I am tired. I am tired of losing. I am tired of losing tennis matches. I am tired of losing tennis matches to people who don’t play as well as I. I am tired of losing tennis matches to people who don’t play as well as I despite having taken tennis lessons for years. So, I did something different. I read a book: Gerry Donohue’s Winning Doubles: Strategy for Recreational Tennis Players.
Wait! I know you are asking, “Why would I be interested inreading a review of a tennis instruction book?” Well, for starters, you may be among my dozens of friends who play tennis. These tennis pointers are useful. But whether or not you’re a tennis player, there are life lessons that can be extrapolated from this book.
To those of you who attend tennis clinics with Bill and me, you’ll be happy to know that the book’s advice jibes with what our coaches have been exhorting us to do: get to the net, make the opponent hit the ball up, go for the short angle. The author covers every contingency: poaching, serves, service returns, net coverage, the lob.
The author uses statistics to back up his recommendations. For example,. he states that in recreational tennis, “eight out of ten points are decided by a mistake.” Hence, the importance of keeping the ball in play. I was surprised by his advice to always “defer the serve,” that is, let the opponents serve first. This is despite telling us that the server’s team will win 70% of the time. His reasoning is that if the receivers lose, it’s expected. But, if they win, and the servers may be nervous or not warmed up in the first game, they are way ahead. He says the player with the better overhead should play the ad court because most lobs go down the middle. I had never considered this tactic.
I like this book because , for starters, the title delivers exactly what it advertises. This book is about doubles — a very different game from singles. The chapters are super-short but covers pretty much every situation. It is about strategy, not stroke production, not mental attitude, not physical prowess. This book is definitely for the recreational player. It doesn’t assume a hundred miles an hour serve or an overhead that hits the ground and then caroms over the fence. The author recommends dinking the ball (a soft underpin shot) in certain circumstances. The professional player would eat such a shot for lunch. Also, the term recreational is a reminder of how low the stakes are. Chill!
Yet another reason to like this book is the authoritative voice the writer uses. He doesn’t give you options, which, in my case, often just confuses me. He says to “Play the percentages,” and then tells you what those percentages are.
I was always a singles player. There was hardly any strategy involved. You run after the ball and hit it. When one gets older, everyone your age plays doubles. That’s when I started losing. I admit it: I have never been a fan of strategy. I felt that strategy was for sissies and double dealers. I want to win by beating you, not tricking you. With all due respect and love, Bill is much more strategic. One of his favorite moves is to lob over his five-foot tall wife. I call him SB. That’s shorthand for sneaky bastard.
When I think about it, I have not just under rated strategy; I’ve avoided it like the plague. (I tried to think of another word to use instead of “strategy” and came up with “scheming,” which tells you how I feel about it.) I am willing to work hard at practicing my top spin backhand and my volleys, but learning how to fake a poaching motion feels stupid.
Before retiring as a physician, I spent my time reading about the science of medicine, not the business of medicine. In retrospect, this was a mistake. I needed to pay more attention to the contents of contracts. Or pay someone to. But, there was so much science and medicine that was interesting and necessary to know.
I am that way about financial issues too. I worked hard at my job. I saved my money. Even now, I clip grocery store coupons. I had a bank savings account when I first started working in 1980. A patient told me about money market funds. But these days, there are an unbelievable number of investment options — stocks, bonds, annuities, mutual funds, CDs, insurance policies. Fortunately, I at least have Bill to weed out the truly bad ideas.
Winning Doubles: Strategy for Recreational Tennis Players fulfills this weeding function for tennis.This book whittles down one’s tennis options. (“Limit yourself to two target areas when you poach.”) The author speaks definitively about which stroke to use, where on the court to be, what partners should expect from each other, how to communicate. Studies have shown that experts, including professional athletes, have less brain activity than the novice in performing in their field. They are able to cut down the noise, to filter out irrelevant information. And in a sense, these instructions help me do the same. I don’t need to think about what to do, just focus on doing it.
These are my non-tennis takeaways:
- Strategy is important. (I’m sorry to find this out so late in my life.)
- Having a plan – even if you have to change it – helps focus your attention.
- For most things on most days, the stakes are low. Remember, it’s recreational!
Tell me: What sport has taught you life lessons?