Spectator or Participant: Learning to be Creative
David W. Smith Senior Editor TennisOne
Among recreational tennis players, the predominant game played is doubles. This is probably because of the social element doubles provides. Yet, watching doubles played at the recreational level is more like watching a singles match played between two players, usually hitting crosscourt groundstrokes until one misses or accidentally hits a ball to the opposing net player.
Two things are readily apparent when watching this level of play: The net players seldom poach, and the baseline players seldom come to the net.
Before I delve deeper into this generalization, let me make another evaluative observation. Players who are stuck at lower levels of play are usually deficient in two distinct areas: Second serves and volleys. You seldom see skilled players with weak second serves, and most are not afraid to come to the net. In fact, most skilled tennis players relish being at the net and enjoy every volley opportunity.
This helps explain my first two observations regarding recreational doubles players. If one has a weak serve, they most likely won’t venture to the net behind it. Likewise, if one fears the net and has dreadful volleys, they too won’t be likely to go out of their way to hit a volley. Thus, the cat and mouse game of recreational doubles exists. The only problem is the cat and the mouse are both so fearful of hitting a volley they end up setting up camp at the sides of the net hoping the ball doesn’t come to them!
Obviously, learning to volley well is one criteria for wanting to volley. If there is one shot in tennis that has minimal variability among skilled players it is the volley. Yet, intermediate 3.0 and 3.5 level players are determined to volley using rudimentary grips and have resultant inferior volley form. While such form is usually adequate for similar lower level opponents, these techniques are quite ineffective when they go up against more skilled opponents, those who can hit more effective shots.
Click photo: At the professional level, players are continuously moving at the net, looking to put the ball away.
But I digress. This article is not about learning to hit proper volleys. (There are several excellent articles on hitting effective volleys found in the Lesson Library here at TennisOne!) The idea is that players who are learning to hit more effective volleys tend to be a spectator when playing doubles. Instead of anticipating opportunities and putting pressure on opponents by poaching and moving at the net, they remain stationary in a protective circle of personal space! Only if a ball is hit within this circle of reach will many players then hit the volley.
How does one become a proactive doubles player?
The answer is simple. Move!
I can’t get into all the issues of the right time to move and the right time to protect in this newsletter. However, I can offer you this suggestion. Go out and move in your next ten doubles matches! Don’t hesitate. Move often and with purpose. That is, move in when the ball is headed past your opponent’s net man and look for times to move across the net to poach on your opponent’s crosscourt shot.
Obviously, the idea is not to poach every shot. However, learn to read your opponent’s tendencies and look for opportunities to poach.
So, what will happen when you start moving at the net?: You will
- Discover what shots you can hit
- Discover what shots you can’t get
- Learn how to move and anticipate poachable volleys
- Learn where to hit volleys you get to
- Cause your opponents to think about you
- Cause your opponents to feel they have to hit a better shot
- Cause your opponents to change their shot selection
Now, understand that through this process you will make mistakes. This is why I said to plan on creating these movements for the next ten doubles matches. Losing a few points and making some errors in ten matches is a small price to pay for learning to become a better doubles player for a lifetime. Try it and see if you don't agree.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's book, Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
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