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Q: Why do tennis pros, when they are serving, look at three or four balls and discard the ones they do not select? What are they looking for?
— Bill Henry, Naples
A: The best tennis analyst to answer this question is television sports commentator and former professional tennis player Mary Carillo, who has called Naples home for nearly 30 years.
"They are looking for the freshest ball, the ball that has the most speed in it," Carillo said. "They are trying to find one that hasn't been hit as much, one that will take the power and the spin better than a fluffier ball."
Of course, one might expect novice players and weekend warriors to play with used tennis balls, where the felt nap has been fluffed up or worn down, affecting its bounce or aerodynamic properties. But, because only fresh balls are used for regulation play, why are pros so selective?
"The ball kids don't always rotate the balls enough," Carillo said.
What about the theory that pros spend time selecting or bouncing balls before serving to slow a fast-paced match, improve their focus, calm their nerves, or throw off their opponent's timing or game?
"There's all kinds of stuff that goes on like that," Carillo said. "More often than that, if they are trying to collect their thoughts, they spend a little time looking at balls they are going to use or pick at their (racket) strings."
Many players have on-court rituals they consistently use, she said. For instance, Maria Sharapova will walk back off the baseline and pick at her strings whether serving or preparing to return a serve, she said.
What playing rituals did Carillo use?
"I had no winning ritual," she joked. "I remember trying hard not to be humiliated."
Before knee injuries led to her early retirement, Carillo teamed up with John McEnroe to win the mixed doubles title in the 1977 French Open. Ranked 33 in the world when she retired in 1980, Carillo still plays tennis every now and then at Cambier Park, which is just a few blocks from her Old Naples house.
"I hit a little bit," she said. "If I have friends in town or if my kids feel like banging the ball around a little bit, I play."
Carillo also said she occasionally plays tennis with JoAnne Russell, a teaching pro in town who won the Wimbledon women's doubles title in 1977 with Helen Gourlay Cawley.
"Every now and then, I get out there, but my knees are pretty much glass now," she said.
Carillo admitted that she still likes hitting things, but she now tries to remain stationary on the court.
"I'm not exactly a mobile unit anymore," she said.
Carillo is happy to be back in Naples after spending four months this spring and summer in Europe covering the French Open in May, Wimbledon in June and early July and the Summer Olympics in late July and August. In what has become an Olympics tradition, her trademark "slices of life" coverage of London showcased her distinctive wit and humor.
"It's good to be home," she said.
By the way, although golf gets most of the attention in the Naples area, more than 400 tennis courts, both clay and hard surfaces, are located throughout the communities, clubs and parks in Collier County. As with area golf courses, the majority of courts are private.
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"In the Know" is published Mondays and Wednesdays in the Naples Daily News. Find a complete archive of "In the Know" columns at naplesnews.com/intheknow.