Our Tennis Network round robin mixer at the Marriott on Coronado Island got rained out Saturday, which was a major bummer, of course. Especially when you're up in North County and the sun is out and hardly a cloud in the sky. What are these people thinking? Cancelling our weekend tennis we were looking forward to all week?
For situations like this it pays to know a lot of tennis players and establish a network one can draw on. We quickly determined who may be interested in playing that afternoon in North County, and by 5 pm we had a tiny Mixed Doubles round robin going with 4 men and 4 women on two courts in La Costa. Everyone brought something, like fruit, crackers, cheese, chilled wine and water, and we had an awesome time for three hours.
Obviously we had a skill level difference between the men and women. How does one overcome that difference and how do stronger men (or women) not get discouraged by such arrangements? Here's how you do this: Since every man will be playing with every woman at least once, depending how many rounds you want to go, the men need to create their own goals and competition. "How many sets can I win?" or "My goal is to win with every woman, regardless of her level". It is ultimately up to the better player to come out winners in those situations. Although your opponents will begin to play more to your female partner, there are ways to become a factor in such a match and dictate the outcome. Here are some that most of the time work for me in Mixed Doubles, from the standpoint that the man is the stronger player:
1. Communicate a lot with your partner, before and during the match. Start out by talking about who plays what side. Although my favorite position is the backhand, I always try to give my female partner the choice. I have no problems playing strong on the forehand side, but don't want to be caught with a partner who is not comfortable at her position. I also tell my female partner that I love volleys, overheads, and put-away shots from the area between the service line and the net. Many women are not comfortable coming in to the net but are very comfortable playing the base line. I tell them how we can use this to our advantage and win this set. I love a partner who can lob over the opposite net player(s) and set me up for put-away shots.
2. Who serves first? The cardinal rule is that the stronger server always serves first. You want to start a set winning your first game on your own serve. Don't get caught being down a game from the get go and having to do catch up for a while. Too dangerous!
3. Encourage your partner all the time, even when mistakes are made. Give little hints and make it known that you have a plan for both of you. Talk about this plan and explain what's going to have to happen. For instants talk about when to lob and to angle shots as often as possible. A little encouragement goes a long way in tennis and knowing you have a plan gives a big boost to the team's confidence. And Mixed Doubles is teamwork!
4. Lobs are good in Mixed Doubles! When your partner can't get by the net player on return of serve, make her try to lob over this person. This is especially important when you know the server is weak on overheads. Or if the server is e.g. a right handed player and the lob will have to be taken in the air with the back hand. When I see something like this developing I move in even closer to cut off any weak return and be ready for ending the point right there. (Don't feel bad for your opponents when they have to look right into the sun returning your lobs. Serve them more lobs!) I am not good throwing up defensive lobs. However, a smart offensive lob and moving in waiting for the return afterwards, I LOVE that!
5. I always try to move in to the net in stages. I trust my volleys and approach shots more when I'm stationary and not running through them. Many players are caught running by a good return, unable to handle that shot properly. So after my return of serve I move in a few paces and become stationary with a "split step" when I see the ball coming back from my opponent's racquet. After my next shot I move in more, because the net is my friend and the service box is my main area of operation. When my opponents succeed in pinning me to the baseline, their chances of winning are doubling, for sure.
6. On my serve I try to always inform my partner how I generally target the opponents. If one opponent's forehand is too strong and keeps burning my partner, the serve needs to go to the back hand and vice versa. If one opponent is strong on both sides but sometimes has errant shots on the forehand side, you better believe that's where I'm going.
7. If my partner is not comfortable directing the serve to any side, I move back a little, sometimes even behind the service line, so to not get burned by a powerful return.
These strategies are my own and work for me. Try some out if you have a chance. Oh, yes, I won with all four women that night. Don't believe me? Ask them! They felt really good seeing things developing according to plan for a change.
TENNIS QUOTE OF THE DAY
"Goran Ivanisevic, playing in Brighton 2000, broke or destroyed the only three racquets he brought with him and had to default."
Richard Evans in Tennis Week (July 2001)