The No-Warm-Up Warm-Up

A while back, I was at a club as a member of the visiting team. We took the court and proceeded to warm up for our doubles match. The woman I was hitting against seemed to be, well, terrible. Her groundstrokes had nothing on them, little powderpuff balls. When I tried to warm up my volleys, her shots either landed limply in the net or sailed over my head. The few that actually made it to my racquet felt like little marshmallows.

Frustrated, I briefly considered saying that I would warm up against my doubles partner. The league rules allow this, but I’d never seen it done before. I pretty quickly decided against it. For one thing, we’d already used up most of the time allotted for the warm-up. I couldn’t very well start the warm-up over, could I? Anyway, my partner and I were obviously better players. Maybe the warm-up, or lack thereof, didn’t really matter.

But the real reason I didn’t request to change warm-up partners? I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. By saying that I wanted to hit with my partner, I’d be essentially telling my opponent she wasn’t a good player. I couldn’t see how to get what I wanted without making this stranger feel bad.

After the warm-up, my partner and I conferred. She’d had a poor warm-up as well and had been equally annoyed by it, but we shrugged it off. We’d win the match, anyway–who cares if the warm-up sucked?

My partner served first, to the woman I’d been warming up against…and this woman absolutely smoked her return, the ball whizzing by me in a yellow blur. Huh? This woman could play, and, as we soon found out, so could her partner. We lost the first set quickly and decisively. By the second set, we found our footing a bit and adjusted to the pace of the hitting, but we still lost the match. (To be honest, we would probably have lost even if we had gotten a proper warm-up, although the score would have been closer.)

Tennis is a unique sport in that opponents warm each other up. You don’t see the Yankees warming up the Red Sox. Muhammad Ali didn’t climb in the ring for some pre-bout practice jabs with George Foreman. The tennis warm-up requires cooperation and consideration between people who, minutes later, will be rivals.

On this day, we didn’t get that cooperation from the opponents. We found out later that their entire team had a practice just before we arrived (a perfectly legitimate thing to do). They didn’t need the warm-up themselves, and they’d obviously decided not to give us one. Some would call their strategy smart gamesmanship. And it is. But I don’t think that’s how most of us would want the game to be played.

I’m still struggling with what I should have done in that situation. Or, rather, I know what I “should” have done. I just didn’t do it. I should have warmed up with my partner. I should have insisted on a few extra minutes for the warm-up because I wasn’t getting a proper one. I should have said something like “you know, I’d prefer to hit against my partner” and not given a damn how the opponent felt about it. I should have done all those things and I didn’t because I’m too nice.

There’s a lesson to be had in there, something about nice guys and where they finish. It’s just not a lesson I really want to learn.

What do you do when you’re not getting a good warm-up? Is there any recourse if you’re getting a bad warm-up for a singles match? And are nice guys just doomed to finish last?

2 thoughts on “The No-Warm-Up Warm-Up

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  1. I wonder if they were really being so manipulative/calculating or if after their practice they were just saving their energy for the match. But with the balls hitting the net, it sounds like it probably was intentional.

    Either way, they didn’t give you a decent warm up. And you were being too polite to ask for one. Of course there’s only one thing you can change in that scenario. You don’t know these ladies, so you owe them nothing. You could even give a little white lie and say you always warm up with your partner.

    You are right that one doesn’t usually warm up with the opponent. There’s no reason you need to in tennis. It’s just potentially giving away your game. So just figure out what you want to say next time!

    1. It felt deliberate and underhanded. I’ve played people who hit slower pace balls in warm-up, but they’re normal balls, with a normal arc, that actually get to where they’re supposed to go. Federer and the other pros don’t hit max power in warm-up either–that’s not the point of a warm-up. But this was something else–their shots weren’t just off-pace. They were bad.

      I don’t have that perspective of “I don’t owe them anything.” I always feel like I owe kindness, at least until they screw me over. Especially because this is just a recreational league. But you’re right that I should figure out what to say in that situation. Maybe I could say, “I think we’re having a hard time getting into a rhythm.” Then it doesn’t sound like I’m blaming the opponent–it’s just a compatibility issue. (Or I could say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” 😂)

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