Chemistry and communication – there’s something to it.

I was never very good at mathematics or science at school but on the court it all made a lot more sense. One thing in particular I never had to study for was chemistry; on court chemistry that is (I was done for in the classroom). Put me with anyone and I’d like to think we could strike up some kind of relationship that worked for us and got us communicating on the court.

It was my job with my first doubles partner in college to keep her laughing and smiling. If that smile disappeared even for a second you could see the tension in her serve and the stiffness in her touch game. We hardly ever talked about tennis in between points. With my second partner it was all about keeping her happy. Where do you want to serve? You got it. You want to poach off my return? Go for it. When my last doubles partner and I won the NCAA’s we had developed a great set up; I hit big, she finished and we talked and hi-fived in between every point.

Chemistry and within that communication are all that matters when playing doubles. You could have the best singles players in the world on court together who dislike each other and, yes, they’d be good but put them up against a pair that have developed a partnership with each other and I’d bet on the pair every time. It’s not just about figuring out who should take the middle (though that is of extreme importance).  It’s about feeling comfortable on court with each other; if you make an unforced error is your partner supportive? (No worries, partner. You’ve got that next time.)  If your partner hits a terrible lob while you’re at net do you trust her to call you back immediately or do you have to see the ball coming at your nose for you to realize you need to duck and run? If you serve your first serve into the net does you partner move it out of the way for you? If you need another ball does your partner run off to find one for you? In other words does your partner have your back and you theirs? Do you continually communicate that with your partner?

If your partner isn’t playing that well it’s your job to get them going again, whether that means you have to poach more, make more jokes, leave them be, pep them up……you are partners so if you lose you lose together, if you win you win together.  There’s nothing that annoys me more than when someone says they lost their doubles match but it was because their partner played terribly. That may well have been the case but it also means you didn’t do a very good job of helping them out.

Everyone knows that they should communicate on a doubles court. After all you have to know who is going to serve first, whether they like to serve and volley etc. but no one really talks about the deeper communication of making your partner feel comfortable.  There’s enough to think about when playing tennis without having to wonder whether your partner is mad at you or whether they want you to be up at net instead of back on the baseline.

There are so many different personalities out there, especially in tennis, that it is not always easy finding common ground to bond as doubles partners but if you are trying the verbal communication should be a breeze and the deeper communication between you both should be well on its way.

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