You can tell squash players who are new to doubles tennis.
They run down every ball, rarely come in behind a serve, and, hit loopy ground strokes from the base line.
Works great, when you play singles; not so much in doubles.
There is more to doubles tennis than power and speed. Keeping control is not easy when you are playing half-volleys or hitting an overhead shot off a deep volley.
It’s also about how two players can work together as a team. Often, it is about setting up a shot for your partner; or, shifting positions to defend against an opponents’ aggressive play.
One thing is for sure – your position on the tennis court depends on the situation, even when you are not hitting the ball. After all, in doubles tennis, you can win a lot of points without touching the ball.
So, here are ten simple tips to get better at doubles tennis.
Where you serve from, and where you serve to, are directly related
Generally speaking, players tend to be more confident on their forehand than their backhand. It would make sense to try to serve to your opponent’s backhand to improve the chances of getting a weak return. Position yourself closer to the centre line while serving from the deuce side. Take a wider position while serving from the ad side. The more you stretch your opponent on the backhand, the better your chances of a weaker return. If your opponent is left-handed, make sure that you make the adjustment.
If you are the net player, your position on the court depends on the opponents
The effectiveness of your partner’s serve and the aggressiveness of your opponent’s return of serve should have a bearing on your position on the court. Likewise, if your opponent has a massive serve and the opposing net player is always putting your weak returns away, you should rethink your position on the court. It is not unusual in doubles to have both players start out at the baseline and move in when you are firmly in the rally. Moving back to no man’s land – just behind the service line – is not going to help you any.
Don’t worry about looking bad, even the pros play from the baseline depending on who they play.
By not coming in, you may be letting your opponents off the hook
Do you stay back when you should be at the net? If you are able to hit a deep, hard shot that stretches your opponent, you must come in to a volleying position to put more pressure on the return. With your partner already at the net, you essentially create a wall that your opponent has to break. The downside of hanging back is that there is no pressure on your opponents.
Unless your opponent has a killer passing shot or lob, you are in control.
When it comes to poaching, leave your opponent guessing
Making your opponent think that you are going to poach – intercepting a shot hit towards your partner – is as important as the act of poaching itself. You will force your opponent to make errors while trying to hit better shots to beat you.
If you are brave enough, you can try the I-formation which can confuse the hell out of your opponent when done right. The downside is that both you and your partner can end up on the same side of the court. Here’s a video that explains the I formation.
Cut off the angles
Depending on how far your opponent is stretched to the sides of the court, you will need to move up and to the side to cut off the angles. If your partner does not move in tandem with you, you are likely to leave gaps that your opponents can take advantage of. Try to do a quick assessment of your opponent’s shot-return options and position yourself to counter it.
Cross over to back up your partner’s move
If your opponent poaches a shot but is not able to put it away, make sure that you cross over to the other side of the court to cover the open court. You don’t want both you and your partner getting caught on the same side of the court.
If needed, move back to the baseline during the course of a rally
Occasionally, we all hit weak returns and fly balls. This is the time to move back to the baseline. They are in control. There is no sense in trying to volley an overhead smash by your opponent. If a player does not have complete control of the overhead shot, the chances of you getting hit are high.
By moving back, you have more time to react and run down what would technically be a put-away shot.
Lob to break your opponents’ rhythm
If your opposing team creates an impenetrable wall by coming in after every shot, occasionally lob the ball to the backhand corner to throw them off. A good defensive lob is sometimes as effective as a passing shot.
Hit to the person who is further back in the court
You don’t have to be Daniel Nester to know that when you return serve, you want to keep it away from the person at the net. The same logic applies for regular rallies. If one of your opponents is playing from the baseline it makes sense to hit the ball to that person.
This may not apply if you are coming in behind a shot to volley at a player’s feet or body.
Communicate with your partner
This is often overlooked by club players. When you watch professional players, you‘ll see that they communicate after every point. Why not you do the same? If you knew which corner of the court your partner is going to serve to, would you not be more prepared for the volley?
So, what are some of the adjustments that you find that you have to make while playing doubles tennis?