Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova proved why they’re the best women’s doubles team world on Sunday, winning the doubles at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston. Clinical, versatile, athletic and energetic, a close look at this duo is quite instructional – and can also annihilate a long-extant and potentially toxic premise of recreational tennis.
Two quotes that set me on edge:
“I’m the steady one.”
“I’m the shotmaker.”
It’s one thing to hear this from pros. Though Mike Bryan is the more consistent member of the Bryan brothers team, he has no problem moving forward to take offense as opportunities present themselves. At the opposite end, Bob Bryan is quite skilled at keeping a point alive.
But among recreational teams, this often becomes a false dichotomy, an exoneration of each partner’s responsibility. I’ve seen too many self-proclaimed steady players hold back when the situation clearly called for offense – and in the process of showing such restraint, that person created a problem that their partner was forced to take responsibility for. As for those zealous shotmakers, since when is poor shot selection an excuse for inconsistency?
Safarova and Mattek-Sands are defined less by an artificial schism and more by their melding of skills. Safarova, a superb singles player who has been ranked as high as five in the world, has the sleek, arresting brand of power, disguise and accuracy frequently seen in players from the Czech Republic. The court when she strikes the ball is a toasted English muffin, Safarova constantly finding pleasing nooks and crannies. Mattek-Sands plays opportunistically, at once athletic and able to mix her own brand of power and touch.
Is either necessarily the steady one or the shotmaker? Better yet, each is the playmaker – a tennis player, looking to use her full array of skills. Perhaps for us civilians, it’s wise to explore and develop those skills. If you think you’re steady, how about learning to poach or at least fake poach? Fancy yourself the big hitter – but surely it’s useful to improve your lob.
Be it in romance, business, or sports, it is so easy to define a pairing by its contrasts. But if tennis has taught me anything, it’s that the easy answer is not necessarily the best answer.
Read more articles by Joel Drucke