Tennis is a highly competitive sport, at every level of play, from beginners to pros. And in doubles, let’s admit it… we all prefer a partner who at least is at our same skill level; someone who we can trust to not make more errors than us.
But what happens when your partner is weaker than you? Maybe even a lot weaker? Do you get mad because you have to play with “that player” and mentally throw in the towel before the match even starts? I mean… what if you could win? It CAN happen, people, because it happened to me.
A few years ago, my league doubles partner (and team captain) got injured mid-way through the season, so she paired me with another teammate who was at a comparable skill level. At this point, we were the number one team with hopes of moving up to the next level, and because we only had the bare minimum of 10 players on the team roster (and with one of the strongest players now out,) we needed the rest to remain healthy.
But that didn’t happen. Another of our stronger players injured herself 2 days before the last match of the season, and we needed to sweep in order to move up. It just so happened that we were playing an average team that had secured a spot somewhere in the middle of the league scoreboard, with no chance of moving up or down… but they’ve dropped lines against us for no reason in the past. Would they do it again?
Not knowing the answer to that question, our captain (who is also my injured partner) suggested that I stay on line 1, and play with “Kathy”, who always plays lines 3 and 4. Her only real weapon was her serve, but it made sense to do this because I’m a poaching beast and therefore had the odds for us at winning her serve. And since my own serve is pretty stellar, we were quite confident that we’d win at least half of the games just from serving.
As it turned out they didn’t drop lines, and all 4 of our lines still won (Kathy and I won at 6-4/6-4,) and we moved up to the A2 division. So what all did we do to pull off the win? We followed these simple tips, to the T:
Accept the sitch and trust your own game.
Don’t fret and get over-emotional about “How come I got stuck with this player” because, well… it is what it is. Instead, recognize that you are still playing a game that you love… so have a good time. And don’t forget that as the more experienced player, YOU have strategies and skills that can at least make the game more competitive and maybe even work to your advantage.
Don’t be a court hog.
Don’t try and make every shot a winner so that it won’t come back into play because that’s not realistic… AT ALL. Also, don’t try and cover too much court to “save” your partner. I’m not saying don’t be aggressive, just don’t be so aggressive that you go for every ball, or those that you can’t get back effectively. You risk leaving your side of the court too open for a passing shot and/or making your partner a sitting duck.
As the stronger player, so you should put your expertise and knowledge to good use. Some great things to try are:
- Find out your partner’s strengths before the match and use your court smarts and skills to create points that will best utilize them (for an example, if your partner can consistently lob deep, use that to help push the opponents back to the baseline, and then wait for the opportunity to poach and put the ball away);
- Figure out your opponent’s weaknesses early on and then you and your partner pick on them mercilessly;
- Play the “ad side” because you are better equipped, both mentally and skillfully to handle the important pressure points (40-0, 0-40, 40-30, 30-40, and the ad-ins and outs.)
- Lob the opponents when they come in to the net and keep them back near the baseline, allowing your partner more time to prepare for an incoming ball and you more opportunities to poach on a short ball.
- Play the ball up the middle often (especially when you serve) which will more than likely keep the ball from being returned right at your partner or up his/her alley;
- If the opponents still manage to return your serve right at your partner, have him/her stand further away from the net on your serve (maybe even close to the baseline,) and take away your opponent’s “target”, allowing your partner more time to prepare for any returns that might come his/her way.
More often than not, weaker players up their game when playing with and against stronger players, and if your partner is open to learning strategies (Kathy was totally open,) that’s an added bonus. Just know that too much coaching might frustrate him/her into playing worse, which will then frustrate you.
High-five your partner on a point well-played, and pump them back up if they cut themselves down over an error; remember how you felt when YOU were the weak link.
Just because you’re playing doubles with a weaker partner doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to lose that match. There are so many things you can do that will not only highlight your partner’s strengths but also showcase your opponent’s weaknesses, and perhaps even tip the match in your favor.