A few months after I first picked up a tennis racket, I was thrown into a round robin of mixed doubles. An alarming experience, to say the least. I barely had groundstrokes, let alone volleys, and didn’t even know where to stand.
A pattern quickly emerged. My partner would leap heroically around the court, hitting all the balls, until I got lucky / unlucky enough to hit a ball, causing it to sail wide. It didn’t take me long to figure out that watching, rather than playing, was safer for my team – and my ego.
Subsequent matches confirmed the pattern. And it wasn’t just me; I observed other teams where men hit 90% of the balls, running energetically in front, behind, and nearly through their female partners.
I started wondering: Why do women bother playing mixed doubles?
It took years for me to understand the benefits and, yes, even the fun, of mixed doubles. I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
This term doesn’t exist, but it should. It tends to happen when you’re new or when your partner is far stronger or more aggressive; in both cases, you hit the ball so rarely that you start to watch the rally as spectator. You’re ready to snack on popcorn, not hit a winner. Your feet have stopped moving and your mind isn’t predicting the pattern of play, so when the ball comes, you’re surprised and late.
Mixed doubles seems to magnify “spectator-itis”. Men tend to hit strongly and play aggressively and unless the woman has enough experience or confidence, “spectator-itis” is the result. In my experience, ladies doubles evens the playing field, making spectating less likely.
The solution is to be brave. Hit with confidence, even if you’re inexperienced or your strokes are weak. Keep your feet moving, try to predict where the ball will go, and jump in – even if you’re not sure.
Being brave is the key to success. If you wanted to watch tennis, you wouldn’t be standing on a court with a racket, would you? You’ll make mistakes but you’ll learn and if you’re in the right place at the right time, you will start to hit winners.
The key is not to care about mistakes. After all, making mistakes is how we all learn. No one at the club level is going to Wimbledon! If your partner gets upset, ignore him or avoid him next time.
The more adventurous and engaged I get in a doubles match, the better I do and the more fun it becomes. It’s also a great way to practice volleys, overheads, and the mental game. Thinking back to that first round robin, I never would have guessed that future me would love mixed doubles!