Understanding ‘Doubles Tendencies’ to Win Easy Points
Dave Smith, TennisOne Senior Editor
Skilled doubles play is full of intelligent understandings that can help an ‘average’ doubles team (in terms of stroke production) be a dominant doubles team at higher levels than their strokes and techniques might dictate.
There are what we call ‘hard-and-fast’ rules in doubles. These would include such phrases as ‘short to short’ and ‘deep to deep’ which describe two normal situations; short to short is when a net player has a put-away and he or she hits this volley through the net man. Deep to deep refers to the patient groundstrokes of keeping deep shots away from the opposing net player.
Click photo: A 'casual' poach after a ball has been hit down the line once often
results in an easy volley winner.
‘Down the Middle’ is a simple concept that relates to a deep player hitting to two players already positioned at the net. Hitting down the middle is a higher percentage shot as the ball can be hit lower over the lowest part of the net. Also, hitting down the middle can often create confusion between the two net players as to who will cover this shot.
Another ‘rule’ in doubles is to not hit down the line unless you can hit a winner. If you feel your opponent is going to poach, or, if you want to simply ‘test’ your opponent’s volley capabilities, you may elect to hit a down the line shot. However, such shots are low percentage shots even at the higher levels of competition.
Because most of us have been taught several of these ‘rules’ there are certain ‘secrets’ that you can use to win easy points in doubles because of these rules. I call them secrets since I have never seen them discussed or written in any publication. In this newsletter, you are going to learn the first of several of these ‘secrets’ that I discuss usually only with students of my tennis camps.
Situation: You’re playing the net and your partner is serving. The returning player hits a hard return down the line right at you. It isn’t a floater or high enough to hit an effective or offensive volley crosscourt through the net man, so you block the ball back down the line from where it came.
Secret: 95% of the time, the back player will follow his down the line shot with a conservative shot crosscourt. Knowing this, you, the net player should poach nearly every time you can off this second groundstroke by the deep player. You will get usually an easy volley to hit at the opposing net player.
Why it works: Because we have been taught that down the line shots are low percentage, a player will seldom hit this same shot twice in succession. Typically, a player who hits down the line and it is volleyed back to him feels like he ‘got away with something’; namely a low percentage shot that didn’t get his partner killed. Thus, the tendency is to hit a more conservative shot away from the net man on a second shot. There is a perception that since the player hit down the line once, the net man is not going to poach on a successive shot. However, this is probably one of the best times to poach!
Click photo: The quality of the first volley down the line (in this case the depth of
the volley) can make poaching on the second volley that much easier, even at the pro level!
How it can work even better: If the first volley off this down the line shot is hit short and low back to the back player, this shot must be hit up usually to clear the net. Thus, the back player who is coming in to retrieve the short volley must hit up. He certainly isn’t going to hit this ball down the line again, right to the net player! So, again, the poach becomes viable in this situation as well.
When to poach: Obviously, if we leave our position near the alley too early, our opponent will have time to see what you are doing and see that there is an opening back behind you where you left your alley. The type of poach described in this secret is a ‘casual’ one. That is, you don’t leave early and you don’t have to rush. Remember, your opponent who has just hit down the line has a perception that you wouldn’t dream of poaching after he has already hit you down the line once. So, typically, the back player hits a very conservative shot without a sense of fear you would be poaching. Also, since your partner is back in this open area that you are poaching to, if perchance your opponent does hit a more aggressive crosscourt, you can lay off it and let your partner get it. Be sure you hustle back to a defensive position if indeed the ball gets past you to your partner….otherwise, your opponent’s net man might be poaching on your own partner’s shot!
Obviously, the more difficult position that your opponent might be in following your volley will provide you with generally an easier volley for you to poach on.
As with any strategy in tennis, there are considerations you need to understand for any strategy to work or to be attempted. If you have a terrible volley, poaching on such shots might just be suicide! Also, if you have volleyed a ball back to the deep player who has a wicked backhand or forehand, they may not hit a conservative shot! As I mentioned a moment ago, the more effective your own volley off the down the line shot is, the more likely you will get an easier volley for the poach. Look for these situations to execute the poach on and you will learn how easy such poaches are.
Some older players think they don’t have the mobility to poach on this or any shot. If there were a poach that anyone can get, it is this scenario I have described. Because the opposing player is not even thinking you might poach after he has hit you down the line, you can poach in a more casual, less quick-dependent move.
As with any new strategy or technique, you must try this secret many times in competition to understand all the parameters of effect. If you do, you will quickly understand how and when to execute this strategy. And remember this: You only have to do it once in a match for it to have an effect on many points. Every similar situation that occurs, your opponent will think twice about what you may or may not do. In this process, he may end up trying to hit too good of a shot, or think you might be going again…only to see that in another instance, you end up holding your ground! Anytime you make your opponent guess at what you might do, you create uncertainty in his game. And all of the sudden, you are in control!
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