Getting Back Together: An Interview with Raymond and Stubbs
Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs were one of the best doubles teams a decade ago, winning the Australian Open in 2000 and collecting two more Grand Slam titles (Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) in 2001. The pair split up in 2005, and each had success on other teams, but now they’re back together after each found herself without a partner heading into 2010. We caught up with them about their style of play, the state of college tennis, and what it’s like playing no-ad scoring.
What brought you back together?
Stubbs: I was playing with Sam [Stosur] and she wanted to concentrate a lot more on her singles. Lisa was looking to play with someone else, so we were essentially free at the same time, so Lisa proposed in an e-mail that we give it another go. It might be my one of my last years, if not my last year, on tour, so it’s nice to spend that time together.
Did it take a long time to get back into the groove as a team?
Raymond: It was kind of like getting back on a bike. We had played for so long together and then playing against each other over the years. After a couple of practices it was as if we had never stopped playing together.
Stubbs: The biggest difference for us is that the game has changed a little bit. Teams are playing back a lot more, so we thought, as serve and volley players and people who chip and come in, who play aggressive tennis, How do we adjust to that style of play?
Is that the biggest change? How doubles has become more of a…
Raymond: More of a singles game? Oh, absolutely. Between the technology and the fact the girls are so much fitter, the serves and returns are much bigger and everyone is staying back. You can count on four fingers the teams who serve and volley anymore.
Stubbs: A lot of people playing “I” formation because they are staying on the baseline more. It’s kind of good for us in some ways because it keeps it fresh.
How has your training changed as a result?
Raymond: We very rarely practice against someone who’s going to serve and volley. Our standard play 10 years ago was, OK, girl’s going to serve and volley, get the return down and go.
Stubbs: Now we have to be very clear about the game plan. If you return to her forehand, we’re going to do this. If you’re going to lob, we’re going to do that. It now has to be a lot more strategic where it used to be more straight up. Don’t get us wrong, [it] was still hard [before]! When we played against Martina [Navratilova], I’ll never forget we played her on grass and I played my usual chip and come in. Most girls don’t try to serve and volley on me when I chip and come in—there aren’t many girls who are going to out-volley us—and Martina got the ball back and then she would toy with me. I’m not used to girls playing like that anymore.
Teams seem to breakup a lot. Is it complicated to play teams when they switch partners?
Stubbs: Definitely teams have very set things. So when they play with different people they still have their strengths and weaknesses but maybe they don’t gel as well with someone new. Or sometimes, they are better.
Where do you stand on the third-set tiebreaker?
Stubbs: We hate it.
Raymond: Here’s the thing: Obviously, I’d much rather have the traditional best-of-three tiebreaker sets, but if I had to give up one thing, I’d take the third set tiebreaker. It’s the no-ad that’s the killer. That is what kills you in the format on the WTA tour week in, week out. You play one bad point, you don’t hit your serve on your spot and they get a lucky return, game’s over. In a 10-point breaker it’s long enough that you can get a little momentum.
Stubbs: Mostly the better team wins.
Raymond: Usually. You get tons of tough teams dropping sets now but still win the third-set tiebreaker.
Stubbs: It’s major pressure on the really good teams as opposed to the other teams who think they have a chance. They get all upped and amped for it because they think, “If we can get a set, we might win the super-tiebreak.” We are so happy to be in the Slams because we know over time that, ad-deuce, ad-deuce, you have to earn those games. There really isn’t an element of luck.
Lisa, what do you think about the college situation? You were sort of the poster woman for going to college [University of Florida] and then turning pro. Now everyone talks about John Isner as a college success story.
Raymond: If you would have asked me five to eight years ago if I thought someone should go to school, I definitely would have said yes, absolutely. But now, what I think is happening, is the competition is just not there anymore. The USTA and everyone is telling them to turn pro instead of going to school. It would be nice to see people go back to school and other people, someone like Chelsea Gullickson [University of Georgia], for example, who has done well in college and might give the pro tour a try, inspire people to go back and play college tennis. I’m still a huge advocate for players to go to school, just to develop as a person and to get an education.
Stubbs: And to fall back on it. If it doesn’t work out [on the tour], you can always go back to school and finish.
Raymond: But if you have aspirations of being a very good professional tennis player, you could lose a couple of good years on tour by going to school.
Stubbs: Or, just go for one year, pick a great school. If the USTA pushed their better players to go to the really great schools instead of turning pro, then you would have those great girls belting at each other all year and then you’ll really see the ones who want to be great. The “Lisa Raymonds” will go undefeated at college and then maybe she can say, “OK, I’ve beaten the best in my country.” If you can’t even beat the best in your country, you shouldn’t be playing because there are 500 Lisa Raymonds out there wanting to be a pro.
Players are playing longer, peaking later, what do you think about that?
Stubbs: It’s interesting. Tennis Australia is looking into that now. Players aren’t playing their best until their 20s and there aren’t the phenoms any longer. There are so few players who are teenagers even in the Top 50. Maybe the USTA needs to look at that and see where can we get the competitiveness back to make players better at 16, 17 and 18, instead of encouraging them to turn pro at 17. They aren’t good enough and then they’re thrown into in the system in the big washing machine, and eventually at 20 they think, “this sucks,” and they have no life. Push them to go into the collegiate system where they are playing each other. You know, Lisa played against girls who turned pro.
Raymond: My competition was in the era of Meredith McGrath, Andrea Farley, Debbie Graham. They all turned pro.
Would you include playing on the junior circuit before turning pro?
Raymond: I feel like you should dominate what you’re doing. I was No. 1 in the 18s and then No. 1 in college, so then I thought, “OK, let’s see what I can do at the next level.” Today, kids kind of meander, they’re kind of mediocre. Players can be No. 8 or so in the country as a junior and then think, “OK, let’s try [the pro tour].” I’m a huge believer that winning breeds winning. If you dominate and you’re No. 1, you have confidence and you move to the next level and you feel good about yourself. If you come out here on the pro tour, it’s not easy. It’s a tough life. If you’re doing well, it’s phenomenal.
Stubbs: Let’s not kid ourselves. When you’re doing well, it’s harder because you have a lot of pressure on you.
Where do you go after here?
Stubbs: Asia, to China. Hopefully we’ll qualify for the championships. Our goal is always to win every time we play and we always believe that quality is much better than quantity.