Jansen and Routliffe ranked No. 1 ahead of SECsBy Terrin Waack | 04/14/2015 10:32pm
Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe are playing for a wild card spot in the 2015 US Open. UA Athletics
They come from different backgrounds, but ever since their worlds collided last year, they spend practically every day and night together.
With a tennis coach for a father, junior Maya Jansen abandoned the playground as soon as she became old enough to play on the tennis court. Her older sisters were also tennis players. The sport was a family thing for them, she said.
Sophomore Erin Routliffe started swinging a racket at age six. She was born and raised in Canada, and her first time playing was at a free tennis event for kids hosted by the local tennis club in Caledon, Ontario.
Jansen was a sophomore when Routliffe came into her life and their journey together began.
“People used to joke before when [Jansen] wasn’t even practicing like, ‘Oh, you guys would be a good doubles team,’” Routliffe said.
The two were not paired up until two months into the spring 2014 season. Routliffe hadn’t even seen Jansen play before, so while teammates joked that she and Jansen would be a good doubles pair, Routliffe had nothing to go off of until it actually happened.
Their first match together was against Georgia State. It was kind of a disaster of a match, Routliffe said.
“It wasn’t a match that showed we should play together,” Jansen said.
The first match with a new doubles partner isn’t easy, though, and after that match, the two started to learn each other’s game. Soon after, the two were playing in the ITA National Indoor Championship Tournament, where they were the unranked underdogs. It took the pressure off them and allowed them to have fun. In result, they defeated the defending NCAA champions in their first match.
“Once that happened, I think we gained confidence and it became more fun for us,” Jansen said.
The two said they started to truly enjoy playing together then and once the regular season rolled around, they started winning doubles individuals. They became an aggressively-minded team, and their game shows it.
“It’s a different style of play compared to traditional one up, one back doubles, because both of them are up at the net a lot together,” assistant coach Ricky Doverspike said.
Doverspike works a lot with Jansen and Routliffe as a doubles pair. They go over many different match-like scenarios during practice, he said, which allows the two to work on different angles and game plans they can use in order to be successful.
“This year they’ve really bought into it,” he said. “How could you not when they’ve had such great success?”
That success is the 2014 NCAA Doubles Champion title the pair won, the first in program history.
“When they play that commanding style doubles, there’s not many that can play with them,” coach Jenny Mainz said.
Even though their final match was against Georgia, their big tennis rival, it still didn’t hit them that they were playing in the championship match. Jansen said she is still shocked they played so loosely in such a tight situation.
“It was probably the most fun doubles match we ever played,” Routliffe said. “It was a blast and everything was going our way.”
The two brought confidence from previous difficult matches they had won, and thought the tournament was in Athens, Georgia, the Crimson Tide had many fans in attendance. Once that final game-ending shot was made, Jansen dropped her racket and ran to hug her partner.
“I don’t really remember after that point,” Routliffe said. “I saw pictures but I don’t remember thinking anything.”
The depth of the situation and the fact that they won didn’t hit them until they were driving back from the tournament, they said.
But that was last year, and this is now. The pressure to defend their title is there but barely acknowledged.
“I think it would be naïve to say there wasn’t pressure,” Jansen said.
With a large banner in the Alabama Tennis Stadium showing the two were NCAA Doubles Champions last year, there’s a target on their back, but it’s not taken as a negative.
“The better the opponent they’re playing, the better they play,” Doverspike said.
Routliffe said they enjoy having that pressure there. It not only brings out the best in other teams because they want to defeat the partners, but it also brings out the best in them in the end, she said.
“When they make the decision that they’re going to dominate on the court, good luck to whoever is playing them,” Mainz said.
With the SEC Championships starting Tuesday, both Jansen and Routliffe say it’s best to not think of it as defending their title. Despite going into the tournament 18-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country, they know they’re not perfect and are okay with that.
“We always go back to the fact that last year we lost quite a bit of matches and were still fine,” Jansen said.
Doverspike said he thinks the pair will do well in the upcoming matches. The two normally thrive in a tournament setting and have had much more time and experience together since last year .
“They’ve played together now so much they just about literally know where the other person is on the court at all times,” Mainz said. “It’s almost an unspoken communication.”
Although the pair may have been friends originally, they have grown much closer since becoming doubles partners. Doverspike said there are three things to take into consideration when pairing players up as doubles: personality, game style and ego. Jansen and Routliffe do a great job of meshing all three, he said.
“It’s like a marriage basically,” he said. “It can get difficult because you don’t want to blame each other but you’re relying on that other person to help you achieve what you want to achieve.”
When they’re on the court together, the pair are in their own world. They’re so comfortable together that conversations don’t stop, even though they may be in the middle of a match.
“[Jansen] makes a lot of jokes,” Routliffe said. “I definitely play better tennis when I am laughing or smiling.”
While Jansen keeps it light, Routliffe makes her feel like a great doubles partner after every point, regardless of the outcome. Together, they would call themselves a feisty pair while on the court. At times, they’re referred to as the “Scream Team.”
“They bring a lot of energy,” Doverspike said. “Whenever they win a point, you’re going to hear them. If you don’t hear them, you know something is wrong.”
Although it can be tricky to coach Jansen and Routliffe because they are both headstrong, it is also a lot of fun, Mainz said.
“Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe are undoubtedly the most potent, the most lethal and the most talented doubles team that’s ever played at Alabama,” Mainz said.