During the past few years I have been on the tennis courts at least five times a week - either playing or teaching tennis. During this time I have been questioned about various unusual situations that occurred and how I would have handled them.
Situation Number One: A 3.5 player told me that there was one player in a doubles group who was at least 15 years older than anyone else in the group. Although he was a very good player he had one idiosyncrasy when he served that greatly upset the others. Because he was older he always insisted that when he served he always wanted to serve on the side in which he did not have to look into the sun or into the wind. Although he was a good player his serve was the weakest part of his game. However, he still insisted that he wanted to serve in the aforementioned manner at all times. I was asked how I would have handled the situation.
My response was that I had a similar experience a few years ago in the Ontario Open 35 & Over Men’s Doubles Championships. I was fortunate to have Jack Sunderland, one of Western New York’s all time great players as my partner. I was 37 and Jack was the oldest player in the tournament at 51. He insisted before we started the tournament that I was younger and stronger than he was. Therefore, he wanted to serve on the side throughout the match that he didn’t have to look into the sun. To make matters worse the final was scheduled at noon when the sun was really brutal. Even though I knew I would have a great amount of difficulty serving into the sun (which I did) I deferred to Sunderland and let him serve in the conditions that he was most comfortable with. Fortunately, we won the tournament and guess who was the best player on the court throughout the match? You would be correct if you said Sunderland.
I replied to the player who wanted my opinion as to how I would handle the situation where the older player wanted to serve in a situation that he was most comfortable for him. In deference to the older player I would let him serve in any manner that he felt most comfortable with. This would be especially true when you have upwards of 12 players who are rotating each week into 3 groups of friendly play.
Situation Number Two: The USTA Leagues try to be as strict as they can when it comes to enforcing rules. However, there is one situation in which I feel the USTA is wrong. Last summer, in a regional men’s match, the players on Team A had three good doubles teams and defeated their opponent handily, 3-0, in their first match. Their next match was against a really strong team that had an extremely tough first doubles team that was probably the best individual team in the entire tournament. Team A realized that none of its three doubles teams had a chance against their next opponent. They decided to move their No. 3 up to the No. 1 spot to serve as sacrificial lambs against this great team and moved their first and second teams down to the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. Team A won the match, 2-1, by positioning their teams in such a way that it was advantageous for them to win. Needless to say Team B was livid at Team A rearranging their lineup to give them the best chance to win. Team B appealed to the tournament committee to no avail.
I was asked what I thought about the doubles arrangement and totally agreed with Team B. In my opinion the USTA should make a policy that their teams must play in the order of their prowess and teams should not be shifted around to ensure that a probable loss will become a win. Unfortunately, this happens in USTA team play on frequent occasions. The USTA must and should enforce this rule that each team should play its players in the appropriate spots according to their level of proficiency.
Situation Number Three: In one of the divisions in the USTA Nationals, a Southern team had advanced to the finals. Its best player, who was also the team captain, did not play in the doubles final and it lost, 2-1. I had no doubt that if the captain had played the tean would have won the national title.
I asked him as the match was being played why he wasn’t playing. He replied that there were nine players on their team and he had guaranteed each player that they would play two matches throughout the four-day tournament. Since he had already played two matches he felt obligated to sit out and let a player who had played only one match and who was the poorest player on the team to play in the finals. As the match was being played he asked me how I would have handled the situation.
I told him that I would have held a team meeting before the finals and point out that this could be our only chance to win a national title and that we should play our best players. I would have approached the one player who would have been affected and told him of my plan. Even though he may have been upset I am sure that he would have been thrilled being on the team that won a national championship.
Situation Number Four: A 4.0 woman player who is a good friend of mine was disappointed that after two years of lessons in a group of six her two nieces, ages 10 and 12, had not shown much improvement. She asked me for a suggestion. My advice was for the sisters to take private or semi-private lessons in which the focus would only be on them and they would greatly benefit by the increased play of continually hitting many shots.
My friend decided to take my advice and recently told me that the kids are playing much better.