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Player to Player: Mixed Doubles Etiquette

Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For, and Offering, Advice on the Sport They Love

Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.



This week's question from Patricia:

I would like to get ideas from your readers about how to have a fun, friendly, team tennis match, from the duties of the captain on down to the food choices. I am not enjoying my team currently. My teammates do not stay and talk to each other after they play, nor do they come early to watch others play. The food is boring -- subs and chips every week. Please help me make tennis enjoyable and more social again for my team. What are the keys for building successful teams that enjoy playing tennis with each other?

Please share your advice with Patricia by e-mailing Player@USTA.com and include your name and hometown.

Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!


Last week's question from Mark
(Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question)

I was playing a mixed doubles match and encountered the following issue. My female opponent was quite a bit older than me. I'm 30 and don't have a very good second serve, but my first is pretty good. If I take something off my first, it tends to be short and inconsistent, so I didn't -- I served as I normally would against a male my own age. My serve is easily my best weapon, so I hate to pull it back, as it makes my game significantly weaker. Is that poor etiquette?

Player Responses:

From Coach Leonard, Concord, CA:

Remember that being polite to an opponent can be rude to your partner. Gentle serves can often result to harsh shots to your teammate at the net. It is best to communicate with your partner on the team's strategy prior to the match.

Players must realize that age isn't a handicap. Martina Navratilova proved that winning major doubles titles being well over the age of 30. I recall quite awhile ago when John Newcombe and Fred Stolle came out of retirement and advanced to the US Open men’s doubles semifinals. Being 57 myself, I love using the "respect your elders" angle. My younger opponents learn fast that with age comes experience.

Observe the female's returns. If she's not driving winners off your soft second, then have at it. If she is, bring on the heat. A lot weighs if you're playing a social or league match. If it's league, then you're letting down more than your partner by serving the marshmallows. If it's social, no big deal, but baseline your partner.

Here's a drill that I like to develop a competitive second serve. Play a set with one serve a point. If you go for too much, you can lose the point (a missed serve is a double fault). Going too easy may put your back to the wall.

Take my word, don't fret about age or gender if they can return to sender.

From Giselle, New Orleans:

Serve your normal serve! Now, I'm the same age as you, so I don't know what an older woman would say necessarily. But I'd definitely rather receive your full game. I am almost insulted when I know that a male opponent intentionally lessens his serve when serving to me. I'd rather face the challenge -- can only help my game, after all, to face stronger players.

Now, if you're winning 5-0 and she hasn't gotten a point during your service games and you want to lighten up to save your strength and to make the match a little less boring for you, I'm sure she'd be OK with that, too. :-)

From Rita, Groveland:

I, too, play with younger male opponents and would not be happy if they felt they had to change their game to accommodate me. So I'd say go for it!

From Kristi:

I'm a 43-year-old woman who plays mixed at the 9.0 level. I say serve it up as you normally would. If your female opponent doesn't think that it’s proper, she shouldn't be playing in a competitive league. The point of competition is to win. If it’s a friendly match and you want to play, give her a fighting chance to keep it fun. Otherwise, bring whatever you have to the table.

From Bernie, Virginia:

Sometimes there is a difference between appropriate etiquette and winning tennis. If you are intending to continue to play MxD in a social environment, then you need to be able to adjust your play to the level of your opponent. Hitting a hard serve to a weak opponent may win the point but may also lose your place on the sub list or next year's group.

If you’re playing in a competitive match, then it is unfair to your partner to not play your best, which includes hitting a hard serve to the women. Work on your serve so that you have the option, and choose the appropriate serve for the occasion. If you don't, you may end up losing more than the game.

Serve hard, and you may lose the friendship of your opponents; serve badly, and you may lose your partner.

From Laurie, Marco Island, FL:

Being an 'older' female player of mixed doubles, here is my opinion. If the match is in a competitive setting, such as a tournament, give it all you've got on your serve. But if the match is just a social occasion, let up and give the lady a chance at returning a somewhat easier-paced serve. Competition is just that, competition! In mixed doubles, a woman has signed up to play against a man.

From Linda, Cazenovia, NY:

I play a lot of mixed doubles with my husband, who has a very strong first serve. Most of the women we play with don't mind returning it, nor do I when playing against him. By the way, we are both 'older' players in our fifties. I notice the pros don't make any allowances for serving to the female. I guess you have to play it by ear and adjust for different opponents and situations. The main thing is that everyone has fun in recreational tennis, right?

From Linda, Peterborough, NH:

I am a 70-year-old 4.0 player and love mixed doubles. When I step onto the court, I know that I must be prepared to receive hard serves from my opponents (male and/or female) and that I will have to field all kinds of shots during play. I also know that my opponents will most likely “wear” younger and faster legs than mine, so I am trying to figure out how to deal with that better, too. “Bring it on, baby!”

From Clint:

Social mixed and USTA mixed are two different situations. Social mixed would be a good time to use that weak 2nd and improve it. USTA mixed is a more competitive environment, and there is nothing wrong with playing your best game.

From Rene, Great Falls, VA:

Don't ever feel that you have to take anything off your serve in a mixed doubles match. Your best level of play is fair game. If you are playing truly socially -- I mean like a social mixer -- then you might consider letting up if you feel your opponent might be overwhelmed. But never, ever feel you should take anything off of your game in a match. If an opponent feels like they can't handle your serve, that person shouldn't be playing at that level.

From Kevi, St. Louis:

Do not hold back. She would not be playing doubles at that level if she could not handle it. If it is a friendly game and nothing was at stake, then ease up, but not if it is a USTA match. I do not, and my serve is usually stronger than some of the guys I play with.

From Dick, Morrisville, VT:

It depends on what kind of match you were involved in playing -- a social or competitive match. If playing competitive, you play the best you can. If just social, you play to the level of the of other players if you see that they are not close to getting your first serve back and look frustrated. Social tennis, it really doesn't matter who wins; it should be the fun and interaction during the match.

From Tricia:

I play a lot of mixed doubles with many aggressive men. I have been hit too many times to count on the court. I do not find it poor etiquette to play your best tennis game against an older, possibly weaker opponent. I want my opponent to play his best tennis even if I am the weaker player. In fact, I find it offensive to do the opposite. I think you can show good sportsmanship and play aggressive tennis matches. I am getting better playing aggressive, stronger players such as yourself. And, I hope the lady you played felt the same and complimented you on your strong serve.

From Jade, Phoenix:

I personally believe everyone should play their game. As long as you are not intentionally setting out to hurt someone (poor etiquette in my opinion), play your game, and your partner and opponents will play theirs. I love mixed doubles -- it is challenging and usually more fun (a little more social and a little less tension)! Players who feel they need to ease up on certain opponents are showing poor etiquette, in my opinion.

From Karolyn, Dallas:

Mark, a sportsperson wants to be treated fairly and with respect, first and foremost. To me, that means that my opponent does his or her best under the circumstances, and we let the chips fall where they may. Go for your second serve, if that is what is your best, and be prepared for her to do the same. At the end of the day, win or lose, both sides should feel like it was a good, hard-fought match.

From Loretta, Minneapolis:

You didn't include in what setting you were playing (social or competitive). If it's in a social setting, then you would pull back your serve, for the game is for meetin' and greetin'... BUT, if it's in a competitive setting, then the game is to win!

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