Canadian badminton players Alex Bruce and Toby Ng have been mixed doubles partners for almost three years, but they're still figuring each other out.
"I think we're getting there," Ng told CBC Sports. "I don't think we're there yet."
By "there", Ng means getting to the point where their combined individual styles work seamlessly together on the court. It may sound like simple teamwork, but mixed doubles is a complex event perfected by intricate levels of partnership.
Bruce and Ng came together in 2013 after Ng and his previous partner Grace Gao parted ways. At the time, Bruce's
main focus was women's doubles, having only limited experience in mixed. However, the two decided to play some tournaments together.
"I think seeing the potential that he and I had as a pair kind of really made me want to get better at mixed," said Bruce. "But it was definitely very challenging."
Different level of attack
Bruce, 25, had to make adjustments in order to transition from women's doubles to mixed. For Bruce, the main difference between the two events is that in mixed, the tactics revolve around getting the woman to the net to put shots away while the man stays at the back of the court, hitting down. Mixed doubles brings a different level of strategy, tactics and opportunities to attack and defend at the net.
On the other hand, women's doubles has more of a free rotation since both players are more similar in skill and strength.
"It's just really interesting trying to maintain the attack much more in mixed than you have to in women's doubles," said Bruce.
"Tactically it's very different and challenging."
While Bruce had to change her mental and physical approach to the game, Ng also was making adjustments to compliment his new partner.
"[Working with Alex] is very different from my original partnership. They're very different players," said 30-year-old Ng. "It's going to be a lot of old habits or patterns I'm used to doing with my former partner, but now that I'm with Alex I have to adjust. We can't keep the same assumptions from before.
"It's a lot of figuring out to do."
Making it work
And three years later, Bruce and Ng are still ironing out the kinks. Ng says not having a centralized training centre contributes to that lengthy timeline; Toronto-born Bruce trains in Ottawa while Ng trains in his hometown of Vancouver. He also says the complexity of the sport doesn't fast-forward any progress.
"There's different qualities in our sport which doesn't always mean that if you're the most physically gifted person you will win," said Ng. "There's a lot of technical and tactical components you have to consider."
But the two will see just how much progress they've made at the Yonex Brazil Open 2015, a test event in Rio De Janeiro beginning Tuesday and lasting until Nov. 29. At the least, Ng and Bruce are looking for a quarter-final finish which would award them 3,000 points in their badminton world federation ranking and help their chances at a spot in Rio 2016.
"I'm confident that our preparation will be good but I just don't have a real expectation on how we'll do," said Ng.
"[The event is] more a matter of seeing if we're at the next level we want to be at or if we still need to fine tune."