The Gameplan: Doubles

There are many different strategies and tactics that teams can use to win doubles matches. In this article, I am going to break your doubles gameplay down into 4 parts, suggest some strategies you can use to mix it up and influence your opponents and give you some match play and mental tips that will come in handy in the heat of battle.



1st Serve 

  • Use signs! (Both direction of serve and movement of the net player) Sure you can talk with your partner between points to decide where you are going to serve and where they are going to cover but this isn’t as effective as using signs… Why? Because signs make your opponents want to guess where you are going, it gets in their heads. They don’t have much chance of hearing you from down the other end with your mouth covered but they will certainly try to read your tone and body language as you and your partner coordinate an attack. Signs at the club level can be virtually non-existent. They are a huge untapped source of free points from missed returns and easy volleys. Get your opponents to play the guessing game using signs. Even if you don’t use them all the time. Throw some in every now and then and make the returners uncomfortable. 
  • Pick on the weaker wing of your opponents where it is obvious. If your opponent has a tough time returning on the deuce side with a backhand “T” serve. GO there, make them make an adjustment. It might sound obvious but pay attention to your opponents weaker shots and go there for easy points. 
  • If you can’t tell which side your opponent is weaker on, use the body or the “T”. It will give them a much smaller angle to return and give your net player a higher chance to poach the first ball. 
  • If you are the Net player, stay active when your partner is serving. The return is your first and best chance to pick off an easy volley. You are looking to prey on the return, so be ready to pounce. 


2nd Serve

  • Use signs! (movement of the net player) Yes even on second serves. While the direction of the second serve might be more easy to guess, the movement of the server’s partner at the net doesn’t have to be. As the net player, on your partners second serve you shouldn’t be looking to poach anywhere near as often, but you should FAKE. If your partners second serve isn’t the best, a well-timed fake can draw a pass attempt down the line, if you come back to cover this you are one volley through the middle of the court away from winning the point. Keep your opponents guessing every once in a while with a predetermined poach but keep them off balance by using the fake. *Tip: sell the fake with head movement. 
  • As the server, target second serves to the returners weaker wing. More advanced players should be more aggressive and try and jam the returners weaker wing so they don’t get a good swing on it. If you can jam the returner or make them hit their weaker shot, the less they are going to hurt you and you can transition to offence sooner rather than later. 



1st Serve Return

  • Neutralize the 1st serve. Stay committed to your target and look to play the return low over the net strap, away from a potential poach.
  • Adjust your return position to give the server different looks and influence their targets. Sometimes you should give a target and take it away during the ball toss, other times you should stand to cover their best service and make them hit to another spot. This is a visual game you should try and play with the server. 
  • Returners net player: Position more middle to defend the serving teams 2nd ball through the middle. After your partner’s return goes crosscourt away from the poach move aggressively to the centre of the service box to get involved as soon as possible. 
  • Struggling with the return? Bring both players back to play a safer but more defensive return without giving the server’s partner a target at the net or the middle. Once you get back into the point, look to bring at least one player in to attack the net. 


2nd Serve Return 

  • Stay aggressive! Look to set up your partner at the net with first strike tennis. Your opponents second serve is often the first and best chance to attack in the point. Make sure your net player is on the same page looking to be the finisher. 
  • Net players positioning should change after the first serve to move forward and looking to attack the 3rd ball. The centre of the service box is a great place to start. 
  • Rip the second serve right at the net player sporadically. This is a great tactic if the net player is a weak volleyer. Often this will cause them to shrink into the alley and will open up the middle for an attack. A Solid tactic as a mixup when it’s early in the game or you are up (eg. 15-15,0-30).
  • Alter your return position before the service to hit your favourite stroke. Eg) If you are a right-hander and you want to hit a forehand, stand to the left on a second serve and expose your forehand. The server will likely play into your hands and choose one of two options.
  1. Try and hit the small target (your backhand side) and potentially miss
  2. Try a high-risk ace to your forehand.

*These options are made all the more difficult by pressure on the scoreboard and the fact that if they miss the serve you win the point.  

As the second serve returner, you have 2 main tactics.

  1. Approach off the second serve. Decide ahead of time you are going to attack and go in. 
  2. Attack the return and approach off the short reply.
  • As the net player, you should always be reading the play and looking to finish anything you can. 


Strategies (link to 12 great doubles strategies)



Match play tips + Mental Stuff

  • Talk with your partner between points and games. You have two brains on the court, and sometimes two different strategies or opinions on your opponents. It’s an obvious one but make sure you communicate so you are on the same page and can execute as a team. 
  • Ask yourselves, how are they winning points and how are we winning points? How do we need to adjust? 
  • Change the momentum of the game by understanding the game speed. If you are losing, slow down between points and games, there are many momentum swings in a match and sometimes slowing things down can get you back in the match. On the other hand, if you are on a roll, try not to break stride and play at a little faster pace.
  • Start your best returner on the AD side. Note: Your best returner isn’t always your best player.  75% of game points are on the AD side. If it’s not working out you can always switch after the first set.
  • Net player: Remember that you need to continue to fake poach during a rally. Don’t be a statue on the court. You will be surprised how much you can influence the baseliners targets with a well-timed fake. Just be ready to knock off the volley when it comes down your alley.
  • SETTER + SPIKER. The basic strategy for doubles. If you are on the baseline with your partner at the net, you are a setter. Your job is to make the opponent uncomfortable and set up your partner for the SPIKE. If you are at the net you need to be reading and looking at all times to get involved and finish. If you are the setter and you can’t set up your partner, make your way to the net so you have 2 SPIKERS. 

Hope you get some value from this article and that it can help give you some clarity for how you approach your doubles game.

See you on the courts!

Joel Myers
USPTA Elite Professional
Tennis Director
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego
Sheraton Hotel & Marina San Diego
(949) 485-8679


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