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The Doubles Did Me In—(or, ‘Oh Yeah, I Play Tennis, Too)

April 19, 2016
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(Over the years, on Tennis Talk, Anyone?—the “big brother” blog to this one—I’ve written occasional posts about my own playing. Recent events prompted me to write something along those lines here, too!)

It’s been a little over a week now, and I don’t know if I’ll ever recover.

Physically, mentally…any kind of “-ally” you can imagine.

Of course, I’m being a tad dramatic, but I am beat up—all from a couple of hours of doubles. This, however, wasn’t your casual, squeeze-everyone-on-the-court doubles, but rather a couple of hours of drilling that I couldn’t have been more ill-prepared for if I tried.

It started with my goal to play as much tennis as possible in 2016, which is how you have to think living in New York. Playing as much as you’d like is a near-impossibility with court availability and expenses all at a premium. It’s always been hard for me to get used to that, and I’ve lived up here almost 19 years now. I was lucky growing up because we lived in an apartment complex in Mobile, Alabama, that had a court for residents to use. Once I started taking lessons and falling in love with the game, it was nearly impossible to get me off it.

Over the years, I’ve tried to recreate that, but the best I could do is playing three times a week at my old haunt, Roosevelt Island Racquet Club, which happened to be the site of my most recent beatdown.

Anyway, back to my efforts to play more: I decided I was going to give USTA league tennis another go. I played in a mixed doubles league about 10 years ago, and in a men’s league three years past. I reached out to the local league coordinators and got put in touch with the captain of a team. I was invited out for a tryout and I thought I’d be OK. After all, how hard could it be? I’ve probably played more doubles over the years than singles—mainly due to the lack of courts thing—and acquitted myself all right out there.

Which, not to brag, should be expected. After all, I was a pretty highly ranked junior in Alabama in doubles and I do have a few titles under my belt. (Considering where I’m at in my game right now, though, my past accomplishments should actually be rendered null and void, along with that prior sentence.)

So I get out to the courts and there’s six of us out there. We start off with some mini tennis to warm up, then get into crunching volleys at each other from the service line. My volleys have never been my strong suit, but I’m doing OK for the first minute.

And then I wasn’t.

It’s easy for me to start catching the ball behind me and I got caught doing that more than a few times. After that, we get some feedback from one of the coaches out there and I’m already feeling a little gassed, just from the warmups.

That was bad because I didn’t know we’d be in a state of constant motion afterward.

I mean, the drills were endless: overheads, returns, swinging volleys, volleying low balls from mid-court, baseline duos against two at the net, covering the middle. Just nonstop.

It wasn’t only my lack of being in shape that did me in, but the various nuances you have to be up on in doubles, like sliding over to cover gaps if your partner is stretched out or disguising your serve when setting up out wide.

In fact, let’s talk about the serve.

We got into a serve-and-volley drill and by the time that started, my left Achilles tendon was killing me from all the moving forward, which is the key to success in dubs. Maybe I’m too hardheaded for my own good, but I refused to “tap out,” even though I probably should’ve because I’d been essentially useless out there for a while at that point. I remember sticking a couple of volleys and hitting a good forehand pass—not too much good to take away out of two hours.

When the bell rang, I was probably the happiest and saddest man alive: happy it was over and sad because my leg was killing me.

As expected, the next day, I got an email from the captain telling me I didn’t make the squad. I wasn’t bummed about that because I knew I wasn’t ready. (Maybe 20 years ago…)

However, I am bummed because of the injuries incurred. Injury is now plural because since I spent a couple of days limping, my right leg has taken a lot of strain and that Achilles hurts. Also, I’m supposed to run a 5K this weekend, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull it off.

And I really don’t know when I’ll be able to get on the court again. Cutting and running is a tough proposition any time, but with a couple of sore Achilles’…

I guess a positive from the league experience is that I learned a lot about where I am as a tennis player, which is that I’m nowhere near where I want to be. And league tennis might not be the best way for me to go right now with its heavy doubles emphasis. I have so much to do basics-wise, it’s ridiculous.

I’ll get there, though. At least that’s what I have to tell myself! And next year, if I’m in a doubles-drilling sitch, I (and my aching Achilles’) will be better prepared.

 

 

 

Doubles Players Beating the Bells & Whistles in Indian Wells

March 15, 2016

2016 BNP Paribas Open - Day 6

The men’s doubles draw at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., is always a tricky one. There, as doubles specialist Eric Butorac recently explained for Sports Illustrated, more singles players enter the event, often pushing out some of the players fighting week in and week out in doubles.

It does present an interesting opportunity for fans who might not be able to get to see Rafael Nadal (a two-time IW champ, by the way) ply his usual trade. And it does bring more people out to watch doubles as a whole. But for me personally, I’d prefer to see a more established pairing than a Richard Gasquet-Benoit Paire combo. (No offense to the Frenchmen.)

Anyway, it does seem like the cream is rising to the top as the tournament winds down. There are some players who primarily make their living in singles still afloat. But for the most part, teams like Bob and Mike Bryan, Australian Open champs Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, and Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut are proceeding quite nicely.

The hybrids, successful singles and doubles players like the dangerous Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock team and Feliciano Lopez, are doing well, too. As Butorac pointed out in his article, the conditions at Indian Wells suit all types of playing styles. But if the draw keeps progressing as it has, expect the baseline-bashing singles players to be left out when it comes to lifting the big hardware.

(Photo: Getty Images)

 

The Dream Season of Marcelo Melo

November 11, 2015

I like to think of myself as someone with deep ties to tennis—player, writer, observer, what have you—and I can’t recall a recent doubles run by someone not named Bryan like the one Marcelo Melo is on.

Excuse me: world No. 1 Marcelo Melo.

Thanks to four titles in a row—with three different partners, no less—the veteran has taken over the top spot in the doubles rankings for the first time. It’s been a solid career up to 2015 as he had long established himself as one of the game’s more consistent performers. Before this season, he had grabbed a few big titles here and there, won a tournament every year since ’07 and had managed to make a Slam final, back in 2013 with Ivan Dodig at Wimbledon.

But things have taken off for the Brazilian now. That career goal of every player—winning a Major—was realized at the French Open this year. And post-U.S. Open has been nothing short of phenomenal, with the last two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events of the year in the pocket—and two 500-level victories, too.

Throw in the 500 event he won earlier in the year and the Slam, and you’re looking at three 500s, two 1000s and a Major. That’s a Bob-and-Mike-type year—and even more impressive considering Melo is on the north side of 30.

Then again, doubles does lend itself to longevity. It seems at this point Melo is hitting his stride, setting himself up for even greater things to come.

(Photo: esports)

Great Things Ahead for Eric Butorac and Scott Lipsky?

September 21, 2015

Winston-Salem Open - Day 4

After a week off from regular Tour action for Davis Cup duties, the ATP is back in action with stops in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Metz, France. Both events have solid doubles draws, but consider this post a spotlight on one of the teams in Metz. (Hint: they’re referenced in the headline!)

Eric Butorac and Scott Lipsky will be teaming up for the fourth tournament in a row, carrying a 5-3 record. Of course, at first glace, that doesn’t sound like too much to write home about (or perhaps write a blog post about). However, that little stretch includes a run to the finals in Winston-Salem, N.C., and a third-round finish at the U.S. Open: both impressive efforts.

For Butorac, Winston-Salem was his first finals appearance of the year, a welcome result after a rough start to the season. I was surprised when he and Raven Klaasen didn’t follow up their career year in ’14 with a push to better upon it in 2015. Butorac’s partnership with Sam Groth never got off to a good start (personally, I thought their games were too similar). There were some ups-and-downs until teaming up with Lipsky, whose ’15 campaign was going steady, but not spectacular.

Butorac and Lipsky are both veterans with titles in the double digits, and have each won on multiple surfaces. The two have had success together in the past, teaming up to win Estoril way back in 2009. Over the past few years, they’ve consistently ranked among the top five American doubles players, which to me, brings up a fascinating point.

What if they made it to the Davis Cup team?

I don’t know if there has ever been two 30-plus debutants for any team, but suppose this situation comes about: In the first round next year, the Bryans decide for whatever reason to skip the tie and the U.S. is up against a tough squad where nothing can be left to chance in scrambling for rubbers, like Switzerland or Spain. Why not pick the next-best American pairing, which by that point, has gelled into a force: Butorac and Lipsky?

It’s all hypothetical, of course, but it is something to shoot for, and could make for a great capstone to a couple of noteworthy careers.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Power Playing in Washington

August 7, 2015

I’ll say one thing about the doubles draw at the ATP World Tour 500-level event in Washington this week:

It’s no joke.

For instance, legends Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan had to play Jamie Murray and John Peers: IN THE FIRST ROUND. The last little bit of that sentence deserved to be written in all caps because Murray and Peers only happened to make the finals at Wimbledon a couple of weeks ago. They found themselves on the outside of being seeded with four of the world’s top seven teams in the main draw.

Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea, who came together a few months into 2015 and have already had success, are up in the Bryans half of the draw. The lower half features veterans Marcin Matkowski and Nenad Zimonjic, as well as this year’s French winners Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo.

It’s worth noting that squads like Alexander Peya/Bruno Soares and Jack Sock/Vasek Pospisil were unable to even get out of the first round.

Whichever team does manage to be the last one standing in D.C. will have definitely put in work and could use the title to prepare themselves for a strong run over the hard-court season.

Hingis & Mirza Set to Do Damage in 2015

April 3, 2015

BNP Paribas Open - Day 13It’s been quite a start to a partnership for Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis.

The Indian/Swiss pair is in the semifinals of the Miami (Florida) Open right now, going for the Indian Wells-Miami double after triumphing in California their last—and first—time out.

In case that wasn’t clear, Indian Wells marked their first tournament together and you couldn’t ask for a better debut. They’ve kept the train rolling and could be looked at as big favors this time out, even though there are tough teams left in the draw.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise they’d find success so quickly together. Hingis is a Hall of Famer, with doubles credentials nearly as impressive as what she did in singles. And since giving up a singles career of her own, Mirza’s proven she’s one of the best in the business in team play.

Also, they complement each other perfectly. Mirza’s always been able to bring the heat with her shots and Hingis can make the ball dance on a string if she wanted to. She sees angles of the court like few before her, has sick hands and can hit all the spots and shots.

They’re fun to watch and can possibly go on to even bigger things this year, like grabbing a Slam or two. Whichever team is on the other side will be hard-pressed to stop them.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Teams Built for Success…or Not

January 25, 2015

Samuel+Groth+2015+Australian+Open+Day+6+1qpIjD37kQNl

Second-week play at the 2015 Australian Open is well under way, and something stands out to me looking at the men’s doubles draw:

None of the four biggest new teams will be taking part in the proceedings.

The four of which I speak are Eric Butorac/Sam Groth, Leander Paes/Raven Klaasen, Daniel Nestor/Rohan Bopanna and Nenad Zimonjic/Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.

Now, Paes and Klaasen started off the year as well as a team can, with a final and win in their first two appearances. And Bopanna and Nestor did win in Sydney. The other two haven’t been as fortunate. And if the whole point in sport is to challenge for the game’s biggest prizes, they’ve really gotten off to a poor start.

Of course, it’s early and once they all get into a rhythm, things should be decent. However, I do wonder about these particular combos:

• I think Groth’s late-blooming singles career is going to push doubles to the wayside, leaving Butorac, aka “the Prez” (he’s the ATP President, maybe that nickname will stick?) out in the cold. Plus, these two are big hitters: where’s the craftiness going to come from?

• Paes and Klaasen might have the opposite problem. Until he decides to stop playing, Paes is going to be among the top 5 when it comes to having the best hands. But who’s going to come up with the firepower when it’s needed?

• I think the Zimonjic/Qureshi and Nestor/Bopanna teams have an interesting set of problems. While it’s essentially a partner swap between the two, it’s hard to tap what the benefits will be. Zimonjic and Nestor picked up younger guys—but not really that younger where it’ll make a difference with fresh legs and enthusiasm.

All that being said, titles are sure to be won: these guys are too good for that not to happen. But will they be big ones? The fate of these pairings will be determined by that.

(Photo: Getty Images)