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Slow Starts

Q. “I find that my doubles partner and I always start out slow. We really don’t get into the game until we’ve lost the first few games or until the second set, and by that time it’s almost too late. What’s a good way to make sure that we are strong right from the start?”

From Josh, Tacoma, WA

In the past I’ve had a similar problem with my doubles partner. I noticed it helped to immediately concentrate on the big combos that had us excelling in the beginning. Also, small things such getting your feet moving as much as possible, make them beat you, and don’t try things which you don’t have the skill for. Just mostly play safe until your fired up, then use your big weapons to tear them up. I hope this helped.

From Dick B., Morrisville, VT

Try to pay attention to the player you are warming up with and then talk to your partner about the strengths and weaknesses of both of your opponents. This way, not only will you develop a game plan (which you may have to alter as the match goes on) but it will focus both of you on the task at hand. After play starts talk about what’s working and what isn’t and make the adjustments accordingly. It sounds as though you both are not really focused on the task at hand when starting the match.

From Paul G, NC

I say, “Bad start leads to a bad finish.” If you truly want to succeed and play your best tennis, you’ll do what it takes (proper rest, pre-match meal, equipment in order, early arrival, proper pre-match warm up, cool-down, fresh match attire, mental match preparation/anticipation which is that positive feeling that you will get from knowing/doing everything you could to prepare yourself to play your best and to realize that results will come from this) to be ready from the start.

From Bill, Evanston, IL

Three suggestions for a doubles team:

1. Begin moving and poaching from the get-go.

2. Discuss and focus on, as a team, from the first game to the last game, the simple strategy of trying to win the first point of each game, whether serving or returning.

3. Concentrate on your team making at least two shots in a row each and every point.

From Jade L., Phoenix, AZ

My partner and I are slow starters too. The only solution that has ever worked for me is to arrive 30 minutes early, warm-up for 15 minutes, and then play a set for the remaining 15 minutes. If it is a team event I’ll ask teammates to show up early so we can warm-up and play against each other – if it is a tournament you can usually find other people like you that would love to get out and start playing. At match time during the 15 minute warm-up, it now doesn’t matter if your opponents are bad at warming up – you are ready to go!

From Barry, Nevada City, CA

Start with an easy plan to focus on. Your goal is to hold serve and be the first team to break. Now, focus on staying ahead and the other players may get tight and press too much. That’s right where you want them.

From Curt

I get off to a slow start if I don’t have adequate time, perhaps 20 minutes, to warm up before a match. I like to find a vacant court to hit with someone or by myself if no one is available.

This is the main cause of my slow starts to a tennis match. The other reasons I can give are mental attitude when I walk on the court and making sure I am ready to play physically from the time the first ball is hit.

I always stretch and try to run a few sprints before a match begins. A key is to focus mentally on that first ball you hit and to stay focused through the remainder of the match. Think of a tennis match as a foot race. You need to be ready to run as soon as the gun sounds to start the race.

From L.S., Hawaii

Our team coach says to poach at the very first point when your partner’s serving. Even if you don’t even get close to the ball, the opponents will be thinking you’re gonna poach on every point – even if you never try to poach again!

Q. I’m a 52 year old who plays tennis two to three times each week. I consider myself to be in good shape, but I can’t seem to warm up quickly. I’ve tried jogging around the court, stretching, walking, you name it! Seems I always have to have about 20 minutes of match play before I feel fully loosened up and ready to play. Problem is, sometimes I find myself so behind in the score after 20 minutes that the first set is almost a “throw-away.” Does anyone have some tips or tricks I can try out to get warmed up before a match?

From Tommye A. in Culpeper, VA

I also struggled with warming up, so I began playing World TeamTennis in a local league. They have extremely short warm-ups and no ad scoring. It forces me to concentrate early in a match, or it is over quick. Three of my WTT teammates are also on my USTA women's team, and we now notice a significant edge over our opponents in being able to start quick. If the league is not available, perhaps playing some social matches with little warm-up and no ad scoring would help, as well.

From Ron W. in Dallas, TX

It sounds like you are doing all that you can to warm up your body. The problem is that when we play this sport, we are not only engaging our bodies but our minds, as well. I had the same problem in my first year of real tournament play but have a much better handle on this problem thanks to two things: First, after making sure that I have stretched properly and hit a few strokes back to my opponent, I quickly start to up the power on the strokes. For me, it's important to not just dink the balls back, but to get the entire body involved in creating the stroke and pace during the practice shots. I do try and direct the shots back towards my opponent, but I'm not really concerned if they are in or out at this point. Second, I play a mind game, convincing myself that at the beginning of the match I am down in score by at least a couple of games. This helps me create the feeling that I'm having to dig out and helps focus my mind on making my shots. I recently won my first Major Zone title using this method. Good luck!

From Ginger C. in Cortlandt Manor, NY

If there's a backboard, wall or a racquetball court anywhere near your match, I recommend hitting against it for 20 minutes or so before you go to your match. It will warm you up and keep you focused on the ball.

From Bruce F. in Wallingford, CT

Tamara- Three ideas:

1. Before you ever arrive at the tennis court for your match, find a place for a pre-match ritual. I like to use my driveway or a nearby school yard or open field. Take 20 minutes to do your dynamic stretches and play out a few games of “shadow” tennis.

2. Try skipping rope instead of “shadow” tennis.

3. Then go to the court and do what you already do.

From Todd S. in Lexington, SC, 3.0 male, playing for 2 years, addicted

I had the same problem as you with warming up. I was always down in the first set and had to go three sets for a win. Now I make sure my partner and I arrive one hour prior to game time. We actually play a set of singles to warm-up. It loosens muscles and offers plenty of practice for both service and rally. The score is not important, and I find that I am ready to begin my doubles match.

From Ken P.

The key to warming up is starting early. Start by stretching 15 minutes prior to your scheduled start time; stretch all parts of the body for five minutes, followed by five minutes of jogging in place and then 50 jumping jacks and finish with another five minutes of total body stretching. Go out on the court with the mindset that you are loose and ready to go. You will feel the difference.

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