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Respected tennis writer Joel Drucker answers your questions about the thrills and spills of the recreational player. Got a hole in your game or a question for Joel? Drop him an email at therovingplayer@thetennischannel.com and you may find yourself in a future column.
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Q: Whenever I play doubles with one particular person, I always get worried. He's better than most of us, and glares at his partners whenever they make mistakes. He's just so competitive. What should I do?


A: Let's start with this notion: If he's truly so competitive, then surely he should know that the best thing he can do is create an atmosphere where two people can thrive. That said, let's focus less on him and more on the issue of being the lesser player on a doubles team. One thing you can do prior to any match when partnered with this dude is to let him know that you intend to try as much as you can. And then, by gum, do it! One reason the better player on a doubles team gets uptight is his fear that if the partner doesn't pull his weight, the better player's going to have do significantly more work every time he touches the ball. This can be very demoralizing. So instead, make it your job to focus as much as possible to play the right shot. Don't go for too much on your service returns. Get in an extremely high percentage of first serves, even if that means taking off a little pace. In practice, ask for plenty of overheads, since you know you'll likely be lobbed. And also, just let your partner blow off steam in the way that works for him. It's not always necessarily personal. Then again, if he vents directly at you, tell him that neither of you has ever made a nickel playing this game, so what's the big deal?

Q: In my lessons I hit the ball so nicely, but recently I played a tournament and saw that my opponent had a much harder time when I threw in shots like slice backhands, moonballs and plenty of lobs. I won the match and afterwards my opponent berated me, calling me a "crummy dinker." What's up with that?

A: Actually I'd say you were a darn good dinker. And as the great Tony Trabert told all us kids who attended his tennis camp, "Show me a dinker and I'll show you a roomful of trophies." If I had a dollar for every time I'd been verbally assaulted by an opponent, I could pay Serena Williams' annual dry-cleaning bill. "You didn't give me anything to hit," an opponent once told me. Was I supposed to? Does the baseball pitcher desire to groove one for Barry Bonds? You have done nothing more than recognize the bloody reality of tennis, cogently articulated decades ago by the great Bill Tilden: the object of the game is to make your opponent hit the shots they don't like to hit - and in turn, create opportunities for you to hit the shots you like. This is the nature of sports. The sad thing is that too many instructors teach people how to hit balls but not how to play matches. Would a pitching coach only teach the fastball? The result is that many players have the deluded notion in their heads that every ball must be struck with the same speed and pace. But watch pro tennis up close. Even the very best ball-strikers - Roger Federer, Lindsay Davenport – are nuanced, hitting it with subtle changes in spin, direction, height and speed. Martina Hingis, Justine Henin-Hardenne and John McEnroe are masters of subtle disruption. At your own level, you merely did the same thing - albeit with recreational players it's executed far more crudely. That said, as you seek to improve, make sure you are not strictly at the mercy of hitting softly. Your goal is to feel you can hit many shots with many paces and spins. Making those improvements requires technical proficiency, in which case lessons can be quite helpful. The more weapons in your arsenal, the more you'll master the essence of the game: disrupt your opponent and force them to make mistakes. By any means necessary.

Email Joel with your question.

Oakland-based Joel Drucker is one of the world's leading tennis writers. Author of the book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, Drucker's work has appeared in a wide range of print and broadcast media, including Tennis, USTA Magazine, ESPN, CBS and The Tennis Channel. For The Tennis Channel he's worked as an on-air analyst and is co-producer of the program, Center Court with Chris Myers. An avid recreational player, Drucker's lefthanded 4.5 game attempts to combine the tactical array of Brad Gilbert with the variety of John McEnroe, a style he fondly refers to as "Spinning Ugly."

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