Attack the Middle of the Court
Hitting the ball through the middle of the court in doubles does quite a few things to hinder your opponent. It creates confusion as to which player will take the ball, it dramatically reduces the angle the opponent has to return the ball and it gives you the highest percentage chance to make the shot (The net strap is the lowest point on the net). It also creates holes for you to attack on the next ball. Once you bring both players to the middle you can then use the wings to put volleys away or create more pressure. Attacking down the middle whether you have two players back, two players at net or a traditional doubles set up will reward you greatly over the course of a match.
Approach off second serves
Make your opponents uncomfortable by taking their second serves early and attacking the net. Either with slice or topspin and especially with weak servers. You want them to feel the pressure immediately after the serve. It doesn’t mean you have to cream a winner but attacking to a large target and coming in rushes your opponent to come up with a pass or lob. This is a great tactic when the game score is in your favour as a returner (15-40,0-40, 30-30,30-40, Ad out). This is when the server is feeling the most pressure and you are likely to draw an error or easy volley. This tactic is all about making the server uncomfortable. This is a must have in your toolbox.
Don’t let the lob bounce
Every player is familiar with moon ball doubles play. This type of tennis can be very frustrating, especially if you don’t have a plan for how to deal with the lob. The first thing you should experiment with when facing a serial lobber is adjusting your net position. Net players should ideally position themselves in the middle of the service box to put maximum pressure on groundstrokes going crosscourt however if you find yourself in an uphill battle against a lobber switch up your positioning. Slide back to the service line to make the lob more difficult. Also start taking balls out of the air that you would typically let bounce. Either as a volley, overhead or drive volley (swinging volley). These volleys/overheads from deeper in the court (usually behind the service line) are more challenging but with practice become real weapons against the lobber. Taking balls out of the air rushes the lobber and makes them more uncomfortable. Just remember to close the net for weaker lobs/groundstrokes.
Attack the net players feet
Net players who receive high volleys often miss them because they attack small targets. If there is a net player on the other side of the court then you have a target. At their feet! This is fair play and the highest winning percentage for any one shot in doubles. The net player will very rarely be able to dig out a good aggressive volley from their shoelaces so use this target area whenever you can. *The closer to the net you are, the easier it is to attack the opponents feet. So close down the net on easy volleys!
Lob the return
Many tactics in tennis are designed primarily to make the opponents uncomfortable and this is no exception. Lobbing off the return creates instant chaos on the other side of the net. In many cases it forces a change of position for your opponents and gives your net player a chance to pick off a weak reply. If you have opponents who bear down tight on the net or who’s serves are drawing weak returns for put aways, throw up the lob return to mix things up. As a general rule with the lob, try to keep it over the non-dominant shoulder of the net player (Right handers:Left shoulder. Left Handers:Right shoulder). That way if you don’t execute it great you won’t be sending your partner to hospital from the overhead reply.
Serve the “T”
For many doubles players their is a clear distinction over which return is stronger and which return is weaker. If you find that your opponent simply can’t hit their backhand return, then pepper that return. If your opponents are pretty solid both sides, serve up the “T” to reduce the angle of return and set up the next target. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to serving location. Anytime you hit the ball down the middle of the court, chances are it will come back down the middle, so if your partner knows where you are locating the serve they can anticipate the return and often put the volley away on the next ball. Also using the body jam serve will keep the returner uncomfortable. Serving up the “T” in doubles is the primary tactic on first serve so practice it a lot.
This is a big one. When you are the net player in a traditional one up one back formation on both sides, you have two options during a crosscourt baseline rally. One is to POACH, the other one is to FAKE. Too many players at the club level either Poach or stay perfectly still. Poaching is great in doubles but if you condition your opponent to expect a poach anytime they see movement at the net, eventually they are going to catch on and start sending balls down your alley. Throwing in a good fake regularly will confuse your opponent and lead to many easy volleys coming down your alley. The move here is to creep forward and use ONE big side step toward the center line (when the ball bounces on the opponents side of the net) and a big pushback to cover your alley. This tactic is great when you are the stronger player at the net and you just can’t seem to get involved in the cross court exchanges. Fake it till you make it (the volley that is).
2 Back on return
The two back on return strategy has become very popular in todays game where serves are bigger and net players are more athletic. If you are having trouble keeping your returns away from the opponents net player, don’t be too proud to bring both back for the first ball. This takes away the volley target (your partners feet) and forces your opponents to come up with angle volley winners rather than hitting through the net player with power. Not to mention it visually changes the whole court. This is a great formation to use with the lob return strategy. That way if the lob is short you can defend the overhead with both back. If the lob is good, at least one of you can stealth to the net and look for a volley.
Don’t cover the line
This is perhaps the most common positioning mistake in all of doubles. Too many players at the club level are so petrified of being beaten down the line that they pretty much pitch a tent and camp in the alley for the whole match, leaving their partner to cover the rest of the court. At net you can’t cover the whole court, no one can, but you want to cover the parts of the court that are the easiest for your opponent to hit (crosscourt). Over the net in the middle of the court is the highest percentage place you can hit the ball in doubles, down the line is not! Don’t believe me? Here are some facts
- Changing direction to go down the line from a crosscourt ball is the #1 error from the baseline in tennis. There are more errors going down the line from a crosscourt ball than any other pattern in the game, in both singles and DOUBLES.
- The net is higher and the court is shorten when you hit down the line making the ball harder to attack.
- Backhands winners down the line are harder to hit than forehand winners down the line. Bait your opponent into taking a risk by leaving them a little window to hit on their weaker side. Remember the Rule of 3. After 3 winners down the line, either your partner is feeding your opponent meatballs or you have to start adjusting and shrink their target a little more.
Softer is Harder
For some people this is a very tough adjustment to make at the net. It goes against all instincts to hit the ball soft right? Well depending on your target, hitting the ball hard may be working against you. Heres the scenario. Both teams are in a traditional one up one back formation with you at the net. The baseline player in front of you floats a groundstroke over the net strap and you move in for the kill. You kill the volley but because you chose the wrong target the ball goes right back to the baseliner who turns it into and lob and the point resets to neutral. How frustrating. Your #1 target on any volley or overhead is the opposing net players feet, your #2 target is to go soft to the baseliners side, ideally with angle that makes the baseliner run forward and wide. This shot takes some practice but it is an absolute staple for volleying in doubles. When you poach or you are at the net and the ball is high, attack the net players feet but when the ball is low, use a soft short volley to the baseliners side. This target works well against lobbers as it forces them out of their comfort zone on the baseline to run forward and pick up the low ball (the toughest place to lob).
- High Volleys: ATTACK THE NET PLAYER
- Low Volleys: SOFT AND SHORT TO THE BASELINER
Change your opponents visual targets
Believe it or not your doubles team is the 2nd most important team on the court. Most players are so concerned with hitting their favourite shots to their favourite spots that they never consider what their opponents favourite shots and spots are. This is huge in tennis at all levels, in all formats. Good doubles players are constantly changing their formations and positions on the court to keep their opponents uncomfortable and make them hit their least favourite shots to their least favourite spots. How can you do this?
- Your opponent keeps beating you with great serve wide to the deuce side. Move over a couple of shoulder widths to take away their favourite serve. Make them beat you with their second favourite serve.
- On Second serves expose your weapon. Many players play the second serve straight up and end up hitting their weaker groundstroke. Move over towards your weaker side and dare your opponent to ace your strength. This also provokes your opponent to hit at that tiny sliver of court at your weaker wing. Chancer are you get to hit your weapon, or they double fault trying to hit a tiny target or go for the low percentage ace. Great tactic to use in big points!
- The giveth and taketh: When your partner is serving and you are at the net, stand way in close to the middle, then as your opponent makes the return, move back towards the line to take away the gap. Pro players use this one all the time. They are constantly playing with their opponents visual targets and making them gamble. You can also use this the other way, hanging out close to the alley and then moving toward the middle.
- Use Australian formation to make your opponents return down the line (increasing their risk of error). The Aussie formation is when both the server and the net player position themselves on the same side of the court, very close to the center line. This creates a lot of confusion with the returner and takes away their highest percentage return (crosscourt). Great formation to use, especially when serving to the opponents backhand.
Don’t play offense on defense
Tennis is a game of errors. In fact around 60% of the game of doubles ends in an error. Don’t play offense when you are defending. This means you need to use defensive lobs and balls low over the net strap when playing defense. Whenever you are reaching, falling, off balance, rushed, jammed, lunging low, reaching high, you are on DEFENSE. Don’t be a hero, the odds are not in your favor. Use a defensive lob or roller. These shots are designed to neutralize the point, not to win it so resist the urge to kill that wide forehand and play it smart. Practice your deep defensive lobs and low ground strokes so you have confidence in them during your matches.
See you on the courts!
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