By Luke Jensen, French Open Doubles Champion ‘93
Spring means competition – from league matches to tournaments. On the pro tours, the American swing is one of the best times of year for the players. Indian Wells and Miami are the tennis version of “March Madness,” but without the pressure of preparing for a Grand Slam. The Australian Open was way back in January, and the French Open won’t roll around until the end of May. Meanwhile, spring tennis for the pros – and for you – means dealing with spring conditions. The ultimate neutralizer!
There are two types of players in our game. First, there are the ones who put the ball in the court and the ones who don’t. Second, there are the players who win by extending points and the ones who want to end points. Do you know your style of play? If you have mastered this game, you can do both depending on the situation. Both styles are effective. I like to start the warm-up and the match trying to be the player who doesn’t miss – the one trying to extend points just to see if my opponent will be nervous and make a ton of errors. As the match progresses, I may shift to more of an attack mode to finish the match, but if my opponent is giving me the match with unforced errors, I LET THEM!
The same is true in doubles. I start my matches with consistency just to make my opponents handle a high percentage of first serves and make them deal with a ton of returns put in play. So much of the doubles game is about short burst points. Two to three shots and with consistency from your serve and return game, you are going to win a bunch of points just by being more consistent than the other side.
Now, with the elements being in play during outdoor tennis, make sure you play with more margin in windy conditions. Bring in your targets so the wind does not affect your consistency. Make sure you lob a bunch in windy conditions. Lob high with the wind and the wind will carry your shot effectively to the other baseline. Lob when your opponent is looking into the sun. Lob low and firm against the wind so your ball cuts through the stiff breeze.
Finally, I will leave you with an overlooked tip that was always helpful to me. I like to play many of my volleys and groundies down the middle. These shots go over the low part of the net and force the other players to decide who is going to take the shot. Many league teams are first-time partners, so use that inexperience to your advantage and go down the middle. Even if your opponents are in a one up/one back formation, hitting down the middle still can cause them confusion. This is a massive, high-percentage shot for your side and forces your opponents to cover that area of the court. When they do that, go down the line! Two players will not be able to cover the entire court, so make them adapt to your play and keep them guessing.
One more tip: Make sure you call out the score before each point and change the scorecards on changeovers; I’ve seen a ton of fuzzy, funny score calling in matches. Make sure there is never a doubt about the score before every point is played.
Now just go out and go for it!