Unhappy Partner

Should you “advise” your doubles partner that a ball coming their way may be in or out?  And should they always listen to your “advice”?  That question comes to us from an Australian reader…

Hi George

In an inter-club match – at a club and team I am new to — I was playing at #4 in a 4-man team in the final match of the day.  I was playing with our captain and the #1 player in our team.

As a ball came towards me on the baseline, he called “Out”.  The ball was hit hard with heavy topspin and was dipping fast, and I decided to play it.  My partner immediately started to complain about what I’d done, even though the point was still going.  He more or less stopped playing, but I fought out the point and won it.

I think he was probably right, that the ball would have gone out.  However, my view is that, if the ball is coming to me then it’s my responsibility to decide whether to hit it or not, irrespective of what he calls.  But even if that view is wrong, I think he was completely wrong in making an issue of it while we were still playing.

After that, we didn’t speak for the rest of the match, and it took a lot of effort on my part to retain my normal determined approach to playing.  It had happened before; and this time I told him to “get on with the game”.

I’d be very interested in your take on what took place, and how you think you and the friends you play with would have handled it.  I feel better for having written it all down, and I still think I was more in the right than wrong.

Best regards from down under,

Chris, Perth, Australia

My Opinion…

Chris, I think your partner did three things wrong…

  • He yelled “Out,” which signals to your opponents that the point is over. Rather, he should have yelled something like “NO!”
  • Second, he talked during the point after that, which could have been called a Hindrance by your opponents.
  • And, he childishly held a grudge, not talking to you.

All that being said, I DO believe it is your partner’s responsibility to “advise” you on whether a ball on your side is going to stay in or go out.  And yes, it is up to you to make that quick and final decision to listen to him or not.

I believe that it is a doubles partner role to communicate during a point on many occasions….

  • Noooooooooooo! (don’t hit it)
  • Bounce it! (watch the ball, it may go out)
  • Watch the spin!
  • Up! (your opponent’s shot is going to be very short)
  • Close! (tight to the net)
  • Mine! (I am going to take it — your partner can still override that)
  • And, (the ever-popular, as the lob is sailing over your head) Yours!!!!

Any other comments or similar situations?

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8 thoughts on “Unhappy Partner

  1. Any help you can give a partner should be accepted and like you say he has a split second to determine whether to let it drop or hit it. Never give up on the point and never ever look down on your partner even when he at his worse. Your job is to always pick your partner up when he is having trouble. When both are playing well it is relatively easy or of course much more fun. But the good teams change the momentum by picking up the partner.

    Phil, my #1 factor in choosing a partner is “supportive” vs “judgemental”. thanks, george

  2. Chris, I will only say one thing. You did nothing wrong and your partner is a complete fool. You had an instant to react to a ball that just as easily could have been in as it could have been out. What if you had backed off the ball after his shout, and not hit it, and it turned out the ball was really in or good? Would your partner have then scolded you for having listened to him? While he was right to signal to you that the ball could have been out, ultimately it was your choice whether to play the ball or not, not his. You did what you thought was best, and you won the point to boot. Bravo! This guy owes you an apology for his churlish and juvenile behavior, and I would think twice about playing with him again.

    Marty, good (and succinct!), thanks, george

  3. You said you think your partner was probably right – that the ball would have gone out anyway. But, you made a judgement call to ignore your partner and play the ball, and happily you guys won the point anyway. I would have immediately turned to my partner and apologized saying something like “Sorry mate, you may have been right but it looked like it might be going in and I just had to play it.” (I’m sure you would have said it more colorfully than that, but “mate” is the only Australian word I know.) Instead he ranted and pouted, and you told him to “Get on with the game” and you guys didn’t talk any more after that. At least he didn’t call any more balls OUT for you.

    I think the “tennis actions” you took were perfectly fine. I think the “people actions” you took could MAYBE be improved to have preserved your partners feelings – but maybe he would have flown off the handle anyway and nothing you could have done would have prevented that. Sometimes apologizing when you don’t really have to can go a long way to smoothing over rough spots. I know, because I’m married.

    Terry, good words of advice! thanks, george

  4. i always tell my partner “bounce” if i think a ball is possibly going out. and, then
    i always tell them, when i say that, it’s just my “opinion”.
    the decision is his, not mine.

  5. As one who sometimes goes for balls that are going out, I usually start a doubles match by asking my partner to say “bounce” (not “out”) if he thinks a ball may be going long. But I then let him know that I may hit it anyway because my neurons are so old and slow, so he should be prepared in case I do. As for the story in question, your partner was acting like a jerk. Maybe he was just having a bad day (don’t we all on occasion?), but if he persists in being a jerk the solution is to find or ask for a different partner next time. Life is too short to put up with needless crap.

    Joe, I Agree! thanks, george

  6. I had a situation a few weeks ago when my partner and i were playing 4.0 USTA we were 3-0 up in the first set as we changed round my partner said you hit a couple of balls that were going out ! I was at the service line not baseline I thought Hmmn is it not your job to say let it go ! I found it very negative to bring it up when we where 3 love up !

    Gail, better for her to say, “We are doing great… keep going.” thanks, george

  7. The worst thing a partner could ever do is to express anger to his partner. It automatically creates a situation of lack of comfort which almost always will remain for the entire match. It literally guarantees the partner will play below their potential especially with the fear of further criticism. I can’t think of any possible way to lower the play of both of them. I know when it has happened to me I immediately shut down emotionally and also stop enjoying the match. On the other hand when I play with people who are always supporting my play, it really increases my playing well.

    Dave, yes, it is either a lose-lose or win-win situation. thanks, george

  8. I have written about this before, but it illustrates how important it is to have a supportive partner in doubles and not someone who will pull you down. This is a true story and it happened at Tennis Fantasies about 20 years ago. I had been playing third doubles for our team (the Dunnies) when one of our first doubles players popped his Achilles tendon in the morning singles on the last day (Thursday) of the competition. Our team was tied with the opposing team that day so the winner of the matches that day would win it all. A half hour before the afternoon doubles session began, my captain (Fred Stolle) came to tell me that I would be moving up to first doubles that day, to play with Marty Wolf as my partner.

    Marty was one of the all time great tennis players from Cincinnati, a standout tennis and basketball athlete at Xavier, a national singles champ in the men’s 35’s, etc. His NTRP level at the time would have been somewhere between 5.5 and 6.0. By contrast, I was probably a weak 4.5 or a strong 4.0. Marty so outclassed me in tennis skill and pedigree it was ridiculous. Our opponents consisted of a former NFL professional football running back who was then a tennis teaching pro (NTRP somewhere between 4.5 and 5.0) and another teaching pro from Texas who had been, I believe, the state men’s open champ (NTRP at least 5.0). I was in way over my head, and that was reflected by Fred Stolle’s advice before the match which was along the lines of, “Just play your best and try not to get hurt,” or words to that effect. Not exactly strong words of confidence.

    Anyway, long story short, I got picked on mercilessly in the first set and flubbed a lot of balls that were coming at me a lot faster and harder than I was used to. I think we lost that set around 6-2. But Marty Wolf never gave up on me. He kept pumping me up with words of encouragement and advice. He never once chided me for making a stupid error. He never picked on me. He just accepted that I was not as good as anyone else on the court and it was his job to help me elevate my game. He was completely positive and gave me the impression that he personally thought I belonged on the court. (Whether he really believed that or not, I will never know. But that is how he acted.) Slowly but surely, all of Marty’s cheerleading and encouragement made me think I could do it, and I started making shots that I had never made in my life. We wound up winning the second set somewhere around 6-4 or 7-5, as I recall. I don’t really remember if we played a 10 pointer or a full set for the third back then, but I vaguely remember it was a full set. What I do remember is that we wound up winning the third set pretty easily, when our opponents started to collapse after they realized they could not get any more easy balls from me. Of course, Marty made all of the winning points, but his encouragement just helped me to keep the ball in play instead of making errors and that allowed Marty the opportunity to shine.

    In my entire life, I have probably never played a match as well as I played that one, either before or since. And it was ALL because I had a partner who believed in me and accepted my inferior ability but just kept pumping me up with positive energy. I learned a valuable lesson that day, which is that a doubles team is only as strong as the weaker player, but any player can do better if he/she gets the right amount of positive encouragement and is not laughed at, hollered at, or belittled by his/her partner.

    Marty, great story! Thanks. George

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