Doubles Partner Loyalty?

with Dr. Noble Hendrix, my doubles partner and medical advisor

You are working on your tennis game and trying to get better; and then a chance to team up with “one of the better players” comes up.  Do you take the opportunity or stick with your regular partner?

Two Sides to the Coin

Whether it is just for a match, a USTA league pairing or tournament play, obviously, there are arguments on both sides of this issue…

On the one side is the friendship and comfort level you have built up playing with someone who is probably a friend.  Their feelings and other opportunities need to be taken into consideration.

Then on the other side, there is the chance to try to improve your own game by playing with someone better than yourself.

Consider Skills Pairings

Other than pure people considerations, there can be other factors involved such as how you match up with your current or potentially new partner.

  • Are you a righty and is your new partner a lefty, which can give you a real tactical advantage?
  • Are you a steady player and your new partner an aggressive attacking player?
  • Are you slowing down and your new partner can be “the designated runner”?

I had this situation about three years ago when my hip was failing and ultimately replaced.  My mobility was significantly impaired and needed a tournament partner who could cover two thirds of the court.  And thus my pairing with speedy Noble Hendrix.

A little earlier in the calendar, I also had the opportunity to play a couple of tournaments with former touring pro (and one of the great guys in the senior circuit) Hank Irvine.  I jumped at the chance!

Communications Considerations

When you are making a switch, you should really be clear with your old partner.  I have not always done a good job on this and it created some unnecessary friction.

And now, with my slow recovery, it is good there are not a lot of tournaments for a partner to have to make a choice about me!

How about YOU … stick with the friend or take a new opportunity?

Heart Update

While I had hoped to be swinging a racquet two months after the triple bypasses, it does not look like that will be happening.  My heart functions are excellent and the lung fluid problem is minimal at this point.  But the other problems – primarily extending from my insomnia – of loss of appetite, weight, and conditioning are still taking their tolls.

But, I am forcing down protein every day and my weight has crept back up from a low of 133.8 to 138.2 in the last week or so.  And I have restarted my own stretching/yoga and upper body exercises, along with my walking campaign.

The progress is very slow; but if I can see something every day, that motivates me along.  Thanks to all those who follow, care, and share encouragement.

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11 thoughts on “Doubles Partner Loyalty?

  1. Hi George. Keep up the fighting spirit. I hope to make it down to Florida next January and play the Naples tournaments after what what most of us consider a lost year. I have been playing with the same partner (Don McGoldrick) for about ten years. When we are in Naples, we enjoy an 8 o’clock practice session almost every morning where we have the chance to push each other to hopefully improve. One of our highlights last year (before Covid) was our tiebreak match with you and Noble. This week, after both shots, I am playing my first doubles match in over a year. The silver lining is that my singles game is as good as I can remember. Anyway, I am looking to play against you and Noble next January. Godspeed on your recovery.

    Bob, yes, i remember that match well… and am looking forward to a January 2022 rematch! thanks, george

  2. If you want a different result (better tournament results), you have to change something.
    At one point in my 95 year old friend Jim Mackey’s national competition, he had nine silver balls and no gold balls. His regular partner emphasized singles and was a good doubles player but not a top one compared to the finals opponents. Legendary Fred Kovaleski asked Jim to play doubles with him in 75 grass and clay one year. Jim asked me what he should do. I quickly answered “tell your regular partner you are playing with Fred (who was on the other side of the net on many of those nine silver balls).” He did, won two gold balls (of his eventual 13) but had a permanently damaged relationship with his former partner. Was my advice wrong? I once had a regular partner tell me he was playing with someone else who was better than me in the next big tournament. I sincerely told him, ” good luck, I would have played with him instead of you also!”. No coincidence that the best partner I ever competed with (Mike Barnes) brought me my best result in a national tournament. Take your opportunities!

  3. George, we all are sticking with YOU!…..hang in there. Scoot ( and re previous comment, Mike Barnes is a great player and a great guy!)

  4. George,
    Hang in there!
    Your terrific attitude and courage with all you’ve been through is impressive and will pay off, I’m sure.
    Will you be at Newk’s?
    Several of us former attendees are considering going back.
    Would be great to see you, Joel, the Legends, and a lot of old friends again.

    Phil, my plan is to be there with my younger son celebrating his 50th bday!! george

  5. Yes, play with anyone that’s good but do your best to be loyal. The tournament just completed was interesting in that I played with 10 different partners. Each match was first to 4 games, no ad, and 9 point breaker at 3 games all. I think 2 of my matches had match pt for both teams on last point. Les Buck and I tied for 1 st and each had only one loss of 4-1 I think with houseman who was not moving well but with whom I’d won a gold ball years ago. It was called the Vaccination Invitational at Ranch Sante Fe near San Diego. Great to have 16 top players together again. Parker, robinson, Corley, Stewart, Krinsky, were among the players.

    Fred, wow, a great group and a challenging format. thanks, george

  6. Your younger son’s 50th birthday? I remember your 50th birthday celebration with ping pong and all. Does that mean we are getting old???

    Ron, “getting old”? i think we have already accomplished that objective. george

  7. First, wishing you well on the health front, George. I know you’re taking every step possible and you’ll in time be back on the courts, positive and thoughtful as always.

    Second, this is a great topic. As I see it, has much to do with communication, connection and agreements with partners. We’ve all seen examples of people who do this at the last minute in a rather craven, opportunistic way. Not good. But in the big picture, best to view doubles as fluid. Play with all sorts of people. And I also think anyone who always seeks a better player as a partner should in turn ask a theoretically worse person to be his partner. It’s important in doubles to play many roles, ad court, deuce court, etc.

    One pet peeve: People who always have a significantly better player for a partner. To me, this reveals a certain character deficiency. I’ve also noticed that some of these people then compete rather poorly with their peers.

    Joel, thanks. and yes, i know someone who always ends up with the strongest player as his partner (but still blames him if they lose!). george

  8. Your dedication and perseverance are unparalleled George and I know that you will make it back. Give me a call when you’re ready to hit even if it’s just for 30 minutes.

    Bill, thanks. george

  9. George, Keep up the fight. Sorry it’s taking longer than it should.

    I’ve played doubles for a few years with Pete O’Brien. Pete is one of the all time good guys, and a good player. If Pete came to me, even if we had already signed up to play in a tournament, and told me that Fred Drilling had asked him to play doubles, I would say, “Pete, you’ve got to do it. Playing with Fred is a wonderful opportunity. By all means, play with Fred, asshole.”

    BJ, 🙂 george

  10. I say stick with the partner that you feel the most comfortable with and get along the best with, regardless of the score. Often times that is the person that, over time, we play best with anyway.

    Years ago, I had a doubles partner with whom everything just seemed to click. I mean this both personality wise and on the tennis court. We got along great, were really close friends, and whatever one of us did on the court seemed to always match what the other one was doing.

    His yin always met my yan, so to speak, and aside from being good friends I have never played so well with a partner than this fellow. (His name was Rick M., but I won’t use his last name for reasons below.) Over the course of a few seasons, we cruised through several summer 4.5 level doubles leagues without dropping a set against about 10 other teams per season, often against players much stronger on paper than either of us were. We won several USTA sanctioned tournaments in the men’s 35s in our area. We held our own losing in 3 close sets to two of the top local teaching pros in a charity event. We regularly trounced on lots of other doubles teams over that several year period in USTA leagues (I think they were called Volvo leagues back then) and fun play. In short, we each thought that we had found the ideal partner and would be playing tennis with each other for 30, 40 years to come.

    But Rick had Crohn’s disease. And it kept getting worse. We actually missed a doubles final and should have been defaulted because Rick couldn’t even leave his house and drive. But our opponents were nice guys and asked the tournament director to reschedule the match, which he did, and Rick and I paid them back by winning a few days later.

    Eventually, Rick’s disease got really bad and he had to be hospitalized a few times. He gave up playing tennis and wound up moving away. We staying in contact for a few years but I think he was suffering psychologically and I guess he just needed to break from his past. The last time I talked to him was sometime in the late 1980s. He wouldn’t return my calls after that. It was tragic in many ways.

    I won’t say that Rick was the strongest player I was ever paired with. I do remember a Tennis Fantasies match back in the 1990s when I was a Dunny and Fred Stolle paired me with Marty Wolf, who was then ranked #1 USTA and #1 ITF in men’s 35’s (singles), against a teaching pro who was the #1 men’s open amateur in Texas a former NFL running back/ now tennis teaching pro who was, literally, the fastest person I have ever seen on a tennis court. Despite my being clearly the weakest link on the court we actually won. I also have played off and on many times with a friend of mine who is originally from Florida and who played high school tennis with guys like Larry Gottfried, Robert Seguso, and Van Winitsky, among others.

    But, to be honest, while pairing with clearly superior partners like these has been fun, I would trade anything to be able to walk on the court again with my old friend Rick, hoping that he is still with us which I am not sure he is.

    Tennis is not all about winning.

  11. Wonderful to read your continuing interesting commentary about many aspects of tennis! And, I admire your dedication to working out and seeing slow but steady improvement – bravo! Hope you continue to make steady improvement!

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