Q: What are some ways one can practice by him/herself, besides just hitting serves? I ask this for my Facebook friend Malcolm Bowman, who submitted it a few months back. (Great question, MB.)
A: You can't get too much serving practice. You can serve at targets, of course, and hitting against the wall is great, too, because you can do all sorts of things hitting against the wall. But there are other ways you can practice when there are no other tennis players around.
In 1950, when I went to Fort Sill [Military Reservation in Oklahoma during the Korean War], that was all I had: tennis courts, but no tennis players. We would be on the court, and the other guy [any of several baseball players who took turns playing against me] would field it and throw it from across the court. They could throw it a lot more accurately than most people could hit it, so that's what I was doing for practice.
They would grab a mitt. The only rule was that they had to either get it in the air or on the first bounce, and then throw it from wherever it landed. It would be like a shortstop throwing to first base.
It was just like playing tennis, but they had no racket. We would play regular games. I would go through my regular serving routine, and when it was their turn they would have to throw it into the service box just as though they were using a tennis racket.
I had no other way to practice, and necessity is the mother of invention. The second chapter of this story is that I rarely won. We kept score like in regular tennis matches. We played every chance we could, which was once or twice a week, mainly on the weekends.
In the summer months, I could get maybe a three-day pass to play in weekend tournaments around the area there. Oklahoma had a lot of them and still does. I had a car up there, so I could drive to those places pretty easily. Assuming I made the finals, which I usually did, I would have to drive more, so it worked out well.
OK, another thing players can do for practice when there are no other players around is just toss balls up in the air or bounce them, and try different shots from different places on the court. That's what [my student] Willie Wolff does, and it works great for him. He’s a senior, and he’s one of the best in the country in his age group [70s], and I’m sure that’s got something to do with it.”