Vision and anticipation in doubles
Theres probably nothing we take for granted more as athletes than our vision. Good players have good vision and anticipation but great players have great vision and anticipation. The average player should work on how they anticipate each shot coming and really improve overall the way they construct and finish points.
There are few things more frustrating in doubles than hitting easy ball or volley right back to the baseline or net player just to have them pass or lob you. Understanding where your opponent is situated and what shots they have covered will firm targets in your mind and help you to execute set up and put away shots. Here are some important things be aware of throughout a match.
The opponents positioning:
Two Up (Aggressive doubles positioning)
How far are your opponents from the net? If they are both close and breathing on the net a well executed lob will be effective (try and lob crosscourt for a larger target area, or over the backhand side of your opponents for a weaker reply). If both players are at the net but they hang around the service line, avoid the lob and aim your ball at the feet first. This tactic will usually make weak volleyers close the net more to avoid low volleys and open up the lob or pass on the next ball, if they make the tough low volley at all. If in doubt hit low and down the middle of the two net players, this creates confusion and opens passing lanes as the two players come together.
One Up, One back (standard doubles positioning)
notice where the net player is situated. If they like to hang out in the alley then they usually won’t be as confident poaching the middle. Avoid going down the line and work on the baseliner. If you get a short ball in a crosscourt rally and you decide to approach the net, often a softer more angled approach will be more successful as you will be forcing the baseliner into a running pass attempt and you will be opening up the middle of the court for the next volley (the highest percentage shot over the low part of the net). Power approaches can sometimes work against you where the ball comes back at you before you can gain an advantageous volleying position. Against baseline players that avoid the net, bring them in on your terms with short angles or slices. This is how you can open up the court, its also a great way to avoid moonball rallies. Its pretty hard to hit a moonball when your running up to a short ball below the waist.
Two back (defensive doubles positioning)
This positioning isn’t always defensive. Sometimes you will play against two great baseliners who are just more comfortable pounding the ball from the back of the court. When you face this formation going right up the middle is a very good option. It creates confusion and makes it hard for the baseliners to generate angles of their own to hurt you. Also it creates open space to attack on the next ball as the opponents come together to return your ball. When you are attacking volleys against a two back formation, use short angles with soft hands. No power volleys here! (unless you have a gimme). When you have the choice between a soft volley crosscourt and down the line, the crosscourt volley is usually the better option as it will still run away from the opponent if you execute it poorly. If you go for a soft volley down the line and hit it poorly, you might be wearing the next ball!
Anticipating your opponents shot:
Most players are unaware of their opponents racket face before contacting a ball. The racket face on many players gives away their intentions. A closed racket face indicates topspin, meaning the ball will dip and will usually have more pace on it. Great players can dip the ball at the net players feet and topspin lob from the same set up making it hard to tell whether you should close the net or backup. This disguise is what makes them great and something you should aspire to add to your own toolbox. If you recognize your opponent is going to hit topspin and you are at the net, close the net for standard volley because that ball will dip. This is a shot you need to develop for your own game to get the ball down below the level of the net at your opponents feet. Shoelace volleys are a nightmare for every player!
Look for an open racket face in your opponents set up. This ball will have backspin on it and will usually come across with less pace. Drop shots, slices and defensive lobs all come from an open racket face, so paying attention to the opponents racket face here will give you a head start to the short ball or to back up for the overhead or defensive lob.
Your opponents movement:
Always pay attention to your opponents moving patterns throughout a match. Do the net players cover the gaps (shading), are they always moving in and out of the centre, or are they stationary like a statue. Stationary opponents who don’t threaten the middle of the court make it easy to go to work on the baseliner, and your own net player will have many more chances to poach themselves (something they must be aware of), however active net players are always a danger to poach and must be kept honest every now and then with a lob or drive down the line. This prevents predictable patterns of play, which great poachers prey on!
Lobbing the net players
A staple tactic for high level doubles play is attacking the net after a successful lob of your opponents. If you have equal opportunity to lob the forehand side or backhand side of your opponent you should always direct your lob over the players non dominant shoulder. This gives you some security in case the lob is weak but also makes the net player run back and hit a backhand return rather than a much easier forehand. If you know you have hit it well and you have the net playing running back to play defense you can take an educated gamble and rush the net to punish a short reply. *Sometimes your opponent will make a great defensive play. No one can cover every inch of the court so if your opponent comes up with something amazing, too good!
Attacking the net after an overhead
Another high level play is attacking the net after you or your partner have hit an overhead. The overhead from the net is one of the most aggressive shots you can play. If you execute well you can bank on a defensive reply from the other side of the net. You should always anticipate a weak reply and look to move forward to attack the next ball. If your partner goes back for the overhead you need to do the same. You are already positioned at the net so your opponent will want to keep the ball away from you and play the net player further back. Anticipating this and closing the net will lead to many easy poaches and put away volleys.
Vision and anticipation is especially important in high level doubles. Incorporating these aspects into your game will dramatically improve your level of play enjoyment of the game.
See you on the courts!
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