When it comes to instructional tennis books, the spectrum is wide. Some emphasize technique, which is not easy to grasp without an instructor paying close attention. Then there is the literature that addresses tennis’ mental aspects – in some cases getting into the right headspace, in others focusing on tactics for winning matches.
Rick Altman’s book, “Killer Doubles,” makes it clear from the get-go that if you want to improve a stroke, you should look elsewhere. Altman is a highly experienced player – but, as he emphasizes, strictly a recreational player (though a darned good one). A nimble writer, once editor of the publication Inside Tennis, Altman has skillfully picked apart dozens of the experiences he’s faced and witnessed and brought them to life in a way that is understandable and useful.
Well aware that a great many recreational doubles players fear getting passed down the line, Altman writes that, “You want them to try doing that. It takes them out of their more comfortable cross-court rhythm, and more important, it’s hard to do! Returning down the line is a low-percentage play – the net is higher there and the geometry is more challenging.”
Addressing the question of receiving sides in mixed doubles, Altman’s thinking is precise: “If the right-handed guy is effective at cutting off volleys, put him in the ad court.” This is followed by, “If the gal has a strong two-handed backhand, place her in the ad court,” and finished with, “If either player has a really weak backhand, place it in the deuce court, where it is not easy for right-handed servers to find it.”
Applying the principles of team play even to his writing, Altman lets one of his longstanding partners, teaching pro Jon Toney, take the stage to explain a significant aspect of doubles. Says Toney, “The question for me about my partner is not what type of player I’m looking for in a partner but what type of player I need to be. It starts with being more selfless.”
Additional sections address the right mindset for playing in the wind, whether it’s best to serve or receive first, where the left-hander should receive and a whole host of situations. There’s even a section on how to warm up strategically.
And yet, the strength of his book is two-pronged. Certainly Altman has addressed the behavioral aspect of doubles: In various situations, what should we do? Consider that the micro. But in a macro sense, his exploration tackles the attitudinal – the approach a player takes to the game before even walking on the court. It’s one thing to just hit balls and react. “Killer Doubles” dares you to dig deeper.
But there is something at play in Killer Doubles that goes far beyond the practical world of addressing one situation after another.