A Close Look at Tennis Duos

Features

By Rinn Smith & Rachel Studebaker | Photography by Anh Bao Tran-Le | Shot on Site at Manker Patten Tennis Club

While tennis is often a solo sport, many opt to play with a partner by their side. A successful doubles team requires both individual skill and close coordination. The following six local duos excel in each and bring competitive spirits and years of camaraderie to each match. Read on to learn the ways they coordinate on the court and how, in pairing up with someone who shares their love for tennis, they have found not just a doubles partner but a lifelong friend.

cathy palisoc and sarah delay

Cathy Palisoc & Sarah DeLay

For Cathy Palisoc and Sarah DeLay, playing tennis was a great way to find time for themselves in their busy schedules as both women juggled corporate careers and raising their families. “I highly recommend for anyone to try playing tennis – especially doubles. It allows you to forget about any worries or stresses and focus on just following and hitting the ball,” Palisoc says. “It’s a great exercise for anyone at any age.” Now that they’ve gotten back into it, their love for the sport has only grown stronger. “Once my youngest headed to college, I had time to get back into tennis. It’s wonderful to get a second chance to enjoy the sport!” DeLay shares.

After two years of playing together, Palisoc and DeLay already have much to show for their efforts, including a state championship win that drove them on to another win at regionals in Mobile, Alabama. “We had just started playing together, but we won four matches in a row in the Southern Championship in Mobile two years ago. Our team then won the Southern Championship, and we were thrilled,” Palisoc recalls. Both women attribute their success to their shared determination and their ability to capitalize on each other’s individual skills. “Our skills complement each other,” DeLay explains. “Cathy has a strong backhand and likes to play the net, and I have a strong forehand and like the baseline. We both move around the court well and back each other up. Also, we encourage each other when we miss a shot or serve and need to be picked up.”

The pair’s strong teamwork is bolstered by the trust they have built in each other over the years. “No matter what the score is in the game, we know that we will do our best while having lots of fun and laughter. We never criticize or blame each other for any lost points,” Palisoc explains. DeLay adds, “Because we know each other well, I can anticipate how she will respond and where she will be on the court. This is very important in a match.” Whether they’re celebrating a win or encouraging each other through a tough match, Palisoc and DeLay like to focus on playing their best and having a great time while doing it.

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richard wagner and jim bach

Richard Wagner & Jim Bach

Jim Bach and Richard Wagner met through their wives, who are lifelong friends, and ended up forming a friendship of their own through tennis. “My wife, Sunny Hooper Wagner, and Jim’s wife, Mary Harper Bach, have been friends since seventh grade at GPS. I knew Mary from college but didn’t meet Jim until the early ‘80s. The four of us went on vacation and Jim got me out on the tennis court – it hasn’t stopped since,” Wagner recalls. Now, the two of them have been friends and doubles partners for over 40 years. “We have become close friends over the years. Camaraderie is a large part of why I love tennis,” Bach says.

On the court, Bach and Wagner work together like a well-oiled machine to keep their opponents in check. “We complement each other: my serve, his unorthodox overhead, our court coverage. We both anticipate our opponents’ moves well,” Bach says. They also know each other well after spending decades on the court together, which offers an advantage in challenging matches. “Singles is physically harder, but doubles is technically harder. I like the strategy of doubles,” Wagner shares. “When your competition is hitting particularly good and above their normal level, it is challenging to stay true to your own game. Sometimes patience can help to weather out the storm.”

Over the years, their friendship has even been a benefit to the Chattanooga community at large. “No pun intended, we both like to serve – on and off the court,” Bach says. “2024 will be our 35th year of hosting, with our spouses, a Christmas party benefiting the CHATT Foundation (formerly Chattanooga Community Kitchen). Over the years, this party has raised over $300,000 to support their important work. Friendships we have made through tennis and other endeavors have helped this worthy cause.”

After 40 years, Bach says “Our partnership has resulted in plenty of good doubles matches and a lifetime of memories both on and off the court.” And as the years go on, they have no plans to stop any time soon – even though Wagner jokes, “It seems that the older you get, the more injuries you get. If you ask me today how am I doing, I will simply say I’m between injuries.”

louise schults and donna mclaurin

Louise Schults & Donna McLaurin

For Donna McLaurin and Louise Schults, tennis opened the door to a beautiful friendship. The two of them were officially introduced to each other in 1997 when their captain paired them up to play doubles together for the first time, though they had previously played on opposite sides of the court. Now, nearly 30 years later, their partnership and friendship are both as strong as ever.

McLaurin and Schults are both competitive by nature, and this shared quality makes them an excellent team. “Louise is a fantastic tennis player and also a fantastic athlete. She has an incredible forehand and has developed an equally fabulous backhand,” McLaurin explains. “She, like me, wants to win and never gives up, and I love that about her!” Likewise, Schults says, “Donna never gives up. We can be losing 6-0, but she is going to make our opponents earn every point.”

For the two of them, collaborating on the court is one of the most exciting things about playing doubles. “We make a great team because she tells me what to do and I do it!” Schults laughs. “My favorite thing about playing tennis with Donna is that she strategizes on every point. Also, she is always telling funny stories during the changeover which makes me laugh and keeps me loose.” Beyond playing to win, McLaurin and Schults make sure to enjoy each match. “We have lots of fun, laugh, and always try to figure out a way to win. Many times we are successful, and sometimes we are not! Either way, we always have fun and enjoy being together,” McLaurin shares.

The pair’s friendship has taken them on countless vacations and to the final rounds of many tournaments, but it has also gotten them through difficult times over the years. When health complications affected McLaurin in 2018, Schults was right by her side throughout her recovery – whether they were walking, biking, or enjoying a lunch at Boathouse. “I have a deep appreciation for her friendship and look back on those times with great fondness,” McLaurin says. “Louise is a sweet, loyal, and true friend. I will be forever grateful for my tennis partner and for her friendship!” Echoing the sentiment, Schults says, “Tennis is a great sport. If it hadn’t been for tennis, I may have never met Donna. It has been a pleasure to play doubles with her all these years.”

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erin and jay sizemore

Erin & Jay Sizemore

For Jay and Erin Sizemore, a lifelong love of tennis blossomed into an even stronger love for each other. Erin started playing at 7 years old and progressed to play competitively throughout high school and college, while Jay began at age 10 and continued through his first years of high school. “We have played together ever since we met. It was one of the first interactions we had with one another and what originally connected us,” Erin recalls. Years later, the Sizemores still bond over their love for tennis and their shared competitive spirit.

As a married couple, their strong connection serves them well on the court. “We have open and honest communication both on and off the court,” Erin explains. “This allows us to discuss strategies, provide feedback, and support each other during matches. Being married means we have a deep level of trust in each other’s abilities and intentions. We know that we can rely on each other to give our best effort and make smart decisions during matches.” After playing together for so long, their familiarity also provides a unique advantage as the couple can anticipate each other’s moves and keep opponents on their toes. “We play a non-traditional doubles style,” Jay shares. “Erin plays almost exclusively from the baseline, including when I am serving, and I play mainly at the net, including serving and volleying on every point when I am serving. This forces our opponents to adjust their strategy for these less common formations.”   

For the Sizemores, one of the best things about playing doubles tennis is that it gives them a chance to connect on a deeper level. “Tennis is not just a game we play side by side; it’s a shared passion that strengthens our bond and creates lasting memories. What I love most about playing tennis with Jay is the sense of teamwork and unity that it fosters,” Erin says. While many couples share a love for tennis, Jay says, “It is fun to be able to play tennis at a competitive and comparable level with my wife. Many couples either are not at similar levels or struggle to partner effectively with their spouses. I am happy we have been able to do that and look forward to continuing to do so for many years to come.”

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cynda holmes and dee dee buckley

Cynda Holmes & Dee Dee Buckley

Cynda Holmes, a retiree, and Dee Dee Buckley, a stay-at-home mom, began playing tennis as a rewarding way to fill their free time. Their paths would soon collide on the court and result in the perfect partnership. Now close friends, the women are unmistakable as a pair as they sport identical outfits – down to the accessories – every game.

Holmes and Buckley also bring this coordination to the tennis court. “Our games complement each other. Dee Dee is great at the net, and I cover the back,” says Holmes, “When she knows I am back there she has freedom to move back and forth whenever she wants.” Buckley agrees, adding, “We have fun most of all. She is a great baseline player and I love playing the net, so we are a great team together.”

Buckley says that Holmes’ strength is her “ability to know what we may need to change up our game. Her back hand is wicked also.” Holmes returns the praise, saying that Buckley “has no fear at the net and has great tennis intuition – and is always styling!”

No matter what happens on the court, “I always have Dee Dee’s back and she has mine,” says Holmes. “I like being able to support one another and rely on one another, win or lose.” She adds that they overcome any gameplay challenges by “trusting each other and knowing your partner will do her best even if it’s not a great day.”

Both women agree that playing tennis is great fun, and even more so with a teammate. They often travel to their tournaments with their husbands, where their camaraderie – and coordinating attire – leave a lasting impression. While competing together is still a highlight, many of their fondest memories have taken place off the court, from being approached by competitors who remember their outfits to enjoying each other’s company in between matches. “We have such a great time together. Dee Dee is fun and cute and deadly competitive. She is not only my partner, but my very good friend,” shares Holmes. “There is never a dull moment with Cynda,” adds Buckley.

For this duo, doubles tennis has proven to be a source of lively competition and lasting friendship. Holmes laughs, “I had no idea it would be such a great retirement job!”

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jim dunbar and c y liu

Jim Dunbar & C Y Liu

Tennis is a lifetime sport, and Jim Dunbar and C Y Liu are proof. Dunbar has been playing tennis every week for nearly half a decade, and now, at 91 years old, has no plans of slowing down. Meanwhile, Liu put down the tennis racket to pursue a long, successful career in medicine and picked it back up again after retiring from his local practice in 2012.

Playing doubles has enabled Dunbar to keep competing at his age and he has found Liu to be a supportive companion on the court. “What makes us a great team is the respect we have for each other and the love of the game of tennis,” says Dunbar. “I love playing with C Y because he can cover so much of the court for me, and at 91 years old, I’ll need all the help I can get every time I hit a bad shot.” Liu adds, “We don’t get upset or blame each other when we are losing or have lost the game. We always try to support and encourage each other and try to have a good time!”

Dunbar’s lifelong passion for tennis and unwavering optimism are contagious and make it hard not to enjoy even challenging matches. “He plays every ball and every game with enthusiasm and a positive attitude!” shares Liu. “He is always so positive and refuses to be discouraged.”

Liu says that playing doubles requires “coordination and cooperation between you and your teammates,” both skills he and Dunbar excel at as partners. Their strong teamwork has earned them many a win and helped them come out on top after close calls. “One time we were losing 5 to 0, then miraculously one ball at a time, we somehow slowly and gradually came back and eventually beat the other team 7 to 5!” recalls Liu.

The pair’s upbeat approach and gameplay are the perfect recipe for a good partnership and reveal how sports like doubles tennis are so often about the people by your side. Liu remarks, “As Jim always says, ‘We are here to have fun!’”

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