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Steve Flink: One-on-One Doubles

9/28/2010 5:00:00 PM

by Steve Flink

Meet Ed Krass, a 50-year-old dynamo who is the CEO of One-on-One Doubles Tennis, otherwise known as “The New Game of Tennis.” One-on-One Doubles is played by only two players. It is a competitive avenue for the sport that allows competitors to enhance their doubles skills and markedly improve their skills on the volley. Matches are contested on a diagonal basis with a line drawn down the middle of the court from the center service line to the middle of the baseline. It is mandatory for the server to serve-and-volley on first and second serves, with the half-volley permissible.  If the server fails to come in behind his delivery, he or she automatically loses the point; the receiver has the option of moving forward behind a return or staying back. The game is played entirely crosscourt, with the alley in play. Krass did not event this system of “half-court” play, but he has popularized it more than anyone across the last seven years.

Krass was Head Assistant Men’s Coach at Clemson University, working under the renowned Chuck Kriese from 1984-86. He moved on to Harvard University, taking over at that esteemed institution as coach of the women’s team from 1986 to 1990. In 1991, he coached the Charlotte Heat in World TeamTennis. He is currently in his 20th year as Owner and Director of College Tennis Academy, Inc. His college tennis exposure camps for kids ranging from 14 to 18 are the gold standard in his field. As Krass sees it, One-on-One Doubles is a crucial option for players of all levels—standing alone outside conventional singles or doubles—and it must not be ignored.

As Krass explains, “What I am saying is that One-on-One Doubles is a new alternative game to singles and doubles. You have got the doubles game and singles, and I would like this to be known as the third viable form of competition.”

What was the impetus for Krass at the outset? Why has he been so determined to get One-on-One Doubles widespread acceptance as both a training and competitive vehicle for tennis players? “When I was coaching at Clemson from 1984 to 1986, I learned this as a drill from Coach Kriese and I saw how our players—including our top player Jay Berger—were developing such great serve-and-volley games for doubles. We actually played some challenge formats with the One-on-One Doubles format, which was great for the players. Then when I was lucky enough to become the women’s coach at Harvard, I had the girls serving-and-volleying on both first and second serves and they started getting real good. They were complaining initially that I was trying to make them serve-and-volleyers but when they started sweeping teams in doubles and we would be up 3-0 in matches, there was no more complaining.”

During his stint in Charlotte coaching in World TeamTennis, Krass once more had the vision of One-on-One Doubles paramount in his mind. As he recalls, “I had Ginger Helgeson on the team and she was No. 50 in the world at the time. She was not serving-and-volleying in doubles so I said, ‘Hey, Ginger, I need to show you this game of One-on-One Doubles and I want you to get some confidence from this.’ She told me her college coach had never worked with her on this, but she started serving-and-volleying in front of big crowds and, boy, did she win a ton of matches.”

Not until 2003, however, was Krass able to take his dreams for One-on-One Doubles and turn them into reality. He had just completed some tennis camps at Lehigh University and was on vacation in West Hampton, New York. He was out on the beach with friends when he found himself thinking, “My lord, I want to come up with this game of One-on-One Doubles because we had dabbled with it as a drill and it was so great for practicing and getting ready for doubles.’ I wrote down some ideas for a small circuit of One-on-One Doubles tournaments. We had the first one in Tampa in 2004. There was a segment of three tournaments there for different divisions and I passed out a bunch of fliers and the first check came in from Peter Doohan, the guy who beat Boris Becker at Wimbledon in 1987 when Becker was the two time defending champion. Doohan wrote me and said, ‘Thank you so much for putting this event together, Ed. It is a great thing for tennis.’”

The evolution of One-on-One Doubles has been impressive ever since that breakthrough in Tampa six years ago. As Krass says, “We have had about 30 events since 2004, pretty much from Florida up through New York, with a modest amount of prize money and no more than about $1,000.00 to the winner of the tournament. We had a nice event this year at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in January. Ernests Gulbis played but Jared Palmer ended up winning it. It was a 16 draw so you had to win four matches. Gulbis won his first round but then he had to leave. He said he played it because he wanted to work on his volleys. In 2007 we had an event in Florida that Stefan Koubek won in front of about 3000 fans.”

How would Krass define his overriding goals for One-on-One Doubles from this point on? “We have a couple of goals,” he asserts. “We want it to be a bigger part of the college game and are hopeful that can happen. And we have been doing it for the last five years at the ITA National College Coaches Convention as the only format of play for their prize money division in Naples, Florida. We pump in some nice classy rock and blues music to keep the atmosphere lively. So our vision is to grow some bigger events with the rock music closing out the events, like an after-party. I want to bring in the entertainment factor so we can all celebrate the new game of tennis in a very festive way.”

Having said that, Krass adds, “We would also like to grow One-on-One Doubles as a special event with the WTA and ATP and maybe also with World TeamTennis. I spoke with Ilana Kloss about the game and it seems like she and Billie Jean King are saying,’Hey, Ed, keep moving forward. There could be a very nice place in tennis for One-on-One Doubles.’ It is also a matter of getting the USTA a little more behind it so we can get the sponsors going.”

Despite the considerable strides made by Krass, One-on-One Doubles remains underexposed. But the hope here is that things will change. As Krass contends, “Our incentive is to create rankings and have the game sanctioned by the USTA. We want to create rankings for the game in and of itself so that a player will recognize that this could be the determining factor on whether or not a college coach will want him or her on the team. College coaches want to see that well rounded player who can hit the volley and overhead and also returns well. They want players who know how to come forward, somebody who has a game plan B or C and not just plan A. Juniors who play doubles are not always sure whether to come in or stay back so we always start with One-on-One Doubles first to get them to understand that serving-and-volleying is the way we should be playing doubles. We have gotten away from that. In our game, you serve-and-volley or you lose the point. If people are only going to be serving-and-volleying in One-on-One Doubles and not regular doubles, so be it. If that is so, let One-on-One Doubles be the only serve-and-volley game of tennis.”

Krass has tried to make inroads with top flight players, hoping to interest them in the merits of One-on-One Doubles as a different forum of competition. But it is not easy to get directly to the players themselves. As Krass explains, “With the big names, the thing is that the agents are around them like crazy so it is hard to get right to the players. But I will tell you that I spoke to one of the Bryan brothers and he thought it sounded awesome to play tournaments this way. I also have spoken with Gary Swain, the agent for John McEnroe. He has told me he thinks this could be very exciting for the game if it would be produced properly. McEnroe would be a great guy to play the game and talk about it, plus he has his new academy. I’ve often wondered: how would Federer do against one of the Bryan brothers or McEnroe in One-on-One Doubles? I don’t know if Federer would be ready for that. I might give the edge to McEnroe or one of the Bryan brothers.”

The beauty of One-on-One Doubles is that it can benefit players of all levels—from the juniors to college tennis and right on to the professional game. As Krass clarifies, “It is such a nice mix between singles and doubles and it brings back the all court, serve-and-volley game. I have been playing One-on-One Doubles solely since 2003, after I had two knee operations. I used to play all of the regional and national tournaments and this has been a great replacement for me as a singles game. I just turned 50, but I am a young 50, still fired up about life. And nothing in my life fires me up more than One-on-One Doubles.”

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