27 July 2018

Looney lobs

A lunar eclipse takes place tonight causing the longest ‘blood moon’ this century. But can men on the moon play tennis? And how do you cope with a moonball?

At 9pm tonight, a lunar eclipse will begin as the earth lines up between the sun and moon, and the moon, directly in the shadow of the earth, will seem to turn red. These galactic goings-on got us thinking. Astronaut Alan Shepard played golf on the moon.  Why not lunar tennis. 

The boffins at Nasa have already wondered about this themselves and even mocked up a design of how it might work (below).


Credit: Paula Vargas and Terry Longbottom of NASA/JSC. [video]

But before we even begin to worry about the court surface (dusty), the space suit (clumsy) and whether or not balls would accumulate an electrical charge as they are hit (scary), there is the problem of getting balls to land in the court in the first place. Top spin only works to curve the ball downwards when it moves through an atmosphere so no chance of that on the airless moon. And with the moon’s gravity just 1/6th of the earth’s, lunar lobs are going to stay up for so long, the returner could almost nip off long enough for a cup of tea. 

But if moon-men can’t play tennis, earthlings can hit moonballs.  Not only are these high looping balls extremely effective in doubles when they sail over the volleyer, they can be so difficult to return, they drive players crazy.  

What to do? Tennis View Magazine got the views of a few pros.  

Ana Ivanovic and Mona Barthel counsel patience; Brad Gilbert says lob them back and while Denis Kudla agrees that Gilbert’s strategy is the safest thing to do, he says to improve you need to do something else:

“Try to move forward in the court, take the ball in your strike zone, around shoulder height, and go for a big shot.”  

As you can see in this moonball rally between Wozniacki (below) and Kerber, it will work eventually if, at the amateur level, perhaps only once in a blue moon. 

Picture: Christian Mesiano (Caroline Wozniacki) [CC BY-SA 2.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons