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Mon, Sept. 16

Column: Rely on doubles partner, because they're relying on you

We have three local Prescott tennis teams going to the USTA sectionals to participate in the opportunity of seeing if they can beat all the other teams in the Southwest section that have won their respective regions and advance to nationals.

Most of these matches involve doubles, so this column will focus on the simple needs that might help their thoughts in these upcoming endeavors - as well as anyone else who enjoys a tennis partnership.

• Get in the right frame of mind leading up to match time.

There's a nice balance of enjoying the moment yet staying keyed up to the right level of intensity. Training the mind to stay positive (no matter the score) and thinking about the point you're currently on may seem simple, but competitive and successful teams stay focused properly throughout the whole match.

• Warm up before you're out on the court with your opponents.

Five to 10 minutes of warm-up with your opponents just doesn't give you the confidence to start off the match ready to hit your best shots. Find a court 45 minutes before match time and work yourself into a bit of a sweat, hitting most of the shots you'll use at match time. It will make a difference.

• Don't ever say you're going to win - but know you are going to play each point the best you can.

Use your changeovers to evaluate how things are going. Gather your thoughts and strategy during those 90-second breaks. If it's hot, use an iced down towel and keep your temps in check. Drink water as needed. Stay hydrated.

• Never, ever instruct your partner how to play during a match.

If you want to destroy your chances of doing well as a team go ahead and insult your partner with comments you believe they are doing wrong. Talk about strategy on changeovers, but only encourage your partner during the match.

• On offense hit most of your shots "down-the-middle" between your opponents.

The net is lowest in the middle. If you're off a little you're still in the court. Both of your opponents believe the other is going to take the shot - and they end up just looking at each other as the ball passes by.

• On defense guard the middle and make your opponents hit toward the alleys.

Making your opponents hit toward the outside lines puts them in a lower-percentage success range. You can still cover most of those shots, but it sure is nice to just add up the points you created by making them go for an uncomfortable, risky shot.

• When the match gets tight and into critical moments, smile and enjoy.

All too often, we tighten up when it comes down to crunch time. These are the moments to treasure, the moments we live for. Smiling helps us relax and stay with the good things we've been doing up to this point. Solid and down the middle - it's not time to hit a shot we don't really own.

• Accept the results without complaint and win or lose with humility.

Certainly you need to know the rules and should hold your ground when opponents are being unfair. But if you are the type of player who thinks all close calls should be in your favor, it's time to come to grips with what the game of tennis is all about.

On the other hand, if you're winning readily keep up the good work until the match is over. If you are in a competition and you let up you aren't doing yourself or your opponent any favors. Be cordial during the match and nice after it's over. No gloating or reaching for great compliments from squashed opponents.

• Change a losing game while you still have time.

You may find yourself on the short end of the stick after the first set. The question is why? Too many unforced errors; bad formation against this particular team; double faulting or returns that are getting cut-off by the net person; or just maybe they're that much better than your team.

Try to evaluate what you need to change and see if it helps. That's the fun of tennis. If you can beat your opponent with the game you normally play, great. But if that isn't working, what's plan B? You'd better find it and fast. The worst thing that can happen is that you lose - but not without trying to find a way to make it a match if possible.

One way or the other it's a game. Enjoy it and take away all the positives it has to offer.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@q.com.

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