Having a Superior Doubles Partner

With Ted Underwood and Hank Irvine
With Ted Underwood and Hank Irvine
Last year, we talked about how to play doubles with a lower ranked partner; but what do you do when YOU are that player?

For the next two Florida Super Senior Grand Prix tournaments in Sarasota, I will be honored to be teamed up with former touring pro Hank Irvine. Nothing against my previous partners, but they didn’t make it to the third round of Wimbledon in 1971.

What To Expect?

I know enough about him to know that Hank will be a very supportive an easy partner to be on the court with; but human nature will surely have some impact.

Once at Newk’s annual camp, Roy Emerson called me over on the last day of competition to discuss the doubles pairings for the final match. He pointed out that I was undefeated playing at #3 doubles; but did I want to risk that record and have him move me up to play with The Big Boys at #1?

Target On My Chest

“Sure!” I told him; so we took the court with three younger 5.0 players and me… with a big target on my chest. I fully expected our opponents to play every shot they could to me and avoid my better partner (for camp followers, it was lefty Jimmy Miller).

I was ready each point; but the trouble (for them) was that they OVER-PLAYED balls to me that should have gone to my partner. End of story: I held my own and we won.

Play Your Game

The lesson for me is that you are who you are and just play your game as best you can. You should neither try too hard nor defer too much; and your superior partner has been in this position enough times to know not to overplay themselves.

Have you been in this position and how did it work out?

#1 Seeds

The seeds are now out for the next tournament in Payne Park, Sarasota next week and (based on Hank’s record) we are seeded #1 in the 70s doubles; so we will see if I can put the philosophy above to the test.

For the full list of seeds, just click HERE.

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2 thoughts on “Having a Superior Doubles Partner

  1. There are many benefits to being the Lower ranked Player in a doubles team . You know that the majority of Balls will be coming to you and you can be ready for this to happen . Also the stronger player will Hit a great shot resulting in an easy put away for the lower ranked player making him look better than he really is .
    Also the stronger player is often more experienced at winning and can give valuable advice to the lower ranked player .

    Clive, Fred D. surely qualifies as a “higher ranked player” with most of the rest of us! thanks, george

  2. George, I have been in the position that you describe. Going back around 16 to 18 years or so years at Tennis Fantasies, Fred Stolle (my coach that year) asked me to replace another player at #1 doubles who had popped his Achilles in the morning singles match and could not play the afternoon doubles match. I had been playing #3 (or maybe #4) doubles that year, but Fred did not want to break up our #2 team, which were two buddies from France who had been an established doubles team for many years earlier. The afternoon doubles matches were to decide the overall team winner for the week. It was Thursday afternoon.

    Fred told me that he had confidence I could play “up” and hold my own, but I was not so sure about that going into the match. I was in my late 40’s, in pretty good shape, with a decent game, but I had never been rated higher than 4.5 and I was probably playing more like a 4.0 at that point in time. I was paired with Marty Wolf from Cincinnati, who was at the time #1 in both the US and the world in Mens’ 35 years and older, as I recall. Marty was at least a 5.5 level player, maybe 6.0. Our opponents were “Downtown” Anthony Brown, a former professional football player (he had been a running back for the NY Jets), whose second career was as a tennis teaching professional in New York, and who kept telling me he was “only” a 4.5 level player, but he seemed like a strong 5.0 to me. Fred also told me his forehand reminded him of Agassi’s and, for sure, it did. Oh, and he was also, bar none, the fastest player that I have ever encountered on the tennis court — anywhere. The other opponent was a fellow whose name I do not recall, but he was a very strong teaching pro in Texas who, several people told me, was #1 in that State in Mens’ 35 and older. He was a 5.0+, maybe 5.5. There was no question that I was the weakest link on the court.

    All through the first set — which I recall us losing something like 6-2 — the opposing team pummeled me with one great shot after another. I got overheads, and volleys, and topspin lobs, and powerful groundstrokes hit right at me, or at my feet, or right by me, or over my head, one after another. I missed a lot of balls and, frankly, was feeling overwhelmed on the court. But my partner, Marty, stood with me and kept giving me words of encouragement: “You can do it. Stay in there. Nice shot. There, now you’re moving your feet. Keep at it.” Etc. Marty also came up with plays to run and we talked strategy, court positioning, who was going to cover what in the next point, what the opposing team was likely to do, constantly through the match. Marty, of course, was just super. He got to 2/3ds of everything, and when he got close to the ball he nearly always made a great play, if not a put away.

    Marty was such a positive force that I actually began to see myself belonging on the court with the other players. I truly was like a dream. And as the second set went on, I started to make less and less errors. At the same time, I also started to make some winners of my own. I was literally learning by observing and trying to repeat the high level of play of the other guys, and although they were all still significantly better than me, I was managing to hold my own with them. We wound up winning the second set, I think 6-4 if my memory serves me.

    The third set is kind of a blur. In fact, it is so much of a blur that I don’t recall whether we played an actual set (in the early days of Tennis Fantasies we played them out) or it was a 10 point supertiebreaker. I also don’t remember the score, except that it was similar to the second set. No matter, because what I do remember is that we won it. I also remember that I actually hit the put away shot on match point (although Marty set me up).

    To this day I still regard that one match as the pinnacle of my tennis career. I never played harder and better, overall, than that one match. And I have never repeated it, to be sure. But I will never forget what Marty Wolf did for me during that match, which was not to scold me, or get down on me, or criticize me, for my bad play and stupid mistakes. Instead, he maintained a positive outlook throughout the whole match. He kept telling me “We are going to win this thing” throughout the entire match, and he wound up convincing me that we could and would. I have always tried to emulate that whenever I have been the stronger player paired up with a weaker person as my partner.

    Marty, great story. i just came from my first practice match with Hank Irvine as my partner, and he was the same way. He said, “It is the job of the partner to make his partner look good.” thanks, george.

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