Having played senior doubles tennis tournaments (45 & over) for many years here are some I have learned to improve your game:
Choosing the Correct Partner: Playing with a person you respect and get along with is extremely important. Some very good players wonder why they are not asked to play in senior events or even practice matches. The main reason is that they are difficult to play with and, in general, have a terrible disposition. One player, who will be nameless, has played with five different partners over the past seven months in different tournaments. When I asked one of the players he had played with why they didn’t continue to play with him, he replied: “Even though we won the tournament it wasn’t any fun playing with him. He was always complaining, shaking his head if I missed an easy shot, and never complimented me once during the match.” If you are guilty of any of the aforementioned, you would be wise to change your attitude and mind-set. Otherwise, you will have a very limited number of players to play with.
Physical and Mental Conditioning: It goes without saying that being in shape, both physically and mentally, is extremely important, especially if you are 45 or over. One of the biggest mistakes that players at all levels make is showing up to play their match two or three minutes before the match starts. Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! You and your partner should arrive at least 15 minutes before play commences. You should run in place, ride the life cycle, or do other exercises that will give you a slight sweat. You will then be able to warm up on the court before your match and should be confident that you are ready to play. When the match is over you should do some stretching to loosen up your muscles and tendons that are most likely tight from playing the match.
As for the mental part, you must have the right attitude when you are playing your doubles match. You should compliment your partner, make proper calls, and don’t get mad if you miss an easy shot.
Best Type of Game for Senior Doubles: To me, the team that is able to serve and volley and approach the net as a team, is the team that will be the most effective in Senior Doubles play. You are probably thinking, “That may be the best way to play. However, I am in my mid 50s. There is no way that I am going to be able to follow the serve continuously to the net at my age.” Not so! Peter Carr and Rich Abbott both are over 55. They won the recent Muny 55 & Over Doubles Championships by continuously rushing the net on both serves and on return of serve when the occasion called for it. They won all three matches that they played without losing a set and were rarely in any trouble throughout the match. Why were Carr and Abbott so effective? By coming to net on both their serves and return of serves they put constant pressure on their opponents and never let them get into any type of rhythm.
Types of Shots to Use in Senior Doubles: One would think that Abbott and Carr were so effective by blasting their opponents off the court with booming serves and crushing shots. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both Abbott and Carr used heavy spin when serving to ensure that their serves cleared the net with plenty of room to spare. This allowed them to reach the net and get into position to continually hit shots at the net that put their opponents in considerable trouble. On return of serves they would chip or slice their return at every opportunity to get to the net.
Carr and Abbott are both 4.5 Senior players. However, there are plenty of 3.5 and 4.0 senior players who could easily improve their game by playing more serve and volley. If you are not comfortable with this type of strategy you could serve, wait for the return, hit a ground stroke deep to our opponent’s court, and then rush the net.
Using the Lob: If you aren’t comfortable going to the net a lot you would be wise to follow the example of two of the greatest senior doubles players in Western New York history — Phil Celniker and Jon Nichols. When they played senior doubles they would drive their opponents who were net rushers crazy with pinpoint lobs that would land 2-3 feet from the baseline. They and their partners would defeat teams that were favored to win. Players at almost any level can develop a really good lob with practice.
Using the Overhead: It would be very difficult to play net if you didn’t have a good overhead. That is why Celniker and Nichols were so effective with their lobs. When I play senior doubles I carefully observe the types of shots that my opponents like to hit in practice. A high percentage of the players hit many ground strokes and even volleys. However, many players may hit only one or two overheads, and in some cases, not any. These are the players that you want to lob when they come to the net. There is an easy solution to a better lob: Practice and more practice.
Taking Lessons: It continues to amaze me how many tennis players feel that taking lessons will show other players that they are not very good and need help. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many players, not just seniors, take lessons to improve their games. If you are having trouble with an aspect of your doubles game, you would be wise to take a few lessons from one of the many excellent teaching pros in Western New York.