Reflecting on the importance of a strong paddle partnership…
Finding the right partner in paddle is similar to having the perfect spouse. It’s that important! Amy Shay and I have been paddle partners for approximately nine years and have been monogamous our entire tournament career! We are currently ranked number one in the country in Women’s Open Platform Tennis. This achievement has not come easily. Much like a marriage, we have had our good times but also some rough patches along the way. Although some could view our longevity together as stale or stagnant, we view our long standing partnership as a huge advantage over other teams; we have good communication, very disciplined playing strategies, know what to expect from each other, know our roles within the partnership and are able to anticipate the other’s shot. This has brought results. Conversely, a top ranked male player and friend argue that rotating partners is extremely enlightening and can only expand a player’s game. Either way, it is true that winning in paddle takes a lot more than athletic skills and fitness. To win a national ranking tournament, a team must be able to adjust their game against each opposing team, must be able to assess the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and devise a strategy. That team must not be afraid to change a strategy if it is not working. We believe it all boils down to a strong partnership which is nurtured through time on the court together.
Sustaining a steady “mojo” is another very important element to a strong team. “Mojo”, for us, is the positive energy and confidence each player brings to the team, making the game fun as opposed to stressful or work. It’s difficult to beat a team when they have the “mojo”!
Amy and I have lost our “mojo” on plenty of occasions which has either caused us to lose a match or just suffer greatly through a match. Two years ago at the Chicago Nationals, we played a quarter final match against Lauren Cash and Maria Manley, a new but tough team. We were ahead 5-1 in the first set of this quarter final match. Serving for the match, Lauren hit a lob over our heads and I called it out. Amy decided to overrule me and this is where it all went downhill! How could she overrule me when I clearly saw the ball out? I was furious! Amy felt horrible for overruling me but she saw the ball in. We both had equal vantage points. We replayed the point and proceeded to lose this point and just about every point thereafter until we were down 5-6 in the first set. We were so disturbed that we couldn’t concentrate or communicate and the set was about to slip away! I remember how we stopped and just looked at each other. We didn’t say much but we knew what each other was thinking….are we going to really let this happen or are we going to shake this off and get our butts in gear before it is too late? Somehow we rallied to win the next game and to ultimately win the tie-break for the set. We secured the second set to win the match. What do you do, when there is a discrepancy between a team with a line call? I guess nothing because you have to call them as you see them. There are some teams that would never overrule their partner, under any circumstances, as it can lead to disaster as it almost did for us. Although we survived this match in the quarters, the semis was not much better from a mojo standpoint. We were playing Sally Cottingham and Liz Hayward. They had tremendous “mojo” in this match. They had nothing to lose and were actually having fun! These two could not miss a volley. We hit our best drives and they volleyed perfectly. Sometimes they would even throw a net cord in just to throw salt on our open wounds. We couldn’t do anything to penetrate this team. As a matter of fact, they were sucking us right into playing their fast game. The more they volleyed to perfection, the more Amy pressed to no avail. Amy’s drive were clearly ineffective and I was frustrated. When she couldn’t get it done, she looked to me to drive the ball and press with the return of serve. I was so afraid to make an error that I started to lob everything. I had zero offense and not a whole lot of confidence. The more I lobbed my returns, the more frustrated Amy became. I have a hard time when Amy’s game is off or not working. She and I both depend on her offense. This day, we needed her to slow it down so we could get back in the points. We just couldn’t get on the same page. We were distant on the court. We did not have our usual mojo, and couldn’t get our mojo back in the match as we usually are able to do so we eventually lost the match in a close three sets. The winner of this match would be ranked number one in the country and this went to Sally and Liz. Although there is nothing wrong with losing to the awesome Sally and Liz, it was a very disappointing match to lose because we became so disconnected. We were miserable throughout the match and Sally and Liz were enjoying themselves. They had the momentum this day!
We are not the only Dardis/Shay partnership out there competing in APTA tournaments. Two other teams have fun competing under the same name. Emily Dardis and Alexandra Shay, both 14, have won the national 10’s and 12’s and were finalists in the 14’s this past year. Claire Dardis and Mimi Shay, age 12, have also been playing together for 2 years and were finalists in the national 10’s. We have stressed the importance of growing together as a team and hope our girls follow our example.
The APTA Nationals is the biggest and most prestigious tournament of the season. It is considered the pinnacle of success. Every year, strong new teams emerge from the woodwork forcing us all to play at the highest level. Although we are currently ranked number one, we have yet to win the “Nationals.” It wouldn’t be fair to downplay the fact that we had to win three other big tournaments in a season to become number one. In our minds, a season is comprised of more than one tournament and it this consistency that earns the ranking. Nonetheless, the “Nationals” will always be the big ONE!
At the end of the day, Amy and I are great friends first and foremost. Could Amy win nationals with a different partner? Never! Could I win with a different partner? Definitely (just kidding) but it doesn’t matter. We have immensely enjoyed the thrill of the battle together and if we never win nationals, we will be ok!