January 9, 2009

Sizing Up Opponents

I once played a match where I had a lot of difficulty with one of the opponents. Her serves had a very weird spin to them and my own serve just didn't seem to be doing what I'd hoped it would do. It was probably well into the first set before I realized she was a lefty. Seriously.

This kind of stuff used to happen to me all the time. Now, it happens only occasionally which I consider to be progress. To cut down on these "surprises," I try to pay attention to my opponents during the warm-up (I know - what a crazy idea!). By the time we start playing, I want to have some idea of what to expect from them and what I need to do to (hopefully) win against them. Here are a few of the things I look for during the warm-up:

1. Righty or Lefty - I learned my lesson here. I'm not a great server but at least I need to be sure I don't keep directing my serve to my left-handed opponent's forehand. Playing against a lefty looks different so accept that and don't let it psych you out.

2. Physical Condition - Are my opponents young or old? Are they on the "heavy" side? Do they move quickly or slowly? Will they tire out easily? You're going to play people differently depending on how they look. With an older, heavy-set lady, you run her around, play quickly and tire her out. With a younger, fit player, you have to be consistent and require her to hit the winner and beat you.

3. Serve - What kind of serve are they showing you during warm-up? Does it have a lot of spin? Does it move around a lot? Is it hard and flat? Or is it a real "puff ball" that will require you to move in? Just don't be fooled by what you see during the warm-up. Some ladies have a lousy serve during warm-up that really comes on line during the match. Some ladies don't want to show you their real serve during the warm-up so what happens during the match may be a shock. Of course, some ladies hit great serves throughout the warm-up and then you wonder what happened to those serves once the match starts.

4. Strong Partner vs. Weak Partner - I think the most basic strategy in doubles is to pick on the weaker player so you need to pay attention during warm-up to who that might be. This also means you need to pay attention to the other opponent - the one you are not warming up with. Look over and see what she looks like and is doing.

Following the warm-up, before the match starts, be sure and talk to your own partner about what you picked up on during the warm-up as well as what she saw. If you've paid attention during warm-up, by the time the match gets going, you should both know several things about your opponents and have an early strategy for playing and beating them.

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