| By Jeffrey A. Greene
Credit: Goodshoot

One of my very astute tennis buddies once said about me that I love everything about being in tennis tournaments except for playing the matches. Maybe ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES is finally getting me over that last hurdle, learning to enjoy the competition without being overwhelmed and waylaid by all of the other stuff that accompanies it. As a matter of fact, four of my last six tournaments have been ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES events, so I guess that based on my recent track record, I’ve become a ONE-ON-ONE specialist. This wasn’t by design. I enjoy the individual hard-fought battle of an evenly-matched and fairly-contested singles match, and I’ve always loved playing high-quality, fast-paced, spectacular shot-making doubles, but quite possibly, ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES is where I’ve finally found my niche in the modern era of tennis.

Besides being far more challenging than it looks, both tactically along with the necessary and precise execution of shots required, ONE-ON-ONE clearly exposes shortcomings in your game quite emphatically. With a weak second serve … lots of luck on your first volley! A weak inconsistent return of serve won’t enable you to break anyone. Finally, if you can’t angle off volleys or put away overheads with confidence and conviction, you’re in for a cold hard reality check.

The matches are short, with a pre-requisite of coming out of the blocks strong, as a high degree of intensity is an absolute necessity, and if you think that covering half a court is a piece of cake, I beg to differ. If you have strong doubles skills, it bodes well for you figuring out ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES, but it’s not a definitive correlation or a given that you’ll be all over this game instantaneously. If you can serve and volley reasonably effectively, put a lot of returns in play, maybe even “chip ‘n’ charge” occasionally, find a way to make the net player handle a lot of volleys, and work the ball short and low as well as high and deep, I think that you’ll eventually become halfway decent at ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to be big, fast and strong with quick hands and an non-returnable serve, superb conditioning to compliment mental tenacity along with a match-hardened background attained from years of competitive tennis.

But why am I playing ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES more and more ... that is the question? After having played USTA-sanctioned tournament tennis since 1969, how has it come to where I am now playing and enjoying these unique tournaments in this one-night three to four hour shootout format more than any of my other recent competitive events? Competing is competing, right, so it’s all the same thing, or so you may think so. But somehow, it’s not quite the same thing, even if the quality of the competition is still quite impressive and the matches are being played at a very high level by very strong players with the added incentive of prize money. But something is palpably different. Not necessarily my results, because they’re about the same … you win some, you lose some. Even after a very good win over a very fine player in my last ONE-ON-ONE tournament, I sense something else is at work here at these events. I don’t get as happy over the wins, but I don’t get as upset over the losses. The whole thing is over before you know it. I’m certainly trying, I’m competing, I’m playing ball, but I just don’t seem to get as tense, regardless of what happens out there. I’m telling you, it’s high-level match play with strong and experienced players, prize money, egos and bragging rights, but somehow it just feels different. I’m sure that the music helps a lot, and with two matches often taking place simultaneously on the same court, it requires a little cooperation and sharing of the same space with others who you’re not even playing against. It’s these aspects, plus a combination of many other factors, that makes the whole atmosphere surrounding ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES events feel significantly different.

It appears that at this juncture, for all intents and purposes, ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES tournaments have temporarily replaced my competitive efforts in singles or doubles. I wouldn’t necessarily say it has eliminated my interest or desire to play either one, or mixed-doubles, if you want to define that as a separate category. I’m satisfied to work out drilling and hitting balls for a couple of hours without playing games or a practice set, and I’m more than content to hit against a wall or a backboard for an hour or so if my stamina and concentration will allow me, and I’ll even on occasion hit a couple of baskets of serves too.

However, in the sport of tennis, one must eventually test their mettle in the true litmus test of where your game stands at this point in time … a tournament setting. Some people would argue this point, but little will be debated as far as to the fact that entering and playing in a tournament is basically putting it on the line in a legitimate, organized competitive format. Whether that is singles at the professional level, doubles at the club level, or ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES at my level, it’s still a match where you keep score with someone eventually winning and someone unfortunately losing. Whether tournaments are the ultimate crucible to determine who you are as a player may be a bit harsh, but usually, this is where you make your bones as a player. In these rough, unchartered shark-infested waters of tournament tennis, invariably you define yourself as a match-hardened competitor even though in fact, we are all still works in progress.

Having played USTA tournaments from the tender age of 13 until the not so tender age of 54, it’s possible that I’ve played somewhere between 500-750 matches, give or take a few, over the course of my journeyman-like career. Even with a seven-year hiatus away from sanctioned tournaments in my mid 20s, I suppose that I have fallen into the inevitable trap of defining myself by my tournament results (if not necessarily by my rankings). Playing high school and college tennis along with having represented my hometown, New Rochelle, N.Y. in the pre-USTA/NTRP days, I’d learn from my losses like everyone else and went for years before becoming a player who played over 0.500 tennis in sanctioned tournaments or had a sectional ranking.

Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.” And even though it was said about football, it more than likely has just as strong implications when it comes to tennis. Your record is a compilation of your match results, the sum total of which contribute to your growth and development as a player. But just as when they do longitudinal studies in psychology, tracking people’s lives over the course of their lifetime, maybe ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES is the necessary stage of my own evolution as a player at this juncture of my growth and development, hard as that is to believe.

As many matches as I might’ve played and as many world-class players who I might’ve come up against over my lengthy tournament history, I probably never quite came to grips with some of my shortcomings on the court. I suppose that I shouldn’t feel so bad about this since tennis is so demanding and unforgiving on so many levels if one is serious about attempting to become a player, I’m sure that I’m in good company. Nevertheless, if one is to grow as a player, you need to come to grips with some of these weaknesses that you exhibit in the heat of battle if you want to improve, unless, of course, you are delusional, which is another common malady amongst tennis players. While you may never actually totally conquer your demons on the tennis court, you must eventually confront them.

In the case of ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES, from a shot-production perspective, the game really exposes glaring flaws in one’s mid-court game (quick volleys, low volleys, half-volleys, etc.). However, due to the nature of the quick points, short matches, multiple matches and the party-like aura surrounding the event, I just don’t seem to get as nervous when I play. You still need to play hard and possess the specific skills necessary to be effective in this unique game which are relatively sophisticated, so even good players may struggle initially with ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES. But for me at this stage, it’s a wonderful thing that I still can go out there in this setting and be relatively cool and calm, yet still remain competitive and combative as ever. It’s an unusual tennis environment that allows you to blend these disparate elements together into a functioning formula, at least as far as I’m concerned.

I haven’t abandoned singles matches entirely, and I’d play doubles in a nice, fun-filled game in a heartbeat. And if you know a sexy, athletic, good-looking girl with a sense of humor who likes to come to the net, I’d play mixed-doubles with her in a heartbeat too. But lo and behold, as far as my long and winding journey keeps me going in tennis, for the time being at least, ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES is where it’s at in my estimation. To be truthful, anything that keeps you out there playing ball at any reasonably competitive level is a good thing without a doubt.

Jeffrey A. Greene

<p>Jeffrey A. Greene is currently entering his 12th year as the tennis director at Camp Pemigawasett in Wentworth, N.H. He played his college tennis at Vanderbilt and he received his masters in sports administration from USC. Jeff is currently ranked fourth in the Eastern ONE-ON-ONE DOUBLES Rankings in the Men's 35s Division.</p>