Grand Slam doubles champion Todd Woodbridge shares his tips and insights into becoming a better doubles player. In this column he looks at who should play the leading role in a doubles partnership.
Most people have this view that Mark Woodforde was the leader in our doubles partnership but I was more of an instigator than people realise.
Over a 10-year period the strength of the partnership was that on any given day – depending on mood or form – either of us could lead. We got to that point where we knew; Mark would take over and be telling me, ‘Settle down, settle down’ or I would get us fired up. Tactically I liked to lead but Mark also had great skills in this area.
You get to a point when you play with someone regularly where you can work out strengths and weaknesses. With a new partnership – often the case in mixed doubles in pro tennis – it’s about establishing good communication before you start the match. Ask your new partner things like, ‘What do you do well, what do you
like to do?’ and also share how you like to play. That’s usually a release valve. The last thing you wanttodoisbedown3-0inthe first set and start thinking, ‘How do I talk to my partner?’
Set the boundaries of what you want to do. You might be playing with a young guy who wants to charge around the net like a gazelle. He’s got ants in his pants, and you might be more of a steady player who sets him up so that he can do that. If you are in a situation where things start to go bad, you have to strip it back and ask yourself, ‘How am I going to win this next point?’ doubles
World No.1 twins Bob and Mike Bryan, both natural court leaders, have claimed 91 titles together.
What to talk about
People often asked, ‘Why did Mark and I talk so much?’ Often we didn’t say much. If we were struggling, we were trying to work out what to do in the next point.
We broke it down point by point to rebuild confidence. Sometimes when you are playing and things aren’t going well, people over-compensate. This happens a lot in mixed doubles. For example, a lob goes up and it’s the lady’s smash – it’s way over on her side, but the man tries to cover it. He is much better off letting her cover it. Don’t overplay. If the lob is in the middle of the court, yes, that’s the man’s smash. How many times have I seen the guy trying to do too much and playing worse!
Release the tension
One of the reasons I was better at doubles than singles is that I could verbalise what was going on for me. I was nervous, I was uptight, and that verbalising was the best way for me to relieve tension. I got it out; it wasn’t spinning around in my head.
At the change of ends, have a swig of water and talk about how you are going and what you want to do in the next game, how you see yourself winning the next points. Then your focus is positive and it keeps you present. Mark and I were always looking at how we were going to win the next point, what was going on down the other end, who we were going to target.
There are natural court leaders. In most doubles teams, there is one person who is good at playing that role. With Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver – Martina was the stronger of the two. Pam could get down on herself. John Newcombe and Tony Roche – Roche was the solid guy who did so much but Newcombe was the court leader. I am sure with the Bryan brothers, they both play the roles.
Gigi Fernandez was a dictator while Natasha Zvereva had all this flair and loveliness, but Gigi had to keep her together, keep her focused.
It might be over the top to talk to your partner every point and slap hands, but Mark and I wouldn’t go more than two points without talking.
As soon as there’s a fracture in a team, you’re done. Mark and I were good at picking up on that. Makeshift teams would come together and we could break them quite quickly, because you target the weaker link, break down their play
and the other one starts to get frustrated. As soon as that happens, the match is over.
Todd’s top doubles tips:
A winner of every Grand Slam doubles title at least once, Todd Woodbridge claimed 61 titles with Mark Woodforde and 83 in total. He is now Professional Tennis Manager at Tennis Australia.
This article first appeared in Australian Tennis Magazine.
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