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 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?