think of it this way: tennis is a game for people. People and the world they live in change. Arguably, my generation saw more change than at any other time in the history of the world. Change has to be recognized and, if this is what players want, then it should be recognized - and was.

Jack Stahr, the author of the original Friend At Court, addressed this matter in a June 1966 column he wrote for World Tennis magazine. Recognizing that to thousands of players, it is not important at all, he said "Still, right is right..." A little over 4 years later, he wrote that "strictly speaking,"  not having singles sticks is a violation of Rule 1, "however", many tournament matches are played without them (forget non-tournament) and that there was no record of a result being voided on that account. Reading carefully, you can detect the change in attitude.

What is the difference if singles sticks are not used? Without them, a doubles net is 1.28 inches lower than it should be at the point 3 feet outside the sidelines. The net should be 36 inches high at the center, singles or doubles, so spreading that 1.28 inches out over the the 13.5 feet from the center of the net to where the singles post would be; you can see it doesn't make much difference at all. This is especially true today with players hitting heavy topspin high over the net. So, do we need singles sticks? Well, right is right and strictly speaking..., however...   

By:  Jim Cummings 5/28/2009

Jim Cummings Bio:
   Born in Marinette, WI
   Boyhood friend of the Cook family
   Played varsity tennis for UW-Madison in the 50s
   Officiated at over 25 US Opens as a chair and line umpire
   Served on USTA's Rules Committee when Jack Stahr and Nick Powel were Chairs
   Active senior player and Referee
   Presently helps edit the Friend At Court
   zjimc@msn.com

 

 

 

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