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The Bear Weighs In

Written by: Pierre Lamarche

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***We have decided to open a monthly Bear column which will deal with specific questions and comments from our readers. If you have a question and want a straight answer, which you might not like, or which might be subjective, what you will get is a no nonsense answer not colored by personal agenda (although it will be suggested) but by years of experience in the sport.***

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First of all, let’s comment on the Tony Roth, Noble Tennis, Ottawa Athletic Club and dissatisfied former clients situation.

The article submitted by Tony was one, which I looked at as a philosophical approach to player and individual development. Given Tony’s background in education and his development as a player, his thoughts do not surprise me or provoke me in any way. What they do is present a refreshing approach, which is certainly worth examining for all of us looking to improve ourselves. In fact, I sent the article to all of my coaches to challenge them into thinking outside of the box.

I have known Tony for a lifetime as a player and then as a coach. He is a serious, committed individual who believes in his values. I cannot comment on his ability to translate his thoughts into a day-to-day successful training program, but I am sure his intentions are honorable. Having said that does not mean that having honorable intentions make you right or successful.

The operation of an Academy is an on-going exercise in dealing with controversy. You have so many views from parents, coaches, players, associations, anyone who watches tennis and some who don’t, that it is impossible to satisfy everyone’s opinion. You must take a road, which is based on your guiding philosophy, communicate over and over your direction and intentions, deal on an on-going basis with erroneous thoughts or perceptions, admit your mistakes, acknowledge them and continue.

ACE tennis, which is our parent tennis academy operation, just finished a two-day workshop with 15 of our top employees to revisit all aspects of our business. This is after 40 years of operation. We try, we do not always get it right, we make changes, we mess up again, we apologize, we start over. Because of this openness to getting better, the access we provide to different views, we find that some people that leave us then come back. Some don’t, but we learn from every situation.

Ottawa is a special tennis city for me. Every summer, the Nationals at the Rideau were the highlight for all Canadian juniors. Great players have come from the area on an on-going basis. It would be a shame for that tradition to stop as we require more centers of excellence in this country.

You cannot satisfy all of your customers, but hopefully, this tempest will help affect changes in process which will provide the opportunity for future growth in a major Canadian tennis market.

Second here is a comment on Doubles from someone I respect immensely, Zito Baccarani.

Hi Pierre:

I am way behind in my reading, but really enjoyed Connor’s article. In the same issue, what really grabbed me though was being reminded of the dearth of doubles being played by our juniors these days. When I watch Provincials and Nationals now, I cringe with the lack of skill, both technical and strategic, when our juniors play doubles. I very much miss the days when OTA Selections included singles and doubles each weekend. As Adil stated, it is such an important part of College Tennis, which helped him to get a scholarship and has been an integral part of the fabric of Canadian Tennis for many years. From your article on Davis Cup, I know you agree. How do we get doubles re-instated into the OTA Selections events, or do you think that is important to do so? (I am but a lowly official and have been told to keep my nose out of these tennis developmental areas.)

Thanks,

Zito

Zito,

Anyone who understands world tennis knows that doubles has been the backbone of the success Canada had in the 1980’s through 2010 and what we, as a tennis nation, have been respected and known for. We have had players world ranked #1 individually or as a team, we have had Grand Slam Champions, we have won a Gold Medal, we qualified for the world group in Davis Cup on two occasions because of our doubles teams. Lareau, Connell, Michibata, Hetherington and Nestor were world class doubles players [top 3 in the world]. Daniel Nestor is a legend and one of the greatest doubles players of all time.

So what happened? Simply, people in charge did not pay attention. They did not understand the role of doubles in our country. The number of great Canadian doubles players [there were others as well: Simpson, Hy-Boulais, Jeyaseelan, Laurendeau] was not a coincidence, it was due to methodical  planning that saw doubles as a source of survival to get to college or to survive financially in the pros. We had many Canadian All-Americans in the US college system. Lareau, Connell, Michibata, Nestor were able to achieve top 100 ATP singles rankings due to their doubles ability and the money they made to survive. We had identified the doubles point as being crucial in Davis Cup ties. All of our system was oriented towards us developing players who could play doubles, who could buy time, as well as survive the financial shortfalls for tennis in this country. We also quickly realized that having players in the draw until Saturday or Sunday gave them the chance to get free hotel and meals, to hang around with the best singles players in the world, to practice with them because everyone else was gone and to demystify them. Demystifying is a simple concept which means that familiarity breeds confidence. In other words, if you beat Lendl, Navratilova, Evert, Cash in doubles or practice with them, you are certainly not as mesmerized by them when you get the chance to play them in singles. This concept became essential in the success of Canadian tennis. We did not have a Raonic, but we were a real tennis power.

This doubles emphasis led to the development of our own doubles expert, the great Canadian Coach Louis Cayer, who now works for Great Britain. We gave Louis the mandate to make our doubles system and teams great and with his usual creative, intellectual, systematic approach he was able to help the careers of many of the Canadian greats. His influence was felt through the whole Canadian system and eventually, through the whole world [the International Tennis Federation mandated a video on his methods].

Now, US tennis is the most immediate option for most of our young Canadian players. The ones that are identified by Tennis Canada are immediately removed from the majority of Canadian events and play internationally in their quest for singles supremacy. So it’s obvious for the rest of the non-selected Canadians that a thorough apprenticeship in doubles would help them in their future quest for an American scholarship. Doubles is a major component of US college competition. Matches between Universities start with three doubles matches. The team that wins two matches gets one point before the six singles are played. If you win the doubles point, you only have to break even in the remaining singles. If not, you have to win four of the six singles.

In domestic tournaments with doubles, kids get to hang around till the last day of the tournament, kids get to beat players they would never beat in singles. It gives them confidence, it gives them the chance to play two live tournaments at one time, it develops skills they might never use in singles, it just makes it a more fun enjoyable atmosphere [this does matter to kids, no?]. The emphasis on consolation events is the product of a well-meaning administrator, who never played real competitive tennis. Yes, kids play more singles matches, but have you noticed the number of defaults and matches, where players semi-tank, matches, which really do not mean much. How often do you hear a player say: “I lost, but it did not matter because it was in the consolation”? The only thing I can tell you is that when I lost in singles in a tournament, I hoped a tornado would come and destroy the event so nobody could win. I would leave town as quickly as possible, unless I had doubles. I could, in my simple mind, rationalize the week as a good one if doubles became a success, but never could I have felt the same about playing a tournament for losers [consolation].

So Zito, I am with you – 100% doubles is an essential component of our Canadian game. Let’s be proud of the little tradition we have in the sport and make new generations understand the beauty and value of the discipline. There are so many ways to play doubles now [from a scoring standpoint], that they could be integrated in the competitive schedule and be included in the ranking system [as in the ITF junior rankings].

If you have any questions for the Bear, please leave your comment here or email The Bear directly at pierre@acetennis.ca.

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