Competitive Doubles-Positioning and Strategy

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Competitive Doubles: Positioning and Strategy


So you’re at the point where you can successfully hit the ball in the court, and you’re playing competitive doubles? How to “get better” from here? 

The biggest area for improvement for most beginners and intermediate players is adjusting your position on the court before/after/when you’re not hitting the ball! Being in “better” position allows you to help and support your partner, and will allow you to get more swings yourself in the course of a match! Let’s look at the four main situations: 

1) Serving: 

Serve the ball and take two steps into the court. Depending on the quality of the service return, try to hit your return ¾ depth. Aim for the outside “T” of the service box diagonal from your half of the court. If you get the ball deep or wide, continue to move in! Ultimately you should be able to get to the front court (your side service box) with one or two volleys, racket above the net, looking to hit a return that’s popped up in the air for a winner! 

*Gauge your shots- if you “force” your opponent to move/stretch/lunge for a tough ball, your reward is moving in, cutting off angles, and winning points! 

2) Partner Serving: 

You are the net player. Position yourself close enough to the net that you can clearly see the opponent’s service line above the net line. Stand a foot to 18 inches “inside” the doubles court- close enough to lunge at a ball hit down the line, but also ready to “poach” or move to cover your half of the front court. Returns hit well and to the other side of the court are your partner’s ball. Most players like to take a step or two back on your partner’s second serve, as it is often lower pace. 

Again, gauge the quality of your partner’s service:

If “outside” in the opponent’s service box, “stay home”- guard the “outside” or doubles lane on your side. If the serve lands “inside”, towards the centre line, step towards the middle, racquet up, and try to volley a weaker return. Angled short or deep down the middle is usually good for a point! 

Support your serving partner: 

Assuming the serve is returned to the server, gauge your partner’s situation- is he/she “in trouble”, likely to hit a soft and short return? Try to recognize this situation and “pull back” to your service line, near the middle of the court, looking to make a quick emergency “block” of a hard hit ball from your opponents in their front court. Keep your racquet low and angled up to defend lob an opponent’s volley or overhead to keep the point alive! 

If your partner manages a deep/angled/low over the net, look to cut off the ball at the net- at the feet of the opponent opposite you, or deep down the middle, often worthy of a winner! 

At the better level in doubles, the team that gets to the net first often wins the majority of points. Occasionally a well placed lob will defeat two players in the front court, but over the course of a match if you’re both “up” a lot you will be successful, as it creates constant pressure on your opponents, who will feel rushed and anxious about where to hit the ball. 

You are playing better tennis when you are moving forward, and your opponents are struggling to cover the middle of the court successfully! 

3) Returning Serve: 

For most average servers, stand a foot to two feet inside the baseline. Most people stand towards the outside T of the service box. The biggest tip for returning is to step forward before the second serve, as it is usually shorter in the box and lower pace- if you’re “reaching” for second serves, you haven’t moved forward in anticipation of a softer offering!

Where are you trying to hit the serve? 

You’d be surprised how many players don’t have a ready answer to this simple question! You are aiming for the outside T of the service box across the court- comfortably past the net player, comfortably in. This shot is the classic “conventional” return. If you miss a little wide or a little long, your shot is better than average, and will probably force your opponent’s hand so again, move forward, looking to hit a weaker shot either harder at the server, or volley/overhead down the middle or at his partner’s feet! 

If you play the same people week in, week out, observe where they tend to hit serves, and adjust your return position accordingly. 

Secondary Option: Over the net player’s head to the back court 

Your secondary option is to lob the return over the net player’s head, to the back of his court. This tactic slows down aggressive servers, as they can’t serve and volley, and must scramble to cover the back corner. Your partner should see your shot, and move forward. You are looking to hit an opponent’s weak return/emergency lob that’s short for a winner! 

If your opponent is very active poaching on your side, don’t be afraid to hit a return right at/behind (where he was originally positioned at the net) to keep him “honest”, and not cheating so hard/often to the middle to cut off your returns! 

4) Partner returning: 

Stand just back of the service line, close enough to the centre T. You’re looking, especially on the opponent’s first serve, to help your partner out by fielding any balls hit hard into the middle of your court because your partner has been forced by a good serve to hit a weaker return, often to the net player. 

If your partner is “handling” the second serve well, move forward at impact and look to cut off a ball in the front court.

If your partner’s return is short and angled, “stay home”, and guard the “outside” or doubles lane. 

If your partner’s return is deep/hard/spinning, look to cut off a weaker return in the middle of the front court. The deeper the shot, the more likely you can “cheat” towards the centre of the court. 

A word or two on two key doubles shots: volley and “half” volley 

I meet players who say they don’t volley, or don’t volley well, so then they stand back at the service line and move forward rarely. This position is known as “no man’s land”- you can’t volley well from here, and you can’t hit a ground stroke either! Better doubles DEMANDS that you volley- get out with a partner and practice volleying! It’s one of the most fun shots to hit once you get the hang of it, and it’s all about racquet prep (up and out in front of you) and racquet angle (adjusting your grip to slice or deaden the ball) to make your opponent’s next shot difficult to get to! 

A “half” volley is a “pick up” shot, when the ball is hit at your feet. Get your racquet down to surface level, and block and slightly push the ball on impact- you are trying to hit the ball mere inches after it bounces. Some players never attempt this shot, but it’s essential in your repertoire if you want to stay in better points. Try to push the ball to the back of your opponents’ court- many players are surprised and flustered by this tactic! Again, if you half volley and move your opponent back from his last shot, reward yourself by continuing to move forward, pressing your advantage! 

Doubles is about strategy, or mental tennis: 

I think I can safely say none of us are getting any younger, and if you play at LTC, especially in the doubles leagues, there are many “older” players! If we’re not getting physically better as we age, at least we can think the game better, place the ball better, be aware of typical strategies and opponents’ weaknesses and tendencies, and thus give ourselves a betterchance to be a “gamer”- a player who is competitive on most points, giving himself or herself a chance to compete competently, with purpose! 


Here’s to better doubles!