Women’s tennis finds solace in strong doubles play

BY JON FRANK | MARCH 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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Tennis is often thought of as an individual sport — two athletes separated by a net volley and rally for advantage.

But the Iowa women’s tennis team understands a sum can only be as great as its parts.

Certainly, the Hawkeyes know that the stellar play of Sonja Molnar, who won her second Big Ten Player of the Week honor on Tuesday after leading the Hawks to victories over No. 68 Wichita State and No. 33 Tulsa, is a big the reason for their No. 18 ranking.

But they heavily stress their attitude toward teamwork is a large part of their success, too.

Iowa is undefeated when it earns the doubles point, posting 10 wins with strong doubles play being the key to continued success.

“We expect to win, and that confidence is everything,” junior Jessica Young said.

Following a fall season in which the team struggled and finished under .500, the coaching staff decided to spend more time working on doubles play.

“We’ve improved in doubles a lot,” Iowa assistant coach Mira Radu said. “We knew to get in the rankings, we had to win in doubles.”

The team spends approximately two hours more every week running doubles drills and perfecting the strategies and formations essential to consistent doubles play. The added emphasis in practice gives the team a psychological edge.

Not only are the doubles teams more disciplined, the Hawkeyes say, they have more formations in their arsenal and the know-how to effectively implement them at the appropriate time.

“We focus on specific details [in practice] and less match play,” senior Merel Beelen said. “Our awareness has gone up. We’ve been practicing different formations, and it’s helped with our confidence.”

Winning in doubles isn’t about earthshaking serves or lightning speed and reflexes. It’s about chemistry and teamwork.

The No. 2 doubles team of Young and senior Kelcie Klockenga highlights the importance of compatibility.

“Doubles is a lot easier because we get along so well,” Young said. “It’s like playing with my sister.”
The closeness off the court pays dividends on it.

Young remembered a dogfight against Tulsa in which she and Klockenga gained a 6-1 lead early but faltered and saw it slip to 6-5.

“We went to the back of the court to counsel each other,” she said. “It helped a lot, and we ended up winning, 8-5.”

The match also broke a tie in doubles and gave the point to Iowa.

Both players have important qualities they bring to the team. Young’s strength is her forehand, and Klockenga relies on a solid backhand.

Their temperament is also different but complementary.

“She’s more mellow,” Young said. “I’m more energetic.”

Players said winning a match is significantly easier when the first point is won through doubles because the team then only has to split the six singles matches to earn the victory.

The doubles point proved to be the determining factor in several close matches against top-notch competition, most notably in 4-3 wins over Princeton, DePaul, and most recently, Tulsa.

Relying on friendship in doubles play allows players to rely on each other for strength and encouragement as well.

“If you have a bad day, if there’s a tension between you and you partner, then it’s hard to get support, which is very important,” Radu said “If you’re not at ease when you’re around your doubles partner, it takes away from your play.”

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