Oct 23 2013

How to Lose a Great Partner

Doubles | League Tennis | USTA       Clif Render      


Several weeks ago, I spent three days straight in bed suffering through major back spasms. Back issues have been an ongoing issue for me. When I stop exercising my back and my core, I end up overdoing it, getting hurt, and facing several painful days in a state of almost complete uselessness. Well, work has been particularly demanding of late and so, what did I do? That's right. I quit exercising. And I did, indeed, suffer for it.

Well, I'm two days shy of the two week mark, and I have made great progress on the road to recovery - so much so that I felt good enough to play tonight in a USTA league match. We were short on people, and I really love the guys that I'm playing with so I was really itching to get out there. The captain put me on the third doubles court which was good since I really didn't know if I would even be able to complete a full match. I've only been on a tennis court twice in the past two weeks. The first time was 5 days ago when I just hit with the guys for thirty minutes. That thirty minutes resulted in a good bit of pain. The second time was 2 days ago (with my son who's way awesomer than me) when I was on court for an hour and ended up tight but only hurting a little bit. I honestly expected that I would not be able to finish the match. As it turns out, my premonition was correct but not for the reason I expected.

I felt pretty good during the match but with my concerns over my back, I wasn't moving like I usually do. I wasn't bending my knees properly, and I wasn't rotating my torso correctly. My serve was way off the mark, and I don't think I won a single service game. It was a really pitiful performance. But I didn't have to leave the game injured which I considered a victory. My partner, on the other hand, wasn't quite as excited about my performance as I was. We started off doing very well and felt like the match was ours to lose for the first game then things took an immediate turn for the worst. I served first which was a really bad idea in my condition as I suffered through maybe a dozen deuces before finally losing serve - never a good way to start a match. That set the tone for the first set as we went on to lose the first set 6-3 winning only one service game, my partner's, right at the end of the set.

The second set started off about the same way the first set did, with me losing serve.

"Great," I thought, "Here we go again."

It seemed like this set was just going to be more of the same. We were both a bit disheartened. We felt like we really should be in this game. We had the skills to beat these guys, but they just weren't missing anything and we were losing nearly every extended rally as my modified strokes would break down about every 5th ball or so. Then my partner came up with a new game plan. We would focus on ending the points quick, be aggressive at the net, and don't get drawn into long rallies. Normally I would be all about aggressive net play but I had held off on that so far this game due to my condition. Physically I had held up pretty well. though, so I opted in. Look out net, here I come. We're back on the court now returning serve nd we're up 30-Love. Things are going very well. I feel good and am ready to go after it big time. My partner returns serve, and it comes back soft and in the middle of the court. This is just the kind of ball I love to capitalize on, so I make a break for it. It's in the perfect position for an easy put away. I head for this ball with extreme prejudice. As soon as my racquet made contact with the ball, I knew the point was over. I had launched the ball decisively back into the open court where no one could touch it. As soon as I made contact with the ball, however, I felt a completely unexpedted sensation: a bump and a crunch right behind my left hand side. The bump and crunch was followed immediately by a yell of pain and a thud as my partner, whom I had just collided with, fell bodily onto the court moaning in pain.

I just stood there looking at my partner lying on the ground moaning and wincing in extreme discomfort trying to figure out what had happened. Clearly we both went for the same ball but I barely even felt the crunch. It just didn't seem like this could have been the result. Our opponents hurried over to offer assistance as did the folks on the court next to us. After several minutes of wincing and cautious movements, we helped my partner up. He felt okay, but had a little soreness when he breathed.

“Not too bad, though, he said.

"Whew," I thought. "That was close. If it had been any worse, we might have had to forfeit."

That's when my partner said, "Yeah, it's not too bad but I'm definitely done for the night."

What? I was dumbfounded. He was done. He seemed fine with just a little soreness. Wow. So, the evening had, in fact, ended with a medical withdrawal and a forfeit after all - just not the way I had expected. Geesh. Sorry, John.

So that brings me to Clif's tip of the day on how to lose a great partner: Rather than communicating your intentions to poach, just go ahead and do it. Mow down your partner if you have to. Just commit to go after that ball and put it away! And that's just what I did. Now, in my defense, we did discuss being more aggressive and cutting the rallies short but what I failed to realize was that, for John, that meant coming in to net as hard and fast as possible at a trajectory that would perfectly intersect with the trajectory that I would take when poaching. Looking back on events, I really should have anticipated this problem.

You see, John had done the same kind of thing early in the match and several times throughout - coming straight in hard and fast. As a matter of fact, there were two other near collissions earlier in the match in the same type of situation. I just didn't pay attention to what he was doing at the time or why. Most folks I play with typically don't come in that fast, so they see me coming and just switch sides to be ready in case my putaway attempt fails. but John wasn't used to that style of play. I suspect that he's used to his partner just holding the line, sticking to their side of the net, and waiting for him to come in and apply steady even pressure all the way across.

So, who was right? Well, we both were, I think. We were both right for our own preferred style of play, but we were both wrong for our partner's preferred style of play. We should have both paid more attention to each other’s style of play earlier in the match and discussed in more detail exactly what it meant to us to "be more aggressive" and "end the points quickly". I just assumed that he and I were on the same page as did he. As it turns out, we certainly weren't and I lost a great partner.

What it all comes down to is communication. Communication, communication, communication. You just can't have too much of the stuff. I started the evening with a sore back and ended it with a sore partner. Man, oh man. What a day.

Comments (4) -

Leska Leska says:

Clif, Am I surprised?  NOPE!  I do believe we have had a few collisions as mixed doubles partners for 3 years, but it is because you are so stinkin' fast (not to mention your nickname)...  Luckily, I just got the Heisman from you bouncing right off of you, and after the shock wore off, I got back to the gameSmile.   John, give him another chance, he is an awesome partner... just keep your eyes wide open!

James King James King says:

You nailed one point (no pun intended) for sure, communication!! I practiced last night and found several times on both sides of the court that points were lost due to "lack of communication"; yours, mine, bounce it - all simple words that can help win points. I have had one particular doubles partner in which we both felt we knew what the other was going to do in most situations. But one thing we always did was communicate, even knowing what the other would do. We had a very high winning percentage and I feel it is the result of that communcation.  

Clif Render Clif Render says:

Thanks, Leska! You're an awesome partner, too, and a real gem of a friend. Also, I appreciate you not mentioning to John how you would at times either hit me back, throw a drink in my face, or call curses down on me in a dozen different and completely indecipherable languages after those particular collisions. I certainly wouldn't want to give him any ideas. Heh heh...

Clif Render Clif Render says:

James, you're exactly right and I do certainly know the doubles partner to which you're referring. You two are quite the formidable pair. I'm certain that you're right that a large part of it does have to do with your communication. And, interestingly enough, I think sometimes that communication can be unspoken - like with the Bryan brothers. Because they have communicated with each other so much in the past, much of the communication that new partners need is unnecessary for them. When one goes here, the other goes there, etc. It just becomes natural and intuitive. You two are a lot like that as well, moving in sync together. It's a beautiful thing to watch but a terrible thing to play against!

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