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January 2002 Article

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by Tony Severino
Certified Instructor 4A
Professional Tennis Registry

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Tony Severino

You just have to like my Aunt Hazel. What a gal! She loves this game of tennis more than anything.

Before, when we played mixed doubles together, it was like being in church on Sunday, or at the public library, where anything above a loud whisper caused a number of furrowed foreheads to turn in your direction.

"Aunt Hazel," I suggested, "the key word in doubles is Communicate. Tell your partner what is going on!" Aunt Hazel flashed that patronizing smile aunts give to their tennis instructor nephews. We went over a few ways to communicate in doubles. Now she’s like a school crossing guard at a busy intersection. What a gal!

So many doubles matches are played in what appears to be a reverent silence so I’m glad Aunt Hazel has taken the instruction to heart, albeit to the extreme.

When I suggested that alert words like "Yours!" "Mine!" were essential to good doubles, Aunt Hazel beamed her best beam at me. The great Indian doubles team, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, shorten that down to "You!" "Me!" When Aunt Hazel saw them play she picked that right up. "Yours""Mine" became "You" "Me" that quick. What a gal!

When we got into concepts like "Switch!" to exchange court coverages and "Stay!" to remain in your present coverage, she didn’t think that was too cool. Aunt Hazel never had big plans for coming over to my side of the court anyway.

She may have a point there. When you play with people often enough, you begin to anticipate their movements, so it is seldom that "switch" or "stay" is necessary, but it does make it a certainty. They are crucial on several bang-bang situations

Often simply "Go!" works well when a ball is close to you both and your partner has started to react. It prevents that too familiar clanging of racquets in the middle. Or even worse, you both pull off. PTR doubles guru Pete Collins says no ball should go down the middle untouched.

A furrowed brow replaced Aunt Hazel’s usual good student glow after I explained the "automatic switch" when your partner steps on or over the centerline. He or she has just awarded you their court. "Once you step on the line, keep going. It’s the only way your partner knows for sure where you are going," was how I put it. No matter, as I said before, Aunt Hazel had no big plans in that direction anyway. What a gal!

Another piece of advice we discussed was the "Bounce it!" call. Some use "Leave it!" That works. "If you aren’t one hundred percent sure a ball is going out, hit it!" I told her.

Often your partner can help you with the decision to "Bounce it" or not. She doesn’t like "Bounce it" at all! Aunt Hazel hits everything. She figures she can stay home and holler "Out!"

Signals are seldom, if ever, used in recreational tennis for many reasons, but we did discuss some of the systems some pro teams use. Mostly they huddle and plan their attack, which is easier anyway.

Some strategies you have to talk over ahead of time. One is your lob strategy. We discussed one simple lob strategy. "I'll cover my side back to the service line. Beyond that I’ll call it, and we'll switch!" Aunt Hazel further simplified that approach: "Anything over my head, you get!"

What a gal!

It is important to remember these are not commands. They are informational words that can and should be countered by your partner.

At lunch I asked Aunt Hazel what she learned from these tutorials. She snapped back loud and clear: Communicate!

What a gal!

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