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Moodie & Norman: The Right Balance

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Wesley Moodie, Dick Norman© Getty ImagesSince switching their focus to the doubles game, Dick Norman and Wesley Moodie have established themselves as one of the circuit's top teams.

Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman, who have both struck a balance between tennis and family commitments, are determined to capitalise on a strong position to qualify for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

They had played doubles together only a handful of times when their partnership ignited with a run to the 2009 Roland Garros final. At the ages of 31 and 39 respectively, having enjoyed long and respectable singles careers, South African Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman of Belgium decided to transfer their talents exclusively to the doubles court when age and injury began to slow their progress.

It was a similar transition: Both had preferred singles, although greater success had in fact come on the doubles court, and the decision to enter into the doubles forum, in an effort to prolong their careers at the top of the game, came with a certain amount of trepidation.

"Before pairing up with Wes [at Roland Garros 2009], I hadn't really played doubles at such a high level," remembered Norman. "I was like a singles player and adopted basic tactics, but now Wes and I have formulated plans and have more options to choose from.

"I know now that I always have a partner to practise with, to talk to and we can push one another."

"Ahead of the 2009 Roland Garros final, I was very nervous. My ranking was so bad that I couldn't even get into [ATP World Tour] 500 or Masters 1000 events. I'd have had to play on the Challenger Tour and at my age that was difficult. My game fits doubles. I didn't think doubles was much fun, when I played singles. But I know now that I always have a partner to practise with, to talk to and we can push one another."

Moodie came into the partnership with the greater doubles experience, having lifted his first doubles trophy at Wimbledon with Stephen Huss in 2005, but he also felt he was taking a risk in changing his trade. "I can't say it was an easy decision to quit playing singles [towards the end of 2008], but it was an obvious choice," said the Durban native. "I picked up a knee injury in 2008 and was out for a couple of months. I then decided to take a chance. I wanted to be in the Top 10, perform well at the Grand Slams and play doubles consistently at tour-level."

At 6'5" and 6'8", Moodie and Norman believe their height can, on occasion, be a double-edged sword; restricting their movement, especially on grass, but providing them with their greatest weapons – on serve and dominating the net. Despite their combined total of 29 years following the sun on tour, though, they believe there is still time to improve their doubles skills and nous.

"We've found out big serves and our height can intimidate opponents, particularly when we are at the net. Right now we’re working on our consistency in shots, making sure we aren’t a hit-and-miss team," explains Moodie. "We tend to win a lot of Match Tie-breaks by winning free points on our serves early on. If we're able to pressure early and take a 3-1 or 4-1 lead we're normally okay to go on and win."

"Wes and I are a good team, our serves are our assets and we're getting better together with every tournament," assesses Norman. "Our consistency has greatly improved. Personally, I feel as if I have more confidence at the net. If an opponent returns hard at me, I am comfortable at the net and know where to hit it."

Their effective combination certainly caught teams out at Roland Garros last year, including Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan in the semi-finals. They went on to lose to Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes in a close final, but had proven they were a team with more to offer. Two weeks later they won their first title together in 's-Hertogenbosch before following with a semi-final showing at Wimbledon, halted only by the Bryan brothers eager for revenge.

"We've found out big serves and our height can intimidate opponents."

Their results were solid, if not spectacular, throughout the remainder of the season, but it was not enough to secure them a place at Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, the year-end championships held at The O2 in London for the first time in 2009.

"It was unfortunate that we did not qualify last year," lamented Moodie. "If we had won one more match towards the end of the season we would have made it, but we did not start playing together until May, so we were playing catch-up on other pairings."

They were forced to play catch-up again in 2010, with Moodie sidelined due to injury for the first two months of the season. However, they reunited with immediate impact in April at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, where they reached the semi-finals. They were unable to repeat their run all the way to the Roland Garros final at the climax of the European spring clay-court swing, coming a cropper against Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in the semi-finals, but have since followed with a succession of strong results, including a second successive Wimbledon semi-final effort.

Their improved consistency, as they attribute it, has seen them climb the 2010 ATP Doubles Team Rankings to No. 7, with the Top 8 teams at the end of the year to make the journey to south-east London.

"Qualifying for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals would be fantastic," said Norman. "I have always seen it as a reward for playing a good year; a huge bonus. If we work well and maintain a Top 8 ranking we’ll look to take advantage of playing in London in November."

As tour veterans, both are primarily family men. Moodie is married to Marcia and they have a three-year-old daughter, Danica Jade, while Norman travels with his wife and two children, Nanu and Manon. "It is tough being away from your wife, so that is why we decided to travel together to each event as a family," explains the left-handed Belgian. "I feel very fortunate to be able to watch them grow up."

Naturally, their thoughts have turned to retirement in the not-too-distant future, with projects already in place to fill the void that professional tennis will no longer occupy.

"Qualifying for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals would be fantastic."

Moodie's primary focus will likely be his own Foundation, which is currently in its early stages, while he is also involved in projects in Zimbabwe and South Africa. "It is something I wish to pursue and develop once it's fully up and running. In the past, for several years, I have supported African charities. We help raise awareness for needy and good causes."

Meanwhile, Norman expects his attention will turn to coaching and tournament organising. "When I retire I might help some Belgian youngsters develop, but right now my wife and I are involved in organising the Ethias Trophy, an ATP Challenger Tour event in Mons, that has featured the Rochus brothers, Malisse, Darcis and other Top 100 players."

Those retirement plans had better be put on hold for a little while longer, though, as Moodie and Norman continue to thrive.

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