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Coaches Corner - tip of the month

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Okay, not completely, but, nonetheless, they are very overrated and misperceived as the magic elixir for solid doubles play. Hardly the case, although a very handy rationale for struggling teams in denial.

Players certainly do need to understand the constantly changing positional role of the net man from offense to defense first and foremost, how and when to poach, how to fake poach, how to bait opponents to hit their shot where you want them to hit it, how to properly “switch,” when to close (go offensive), when to retreat (go defensive), when to capitalize on a partner’s good shot, how to negate incessant lobbing, where to serve to engage your partner, etc. And, yes, many do not until they are taught since they have so few teams in their neighborhood to model their doubles games after, not to mention doubles is seldom shown, never mind explained coherently, even on the Tennis Channel (Rene Stubbs did a great series on the Tennis Channel’s “Tennis Academy” about a year ago – might be available on their site or on a DVD?).

That stated, all of the above and more can be communicated to motivated players in a one to one and a half hour session. Cake. Whether or not they are able to retain it, or put the appropriate stock in its importance going forward is another issue. Sometimes they will not deviate from bad habits out of their false sense of security in what, albeit not maximizing their potential, got them to where they are, and become further entrenched every day with a glass that remains half-full in mediocrity. Is there anything more frustrating than observing 4 players on one court mostly playing singles?

So, assuming that there exists at least a rudimentary sense of positional doubles, what then does it take to play really well? Good shot selection and then consistent shot execution!! That’s IT. The impatient, insecure penchant, among so many, for attempting low percentage shots after only a couple of shots is startling. Thread-the-needle consistent shot making is a difficult proposition. Then,even when appropriate high percentage shot tactics are patiently embraced, club player execution is, shall we say, often less than stellar.

Why is that among individuals who’ve been playing 5 and 6 times per week for years? Because they choose to never practice double’s shot making. Never! Mind boggling.

They cannot hit deep, unpoachable, penetrating cross court groundstrokes with any dependability. The same goes for the necessary sharply angled groundie (specifically to make it unpoachable if the netman has covered the line) when positioned way up in the court and stretched wide and out on the wing. They often inadvertently feed shoulder high meatballs to opponents at the net and get their partners killed. And, they mostly serve into the opponent’s strength, especially in the deuce court, stifling their netman. Etcetera. No matter, they continue to blabber about how better “doubles teamwork” being all that they need to get to that next level, which they typically don’t seek out anyway, and play mind numbing match, after match, after match.

For me, worst of all, when I ask players what their intentions were after having to fight off, or reach for, a very difficult ball unsuccessfully, they typically say incredulously: “Oh, I was just trying to get it over,” and this is a 4.0 player saying this. What? The clever ones attempt to cover their tracks by attempting an after the fact “correct” answer even though they were visualizing absolutely zip, instead, I’m assuming, hoping for divine intervention.

There are offensive possibilities, there are defensive necessities, and there are “rally balls” when it is neither. It’s a stalemate. Don’t blink first. You’re not losing when engaged in a dueling cross court exchange from the back of the court – the meat and potatoes of club doubles. You’re winning! That has to be your perception, otherwise you’re going to impulsively do something, candidly, stupid. Calm down!

This where I like to quote the eminent Zen philosopher Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” Exactly, even if you’re not a beginner. The most strategically and tactically complicated doubles is played by 2.5-4.0 club players whose shot making skills are not up to the task. Tour doubles is exceedingly simple by comparison – this is the game that I’ve arrived with, let’s see what happens. DaVinci would have been a great doubles partner since he believed that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Relax, if you can make enough simple, penetrating shots, or angled ones when appropriate, your netman will take care of business, and you’ll be able to come in and join him on occassion. Suddenly, those allegedly great players that you claim to have faced aren’t so terrific anymore. Of course, if you typically cannot, your doubles game isn’t the problem, it’s your inability to make shots that your partner, and you, can capitalize on, versus the all too often alternative of delivering shots that you and your partner end up getting victimized by, especially by those who lob, lob, lob.

In Roger Federer’s down year (for him) 2 years ago he explained that besides the lingering bout with mono, the biggest reason for being a little off form was his “lack of practice time.” That’s Roger Federer saying that practice has a great deal to do with your match play performance. He was not referring to anything but shot making.

Anyone listening out there?

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