IT'S ALL GIVE AND TAKE
Mixed doubles, if it is played intelligently and accepted as a pleasant social interlude, can be great fun. It is an ideal way for husband and wife to team up and do something together during these summer months. Nancy and I have had a great deal of pleasure playing mixed doubles, so on these and the following three pages I shall tell you some of the useful things we have learned.
Like marriage, mixed doubles is a give-and-take proposition. The smart team, as in the smart marriage, lets the man appear to be the boss. To be sure, the lady must carry her fair share of the burden—and even more on those not infrequent occasions when she is actually a better player than her partner. But one of the delightful facets of mixed doubles is that it can be played to the hilt without destroying the fundamental relationship between male and female. He can exercise his masculinity to the fullest. She can be athletic and still feminine.
The basic precepts of mixed doubles that Nancy and I demonstrate here are just as applicable at Wimbledon as they are in a friendly match on the neighborhood court. First of all, the team should operate as a unit, remaining side by side in the backcourt or at net whenever possible, for it is only thus that you will both be at your best. When one or the other member of the team tries to dominate the court in doubles it not only detracts from the fun, it creates confusion, and the team is that much less effective.
Doubles is a game where the attacking team always has the advantage. Nancy and I constantly strive to attain and hold the net position, for it is there that a vast majority of the points are won. The advice that follows is predicated on the cardinal rules of doubles: work together, keep the pressure on your opponents and strive to reach the net where you will win your points.
The importance of a good first serve
It is an axiom of doubles—mixed or otherwise—that the server must win his serve or invite defeat. In this first drawing, Nancy and I show how you can use the serve to gain an initial advantage in court tactics. I am serving from a position midway between the center of the base line and the doubles side line, thus leaving me with the shortest route to my proper position at net. Nancy, being a good volleyer, stands halfway between the net and service line and about 10 feet in from the far side line. For those who volley poorly it is advisable to play much closer to the net, and the less agile should play much closer to the side line to protect the alley. But even poor volleyers should play the net when partner is serving, for this formation offers a psychological salient that more than offsets any shortcomings on the part of the net player.
As shown in the diagram on the far right, the receiver should stand on the base line, and the partner who is not receiving should be in the middle of the service court ready to take the net away from the serving team if his partner's service return is strong enough.
I consider it most important to get my first serve in and find that a three-quarter-speed serve not only gives me greater control but allows me more time to reach the net (position 1)—three priceless steps farther than I would get from a hard, flat cannon-ball that can be returned to me while I am still in no man's land between base line and service line (position 2). To protect your partner at net always serve deep (into the shaded areas of the diagram) and preferably to the receiver's backhand (circles on diagram), where the odds favor a weaker return. These fundamentals apply equally to the right and left courts.
The defensive lob when in trouble
If your opponents are serving well—or you are serving weakly—you will quickly find yourself on the defensive in the backcourt, as is the case with Nancy and me in the drawing below. It is here that you will find the lob, particularly the defensive lob, most useful in extricating you from trouble. In this case, our opponents have played a shot deep and wide to my backhand, leaving us extremely vulnerable. They are waiting eagerly at net in good position to end the point. A very high defensive lob (see diagram) is my proper shot, and it should be played as deep as possible. This will give Nancy and me time to regain our best defensive formation before the return comes back.