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?