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Simon Ramo's Guide to Playing 'Smart Up' Tennis

April 28, 1985|MARSHALL BERGES | Times Staff Writer

"Strategy," Simon Ramo says, "is a route to achieving your objectives."

One of his current objectives is to win more often at tennis, and he has developed a strategy toward that end. Only the unwary would dismiss this news lightly, for Ramo has an impressive record of achieving his goals.

Quick and intense, with a hint of ready laughter in his piercing dark eyes, Ramo at 72 is a world-renowned scientist and engineer. He was the chief architect of America's intercontinental ballistic missile system. He is the "R" in TRW, the multibillion-dollar industrial conglomerate, and Fortune magazine has called him "the father of the electronics revolution."

He is also a violinist, skillful enough to play in a quartet with professionals who gather regularly at his home. He has written more than a dozen books.

Quick to Joke

Among friends and acquaintances he is recognized as a man of swift improvisations. Science historians still chuckle at a remark Ramo made during the '50s, when the ICBM was being developed. During a series of key experiments at Cape Canaveral, at which Ramo and Air Force Gen. Bernard Schriever were observers, test rockets blew up with dismaying regularity on their launching pads. When at last one missile rose about 6 inches into the air before toppling over and exploding, Ramo beamed and said: "Well, Bennie, now that we know the thing can fly, all we have to do is improve its range a bit."

Ramo's improvisations are, by any measure, more remarkable than his tennis volley. After years of playing "merely ordinary" tennis on the court at his seven-acre estate in Beverly Hills, he decided that it was time to improve his game strategy.

Learning to 'Smart Up'

His reasoning: The size of the standard tennis court and the height of the net have been chosen "to accommodate the play of extraordinary players. But if the court is just right for outstanding tennis athletes, then it follows that it is too spacious for players who, by reason of lesser athletic talents and, perhaps, deterioration of abilities with age, are lacking in energy, fast court coverage, quick body reaction and powerful strokes. Tennis players, as they slow down, must smart up."

In his effort to smart up, Ramo claims--tongue firmly in cheek--that he was helped immeasurably by the "chance discovery" on a trip to Florence, Italy, of a manuscript, "The Prince, II," written in the "unmistakable hand" of Niccolo Machiavelli, whose 16th-Century classic, "The Prince," dealt with the wiles and strategy useful in the game of running a nation.

To Ramo's delight, the topic of "The Prince, II" was how to win at the game of tennis, and its basic principles, Ramo said in an interview recently, "apply to everything in life. Your absolute qualities do not determine how you fare in the world or on the tennis court. What actually counts is your performance relative to others. So an awareness of competition must always be in one's mind."

Eager to share his chance discovery with other ordinary players, Ramo--in still another free-wheeling invention--"translated" the manuscript "into Americanese for easy clarity." Noted Ramo: "A few charming peculiarities of language turned up. For instance, I discovered that in scoring tennis in Florence it was customary to use, in place of the words zero or nothing, the word amore. "

Now published as a book ($13.95) by Rawson Associates, "Tennis by Machiavelli" (as translated by Simon Ramo) contains a reminder to readers that "To be Machiavellian is at once to be devious, slippery, sly, sneaky and tricky--a conniver, deceiver, opportunist, maneuverer, intriguer, conspirer," and it sets forth a number of strategic suggestions. Among them:

'Reconnaissance Mission'

--A warm-up routine before a game is viewed by most players as exercise "solely to loosen their muscles and joints," but "the much more important duty for you to perform during the preliminary period is an intelligence and reconnaissance mission intended to bring to the surface and pinpoint the weak spots in the defense and offense of your opponents. . . .

"Common courtesy dictates that during warm-up you should direct the balls to opponents equally toward their forehand and backhand sides, to grant them opportunity for balanced practice. But since they will expect your accuracy and control to be poor in the initial stages of warm-up, they will not think ill of you should your initial returns go mainly to their backhands and even force them to move substantially to meet your badly directed shots."

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