Playing With a Weaker Partner

We all have been paired at one time or another with a doubles partner who is either a level below the competition or having a

Emmo
bad day. What do you do?

If you are on the other side of the net in that situation, we all know what we do… we play every ball possible to the weaker/missing opponent. And we watch as the stronger player tries to over-compensate for his partner.

One problem for me is that my strength in doubles is my steady play and “setting up my partner” for the put-away shot. And if he is not putting it away – or downright missing – it just compounds the problem.

If it is just a social match, you accept the situation and just work on making your own shots. Don’t overplay the ball trying to put away winners that aren’t there; and don’t hog the court, crossing onto his side when you shouldn’t.

But if it is a match “that counts,” then maybe there are some things you could do to improve the situation.

In my opinion, the first is communicating with your partner. Be realistic and share the situation with him: “They are obviously playing more shots to you; so just picture there is a target on your shirt and be ready. You are better than they think; so do your best and we’ll get through this together.”

Then there is the match strategy: What can you do to minimize his exposure? Can you play more Australian when he is serving? Should you stand back on the baseline when he is returning serve? Poach more when he is serving?

Figure out what you can do, without overplaying, to take the pressure off your partner.

One year at John Newcombe’s Tennis Camp, my coach, Roy Emerson asked me if I wanted to move up on the last day of team matches and play with our #1 doubles player (against two guys who were 20 years younger than me).

I quickly agreed and went on the court knowing they were going to hit everything at me (as hard as they could). Well, with my being ready for everything, plus their overplaying shots to me (when they really should have gone to my stronger partner’s side of the court), allowed us to pull off the upset.

What else can you do as the stronger partner?

3 thoughts on “Playing With a Weaker Partner

  1. george. ive been in both positions (we all have). IMO, the most important thing
    when your in that position is to stay in your comfort zone. as soon as you try to
    do too much (overplay) to compensate, you usually play poorly.
    every time i play with a stronger player, it’s the first thing i always tell him. “stay in your comfort zone”,

  2. George, nothing further to comment on this situation than your own advice. But a different, but related, scenario that I would like to hear others’ opinions about is when you are the stronger player and your partner’s weaker play is hurting your normally good play. This happened to me recently in a weekly doubles league where I got paired with the one guy that I hate playing doubles with. He is a good guy, but he just makes all kinds of dumb mistakes in doubles. What’s worse, he is stubborn and no amount of talking to him is enough to get him to change his game. For example, he stands nearly in the alley when you are serving, and virtually never reaches for a volley even when the ball comes close to him (let alone poach), thus making it easy for the opponents to hit winner returns because, unless you serve an ace or a winner, they have about 4/5ths of the entire court to hit their returns. For another example, he refuses to come to the net on his own serve, preferring instead to just pound out cross court groundies from the baseline. For another example, when he gets a short ball, instead of hitting it to the obvious spot (that is, up the middle, or in the alleys or occasionally a lob over the opposing team’s heads if they are at the net) he normally tries to blast the ball right at one of the net men, which usually results in your getting hit in the head, face, shoulder or groin by one of the volleyers. In short, this guy has absolutely no concept of how to play doubles at all, yet we all have to play with him occasionally in the league. I confess that I am wits end with strategies to neutralize his bad play whenever I get stuck with him. I have tried everything that I can think of, such as talking to him, asking him to move away from the alley on my serve or come into the net — even occasionally — on his serve, suggesting that he lob more or hit it up the middle more, etc but he either does not want to listen or he is just not capable of playing differently than his game. So, what normally happens, and it did again recently, is I get so frustrated by balls coming out of my reach or right at my groin that I start missing things myself that I normally would put away easily. Short of not playing with this guy at all — which some othe guys in the league have told me they have considered — what would you or others suggest I do?

    Marty – If he won’t listen and won’t change, create “a scheduling conflict” and get a sub for yourself! george.

  3. Marty,

    You could work out a deal with your U.S. senator and have him deported to another country!

    Phil

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