Louis Cayer is one of the preeminent voices in the doubles world, currently helping British doubles players. World No. 1 Neal Skupski, who along with Wesley Koolhof is in the Roland Garros quarter-finals, is one of his charges.
Cayer spoke to ATPTour.com about the biggest differences between coaching singles and doubles players, the intricacies of doubles some might not notice, and more.
How different is it coaching doubles players compared to the singles players?
I’ll start with coaching doubles players, because this is what I presently do. I think it’s a bit underestimated because I have to coach a Deuce-side player, maximise his strengths, his potential. I have to coach the Ad-side player for the same reason, but I have to also coach a team to [figure out] how they will gel, team patterns, team strategy. So it’s like if I have three players to coach. And when I scout, I have to scout the Deuce-side player, scout the Ad-side player and scout how the [opponents] play as a team, which plays they like to do together and combine that. So it’s quite complex.
Plus, I have a philosophy that we have to coach a performer and a player. But what triggers the performer, to activate someone [is different for different people]. For you it could be, ‘Come on, come on’. And the other one is very [calm]. ‘Okay, let’s go, I want to be sure you’re calm for the match’. And so when you do either pep talk, it’s not as complex as a football team or a hockey team, but still you have to gauge a bit what tone you will give to the pre-match talk, respecting the different individuality and stuff like this. So I think it’s quite complex at that level.
Tactics, it’s a lot of offence-defence. In singles, for example, if you serve wide, you make most of the time the volley [into the] open court, particularly if you serve and volley. If you stay back, you look to hit in the open court. But in doubles, if you make a first volley, if the receiver’s partner puts pressure on you, you may have to [go] short cross court. If they both stay back, you volley down the middle on the backhand side… So there’s a lot of decision making that you have to do, because of the complexity of having two players on the court…
Tactics are a bit more complicated [with] exploiting space, covering space. For me in singles, you work with your game style, you’re very confident in game style, you know how to play against three or four major game styles, you’re skillful on different surfaces… and you need especially a great engine. You have to be ready to run side to side for four hours. If you don’t have that big physical engine, I think even if you have nice technique, you cannot succeed in singles.
In doubles, we have to be honest, it is less taxing physically. The matches are an hour and a half, you don’t have these lateral side-to-side [movements]. I don’t say you don’t have to be fit, because they are very fit. But it’s a different type of fitness and the level of endurance required for singles and doubles is not even a close match.
You were talking about your Deuce player, you have your Ad player, and then the team. People who watch doubles might not think about the intricacies of that. What are some other things that people may not recognise about doubles that goes beyond what meets the eye?
On the mental aspect for example, some players were not good in singles and became good in doubles because of the negative self talk that you can have in singles. You lose the point, you’re alone, you get into your little misery, you get a bit down, you start to be flat. In doubles, we have rescue tactics.
There’s the three-second rule — go to your partner whenever you have that dynamic. So I missed a shot, my partner is there right away… It’s easier to be in the present, it’s easier to cultivate the high performance, high-positive energy, which is essential for [finding the] peak-performance state. You cannot get a peak-performance state without high-positive energy.
In doubles, you have a partner to help you to be in that space all the time. So on the mental level, it could be easier than singles where if you’re starting to get tired or negative, or you get beat, I think it takes much more mental discipline to stay fighting like Nadal and Djokovic, who are just amazing.
When people watch doubles, they think of net play, people coming forward and being at the net. What’s something that people don’t understand about the net game that these guys make look so easy?
Okay, first, the myth, I want to make the point [that] there are too many coaches [who] force club members to serve and volley saying, ‘This is the game’. How it’s played now, over 55 per cent of the Top 100 males stay back on their serve. Neal Skupski started to really climb the rankings when he decided to serve and stay back. He can still serve and volley, but he stays back quite often.
So 55 per cent of the men stay back and I would say 95 per cent of the women stay back, so don’t force everybody to serve and volley and to come to the net. But that being said, I think there are three types of volleys.
There’s the volley at midcourt. If you serve and volley, you have to make a ball at midcourt. It’s different footwork technique, different biomechanics…. You join your partner and we call that being in a wall position between the net and the service line. And then you have to cover the court like this.
The down-the-line player, in our system at least, [has] more responsibility of the middle. So you move laterally, but you cut the angle if it comes in the middle, and the other player, same thing. So there’s different skills. And most important, often in singles, they come to the net to finish the point and doubles you come to the net to make the point. So you’re often involved in defence, people hitting very hard at you, stuff like this, where you have to develop a lot of great defensive skills.