Doubles presents challenge on court

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By BOB VARMETTE

The iconic image of tennis is Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer, or Serena Williams vs. Maria Sharapova.

Not too many would first think of, say, Bob and Mike Bryan – the wildly successful American brothers who recently won their 100th professional doubles title in claiming their fifth U.S. Open doubles crown.

Doubles tennis, though, is still tennis.

And in high school team tennis, it’s a very important component of any team’s goal of winning a dual, since seven of the 19 matches are doubles.

Still, it’s different.

“There’s a lot more strategy and you’re trying to avoid the net player a lot,” Liberty Hill’s Lindsey Cowdrey said. “Singles, you can do more drop shots and you don’t worry about getting poached. You can mix up a lot more.

“I think it’s harder to play doubles. You’ve got to worry about which of you is going to get to a ball, where you’re going to hit it next, how hard you’re going to hit it without worrying about the net player poaching,” she said.

Poaching, isn’t a term heard when discussing singles matches. Poaching is when the net player “poaches” a shot hit by an opponent. Should the “poacher” have a good angle, his or her shot may be very difficult to reach.

So, doubles tennis has its own vocabulary. It has its own strategy, too.

Cowdrey, a junior who also plays No. 2 singles for the Liberty Hill girls, teams up with girls No. 1 singles Alex Svetlik to play No. 1 doubles.

Prior to a match, in addition to getting each other motivated to play, the pairing discusses court coverage responsibilities in particular situations and the strengths and weaknesses of the two players across the net, and how that can play into how they as a team respond in certain game situations.

“I think they do real well with each other,” said Liberty Hill Coach Robert Headrick. “We just hadn’t had much luck with who we’ve played.”

The Cowdrey-Svetlik partnership has lost twice in the young season. The competition has been challenging for the team, which was paired together for the first time in August.

So far, the pairing has meshed well, even against tough opponents from Lampasas and Smithville.

“I think they do – Saturday, there were times when one of them would get all the points and … maybe the next game it would switch,” Headrick said. “They kind of complemented each other in that situation.”

What they need now is just more experience playing together, he said.

A factor that helped the success of the Bryan brothers. Their success is predicated on their extensive time not only playing competitively together, but the countless additional hours they practice together.

It’s impossible to replicate that kind of experience at the high school level, Headrick said. Svetlik and Cowdrey, and the other Liberty Hill doubles teams, are lucky to get in two hours.

“Just playing together and kind of getting an idea of what the other person is going to do in a certain situation and how they’re going to serve and how they’re going to return,” Headrick said. “I think they just need more experience because this is the first year that they’ve played together.”

In doubles, there’s another player on your side of the court. Having that other player can be a tremendous advantage – she can reach balls you have no chance at returning.

But it comes with a trade off – there’s another player on your side of the court.

“Yeah, I always have to yell at Lindsey to try to move, but it is a challenge sometimes because obviously you don’t want to hit your teammate, but if you have a good enough shot you won’t actually hit them,” Svetlik said. “I don’t feel like it’s a problem to me.”

For Svetlik, doubles can be a perfect lead-in to her singles match. And that’s even if she and Cowdrey don’t win.

Headrick recalled the District 24-4A dual Saturday against Smithville. Svetlik and Cowdrey lost in a match that went to three set, and they dropped the final set 7-5.

“I think it really ticks her off when she loses in doubles, and she just obliterates the person she plays in singles,” Headrick said. “I even told the Smithville coach the other day, ‘I feel sorry for your girl that’s about to play Alex in singles.’”

Why, the Smithville coach asked? The answer – a 6-1, 6-1 Svetlik rout.

Cowdrey also finds playing doubles to her advantage in singles.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “I think it helps build up my strategy and my ball placement – it really improves my game a lot.”

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