Doubles is an often overlooked part of the ATP tour. Yet it’s the most common form of tennis worldwide, and it’s where some of the most skilled players in the world make their living. Reese Stalder, world number 63 on the ATP doubles tour, is one of those guys.
Following a successful run at TCU in both singles and doubles, where he earned All-Big-12 Honors, Reese turned pro and promptly followed his passion to the doubles side of things. Some four years and a pandemic later, he’s now reached his career high ranking and continues to climb. He and his partner, Evan King, have won 6 Challenger titles in their first full year together, and have even higher hopes for 2024.
We caught up with Reese to talk schedule, tennis recovery, ATP doubles as well as how you can be ready for your next match, regardless of circumstance.
To start, tell us a little about yourself. Where you grew up, how you got into tennis, your tennis journey up to this point?
Yeah, I grew up in Costa Mesa (CA) and got into tennis through both my parents. My dad played at UC Irvine, my mom played at USC, and they both played pro afterwords. So my earliest memories, I remember, they would bring me on the court when I was a little kid. Eventually they gave me a racket. They started hand feeding balls, so I got into it that way.
I played a bunch of sports growing up, but started specializing around eighth grade. By high school I just played tennis. I didn’t go to any academy or anything. Went to Newport Harbor High School. Then went to TCU in Fort Worth. Played all four years there and I loved it.
After that I went pro, but it was tough because I only played for a couple months when the tour shut down for COVID. I had to go back to California where I couldn’t do much, to be honest. Eventually tournaments started picking back up and it was tough because there weren’t that many tournaments, you know? Luckily, things eventually got back to normal.
Last year was actually, crazy enough, my first full year on the tour. Which is weird because I feel like – well I’m only 26 – but I see a lot of guys younger than me but it’s only my second full year. So there’s a mixture between I feel older, but am experiencing a lot of stuff for the first time still. It’s like now my college teammates who were freshman when I was a senior are all graduated. It’s a weird feeling.
So what factored into the decision for you to give pro tennis a shot, where I’m sure a lot of your friends were pursuing other paths, even in the midst of COVID and everything else?
Well in college for the first couple years I wasn’t sure. I was trying to get better and enjoy college tennis just for that. Then I had a couple good years and I started thinking maybe I could make something happen. My goal is to be playing in the biggest events. So I felt like I was at a good jumping off point to get to that level.
COVID was really tough. Nobody knew how long everything would be shut down. So I was taking classes to get my real estate license but you have to take this test, in California, to actually get your license, and either way I couldn’t take that, because it was a bunch of people in a room. By the time I was able to take that test, tournaments were kicking up again. In some ways I’m glad, because it gave me the opportunity to jump back into tennis where I might have been pulled into something else. So I got fortunate with the timing.
And you transitioned into playing doubles, is that right? What led to that transition from singles to doubles?
Now it’s only doubles, yeah. I started playing singles as well but I was rising pretty quick in doubles. I knew the odds of making it to the level I wanted to make it – they were better if I specialized in doubles. was always a little better at doubles than singles anyway. So that was my goal. And when I started getting into bigger tournaments in doubles than singles I said, alright it’s time to focus more solely on doubles.
Do you have a partner or two you play with regularly?
Yeah, now I play primarily with Evan King. Sometimes just to get into tournaments, since it’s so hard, you have to split up here and there. So we’ll split up sometimes to maximize our schedule. For the most part though, he’s my steady partner.
Could you walk us through a typical week of competing on tour for doubles? Maybe you’re out playing a tournament or a few at a time? How does that look?
I try to space the tournaments out. I try to play maybe four tournaments at a time, week off, go do it again. Some guys can go eight or nine weeks but for me, I get burned out. I do 3-4 because I feel like at that stage I can play the number of tournaments I want to play for the year. And then at this point I try to base my schedule around bigger events that I’ll get into. Ideally, I look for locations that suit my game and then go from there. Obviously sometimes you don’t get that luxury.
Once I’m at a tournament – I try to get there a few days early. Practice a couple hours a day. Try to go to the gym too. Evan works really hard as well, so it’s easy to stay on top of things when the guy you’re with is also on top of his stuff.
And then if I go to a cool place or cool city I try to go to at least one cool thing in the area. Try to get away from tennis a bit and take in the experience of being able to travel a lot.
Do that cycle for a few weeks, take a break, and then I do it again.
What does recovery look like for you on that schedule? You finish a tournament – how do you get back to being fresh for the next one while on the road?
It depends where the next tournament is. If it’s close or I have to fly or what. But I typically take one day off after a tournament. Which is oftentimes the travel day. The first day back, if it’s a long travel day, is a lighter hit with more time in the gym just to get loose. We try to practice on the match courts as soon as possible to try to get used to the conditions. Even if we’re sore, tired from travel.
The next day we do, probably, an hour of practice just us two, what we need to do, then we find another team and play a practice match with them.
I’d say that’s pretty consistent every week no matter what. Obviously it changes a little if we’re able to take a bus or a train or fly to a tournament. Like this past week we went from Europe to China, then China to Charleston, South Carolina. So with those long travel days you have to be mindful for the body, you can get hurt easier.
Normally for ATP tournaments play starts Mondays. Challengers they can be Tuesday or Wednesday. ATPs can be a little bit tricky because if you play the previous week you could play again that first Monday of the tournament. In Challengers you don’t have to. So you have to be ready for a quicker turnaround in ATPs.
Narrowing down – on a day to day basis, after a hard match, you have to get up and play again the next day, what sorts of things are you doing at night, the next morning, to recover to play again?
I would say I always stretch and make sure to eat well. We try to make sure we eat good meals. Personally, I always watch a lot of whoever we’re going to play. I try to get an idea of what to expect, their tendencies. If they play after me, I’ll try to watch their whole match if I can.
Most of it is I try to watch a lot of who we’re going to play to get a sense of what to expect and what I have to be ready for.
What about physically? Stretch, massage, tennis specific stretching, tennis specific nutrition?
I mostly stretch honestly. If something’s bothering me, I’ll go to the tournament physio, which they always have on site. Some guys have, you know, potions or whatever weird stuff they swear by. I mostly stretch, I always get a good stretch, and that’s about it.
How about doubles recovery vs. singles? Or doubles vs. singles in general, has the physicality and recovery changed for you?
Oh yeah. Doubles isn’t physically demanding compared to singles. So it’s easier in that regard, where you’re not running a ton for 3 sets. What’s deceptively tough is it feels easy and can be easy to slack off on areas like stretching. But you can’t. You still have to be sharp with your movements on court, stay on yourself, still be a professional, and make sure you don’t get hurt. So in some ways doubles recovery is more important because it’s easy to think you don’t have to do these things.
Another thing with doubles is you’re playing more weeks than singles guys. You’re on the road more. Singles guys tend to play somewhere between 24-27, 28 tournaments. Doubles you have to play at least 30. I think I’m on pace for 35 this year. So it’s more mentally draining being on the road a ton. But I’ll be honest, physically it’s no comparison to singles.
As the year goes on, and you get close to that tournament 30, 35, I have to imagine it starts to weigh on you mentally. What things do you do to keep yourself mentally stable, relaxed, and ready to play?
It does wear on me a bit. That’s a lot of the reason why I don’t play more than 4 weeks at a time. So I can go home and reset mentally. I’ve done it before where I’ve played eight weeks at a time. I go home and I’m cooked mentally. And it’s only June. It’s easy to feel like I want to do it now, go-go-go, and burn yourself out for the year.
As far as when I’m on the road, I try to surround myself with positive guys. If guys around you are negative, talking up how hard things are, it can get into your own head. I mean – we live, my life is awesome – but it can be easy to get like, man it’s been a long time on the road. So you need guys who are positive around you because that positivity can rub off on you in the same way. I’d say that’s an underrated thing actually, that a lot of guys I know try to do.
And just wrapping up – for the competitive adult player, who’s busy, has a full schedule, but still wants to be focused and ready to play when they get on the court, what would you tell them? Some tips or tricks to help them get ready for a match?
Well first, mentally I’d make sure going into it that you remember why you’re playing, that you’re playing for fun. Always good to take stock of that, you can forget.
As far as tactically, a lot of guys try to do way too much with the ball. But whoever misses more is going to live. Making more balls, hitting shots down the middle wins. Making more balls is going to translate to wins. It’s easy to get carried away, especially if you’re skilled, to keep trying new crazy things. But simply making balls wins.
Photography by Matt Calvis of Reese Stalder at Newport in July 2023.