John McEnroe Tennis Academy
  | By Brent Shearer

I had a match point on my serve at the Tennis and Rockin’ Blues One-On-One Doubles tournament at the National Tennis Center (NTC) way past midnight. Upstairs, the band was playing a Jimi Hendrix song. Players and guests were enjoying a buffet dinner. Down under in Australia, Roger Federer and Andy Murray were going through their pre-match preparation for the Australian Open final. My opponent, Lloyd Hines, a veteran of the dog-eat-dog 96th Street clay courts, didn’t even look winded.

The National Tennis Center event featured 60 players competing in six divisions. Former world doubles number one-ranked Jared Palmer beat Long Island’s Keith Kessler 6-3 in the men’s open event, while Brown University Tennis Coach Jay Harris beat Paul Moss 6-2 in the men’s 35s. The winner of these two prize money events took home a $1,000 check.

In the recreational players’ draws, only bragging rights were at stake, as players competed at the 3.5 and 4.5 Levels for men and women. With a start time of 10:00 p.m. and running until 2:00 a.m., the National Tennis Center’s first One-On-One Doubles event provided players with a competitive work-out to help them stay up for the Australian Open men’s final.

One-On-One Doubles Inc. is the brainchild of veteran college coach Ed Krass. He is the former Harvard women’s coach and is the founder of the College Tennis Exposure Camp. Developed in 2003, the game has been played at USTA, ATP, ITA and USPTA national tournaments. It has recently been approved as a format for ETA-sanctioned tournaments.

Krass’ invention is a half-court, serve and volley singles game played on a standard doubles court. The server must come in. Points are contested diagonally using the alleys. The center service line is extended to the baseline to measure whether the shots are cross-court (diagonal) enough. The server must advance to the net either volleying or half-volleying. The receiver can stay back or come in.

Among Krass’ innovations is bringing in a rockin’ blues band to play during the event. While players rotated on and off the courts, the Todd Wolfe Band played in the NTC lounge. Although the event’s formal name is One-On-One Doubles, the word “Doubles” refers to the court. Matches themselves are played between two players.
Krass said that One-On-One is being picked up by many college teams. “You see more and more college coaches looking for doubles skills, because the doubles point is so important. One-On-One is a great way to sharpen those skills.”

In fact, Stony Brook University hosted an eight-team, Division I Women’s One-On-One Doubles event last fall.
Those of us who play tennis on Long Island should feel a special connection to One-On-One Tennis. Krass said he was sitting on the beach at Westhampton when he had his Eureka moment that gave birth to the concept.
On the night that Federer and Murray battled it out in Melbourne, tennis players with and without ATP points on their resume served and volleyed their way into the wee hours of the morning. The matches were one set with no-add scoring. In One-On-One, players have to cover about two-thirds as much real estate as they would in singles. Palmer, the 2001 Wimbledon doubles winner, said he often used drills like One-On-One to sharpen his game during his touring years.

“I don’t move as well as I did 10 years ago, so One-On-One is a good format for me,” said Palmer.

That was modest of him, as his volleying and court coverage seemed quite strong. If I’d been able to cover the front of the court anywhere near as well as Palmer, I would already have sent Hines to the lockers.

Adam Rosen of Port Washington, N.Y., who is ranked in the ETA 50s, agreed that One-On-One helps adult players who have lost a step. But he noted that event was challenging because even though there is less court to cover than in singles, it is hard to adjust to doing so much volleying from so far out in the alleys.

National Tennis Center Director Whitney Kraft set the event up so the proceeds will benefit the Jana Hunsaker Foundation, which supports wheelchair tennis at the Flushing facility. Kraft said the combination of One-On-One, the on-going performance by the Todd Wolfe Band upstairs while the players competed on the courts below, made for a unique event.

In addition to recruiting players, assigning courts and performing other duties, Kraft managed to simultaneously provide commentary on the men’s open and the men’s 35s finals as they were played on adjacent courts. This is a feat that even better known tennis announcers like Bud Collins or Mary Carillo have never equaled.

Among the event’s players with pro credentials, Bryanne Stewart-Crabb, whose WTA ranking peaked at number five in doubles, said that One-On-One could contribute to making juniors more rounded players.

“A lot of juniors don’t play doubles much so they may need work on their volleys. One-On-One gives them a way to develop these skills and you only need two players.”

Due to her playing level, Stewart-Crabb played in the men’s open division as did her husband, former touring pro Jaymon Crabb.

One interested spectator at the event was Ernests Gulbis, the number 94-ranked player on the ATP tour. Gulbis, who had finished a workout at the center, said he thought One-On-One will help create players with more versatile games. With upcoming tour events in San Jose and Memphis, Gulbis joked that if he does well in those events, he’ll have to credit his exposure to One-On-One.

Another veteran of high level tennis, Brooklyn’s Nail Khabiyev, ranked 305th on the ITF junior roster, and Rafael Nadal’s official practice partner at the 2009 U.S. Open, said the One-On-One format was a great way to practice volleying.

Among local players who, while they don’t have ATP points, do have age group national rankings, Patrick McNally, said he liked the One-On-One format because it is a good cardio workout.

This theme was echoed by another competitor, national number one-ranked player in men’s 35s, Kline Sack, who described the game as a “fun way to stay in shape.”

Getting back to my match, I was serving with a match point. I saw Hines edging toward his backhand side. He was probably hoping to thump a forehand return. I missed my first serve. I spun in my second serve. Maybe I was a little tight because it had been a long match. I was grooving to the Jimi Hendrix song “Little Wing.” I had the rockin’ blues part of the event down. Then I did the one thing that can ruin you in One-On-One Doubles, I forgot to come in. Hines never looked back.

Brent Shearer