Our USTA League season opened yesterday, the mid-Atlantic flora in technicolor bloom beneath clear blue skies. Temps were in the mid-70s. But as I stepped onto the court, I couldn’t shake my sense of dread and foreboding.

Since early-September 2008, I’ve been woodshedding my singles game, trying to develop a more dangerous forehand, while adding a kick-serve to my repertoire. As the indoor season came to a conclusion last week, I was feeling good about my progress. In my last outing, I took a set off someone who routinely pounds me. He does serious damage at the 4.0 level.

While my preparations were under way, however, my 4.0 team imploded. The captain moved, the regulars joined other teams, and we were left without enough bodies to fill a roster. I took to the Internet, in search of a team that might need players. I found a spot, but the team hasn’t yet managed to hold a practice. The coach was forced to make a line-up without ever having seen half the team pick up a racket. I was slotted at second doubles with someone I met a few minutes before the match started.

A peculiar form of torture

I’m a terrible doubles player. I don’t know the game. And if I’m to have any chance of success, I need to be paired with someone I know well, someone who won’t fly off the handle when I double-fault down break point. Paired with an unfamiliar partner, my game turns tentative. The anxiety that occasionally sabotages my singles play sits heavy on my shoulders each time I step to the service line.

We were blown out 6-2, 6-0. Our opponents had weak serves and weak groundstrokes, but great hands and uncanny steadiness at net. We couldn’t put the ball over their heads or past them. Everything came back. It was only a matter of strokes until we went for too much and made an error. Their games were hard to respect, even as they were grinding my sense of self-worth into the asphalt. I found myself raging not only against the circumstances, but the peculiar torture of doubles, a game that showcases my weaknesses (the serve) while neutralizing my strengths (quickness and consistency).

I hope to stay off the doubles court for the rest of the season. If I’m to become a true asset in league play, however, I’ll eventually have to commit some serious practice time to dubz.


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