When I was a kid playing junior tennis, everyone I knew had a set doubles partner. You practiced together, you played tournaments together, and, at the end of the year, you had a doubles ranking together.
One of the highlights of my junior tennis “career” was winning the state high school doubles championships as an 8th grader. My partner and I had played together the entire season and had helped our team get to State. In the doubles competition, we had beaten girls much older than us to take home the big prize. I still have that trophy sitting on a shelf above my desk. I’m still very proud of that accomplishment.
Today, it seems that doubles has become the ignored step-child of junior tennis, the afterthought. USTA awards only 15% of the ranking points for doubles wins and only counts 3 doubles tournament results in a player’s overall ranking. It’s a shame!
When my son plays in a tournament that also happens to offer doubles, he usually tries to find a partner so he can play. Oftentimes, the two boys will play together for the first time in their first-round match. They won’t have practiced together. They won’t have taken much time to strategize or figure out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They pretty much just wing it. Sometimes it works out great. Other times, not so much. In a recent tourney, my son and his partner won the doubles, and they were so excited. But, just to emphasize how low on the totem pole doubles truly is, their prize was a plastic “medal” on a ribbon NOT the nice trophy that the singles winners received. Really???
Developing doubles skills not only makes you a better singles player by giving you opportunities to try shots you don’t normally get to try- volleys, smashes, half volleys, lobs, angles, etc. – but it also prepares you for high school and college play. If you’ve ever gone to a college tennis match, oftentimes the doubles can be the tipping point for a win or a loss. The doubles players are highly-valued at both the high school and college level. Why not in the juniors???
I had the opportunity to “talk” to Dan Kiernan, coach of the winning doubles team at the 2012 Australian Open Junior event who also happens to be a pretty accomplished doubles player himself. Dan’s opinion is that “tennis is a daunting sport and being on the court on your own one against one, losing on your own, winning on your own, are all difficult emotions to deal with. In general people are well ‘people’ people! If makes sense! And sharing is a nice emotion and in turn this will keep players in the game or attract them to stay in the game for longer.”
Dan goes on to confess that he knew that he wasn’t cut out to be a top singles player the day he won his first singles professional tournament. He says, “I felt empty that evening- no one to share with, everyone had moved onto the next tournament,” so even the winning alone can be a problem. Plus, doubles gives pros an opportunity to make money from the game. Some very average tennis players (relatively!) have made great livings from doubles and stayed in the game at the pro level for longer.
Since the Powers That Be are constantly touting tennis as a Game For Life, they need to take a look around the community tennis courts and see how many Lifers are playing singles vs. doubles. As we get older, doubles becomes a more feasible game for us to play. How great for those who grew up learning that game and the strategies involved!
I understand that it’s tough for tournament directors to include doubles due to time constraints during the school year. But, during school vacation times, it would be great to see more doubles competition available to our kids.
So, I hereby issue a challenge to the USTA and other tennis federations: Reinstate doubles as an equal partner for junior tennis. Reinstate year-end doubles rankings. Make doubles wins count the same as singles. Encourage our juniors to develop their doubles skills AS JUNIORS so they have those skills throughout their lives.