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Doubles Vision - Riding The Tour Carousel

David Martin© David MartinAmerican David Martin found himself in Kazakhstan for a Challenger tournament at the end of last season.

Life on the ATP World Tour is one of continual change. I suppose I've always known this, but it was readily apparent at the end of the year last season as one day I was in the comfort of family, friends, and home, and seemingly the next moment I was halfway across the world in cold, distant (but pleasant) Kazakhstan.

One minute I was laughing and talking with those closest to me, eating at my favorite spots (In-N-Out Burger and Wahoo's fish tacos), and sleeping in my own bed, and the next moment I was communicating in sign language, sticking out like a bull in a china shop, and trying to understand the customs of a new culture. Luckily for me, Astana, Kazakhstan is a friendly place.

In a span of three days, I had seen Times Square (I departed New York), Big Ben (layover in London), and all of the national monuments in Astana. Not bad for a business trip! The sudden change was also apparent at the recent start of the New Year. It seemed like one minute I was sitting around the Christmas tree in snowy Oklahoma, and the next minute I was receiving serve in hot and humid Sao Paolo, Brazil, where I recently played my first tournament.

Not only are tour players constantly adjusting to new cities and countries, but they are also adjusting to different balls, court surfaces, time zones, food, people, and cultures.

One time I was playing a futures in Japan, and my coach and I were watching the weather channel. He said, "I hope that typhoon in China doesn't come over here." After what he said sunk in we had to laugh at the fact that we'd never imagined we would be speculating and worrying about a weather system in China affecting us!

On top of these variables to which all tour players must adjust, many doubles players must also adjust to different partners every week...which includes adjusting to style of play, social style, and temperament.

As far as style of play is concerned, one week you might play with a partner who has rock solid volleys, whereas another week with a guy who prefers to serve and stay back. One week your partner might poach a lot, and the next week be more stationary. One week your partner might have a great serve and not such a great return, while the next week a great return and not so great serve. 

One sign of a good doubles player is to be able to adjust to your partner's style, and to play the way you think gives you the best chance of winning. This is a good reason to develop a well-rounded game which will also give you a wider range of partners.

When switching partners, one also has to adjust to their partner's "emotional needs" and temperament on court. Some guys need a high-energy teammate (The Bryans are probably the best high-energy team out there), where others prefer a quiet intensity (like Daniel Nestor and Wesley Moodie) or even a certain relaxed temperament (like Dick Norman).

Also when changing partners, one has to adjust to their partner's social style off court. Some guys need to feel that "blood brother" connection and want to bond and hang out off court as well. They want to eat dinner together, go to the movies, play cards, have a beer, hang out, etc. My former partner, Scott Lipsky was like this. We had to discuss boundaries just so I could get some personal space!

To other guys, doubles is just a cold, hard business. You do your work on court together and have separate lives off court. Some guys even hate each other, but play together out of necessity. Other guys have a middle approach, doing the work and developing the bond on court, and hanging out occasionally off court. The more flexible you can be, the better.

The beauty of having a regular partner is that you don't have to adjust every week to a difficult playing style, temperament, and social style. However, dealing with the same person over and over can cause strains at times as well, whereas playing with different people can keep things fresh and exciting. But the way to develop the deepest bond and become a great team is of course to commit to each other.

While all the variables and people to which tour players must adjust is difficult and annoying at times, it is, I think, good for our character in the long run. It hopefully makes us more flexible, less picky, calmer, and more resilient. In the case of doubles, we also get a crash course in partnerships and personalities. Hopefully this will shape us for the better in life.

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