In watching, playing, coaching, and teaching tennis, in any tennis arena, be it social tennis, recreational tennis, or tournament and league tennis (usually at the 3.5 levels and below), there are a couple very common tactical and strategic errors.
High balls close to the net should be put away through the net player. I see countless players with good volley skills hit this same ball back to the baseline player, giving their opponents a "second chance."
I am not talking about stroke and technique errors; I’m talking about two specific areas that have nothing to do with technique: positioning and ball placement.
In doubles, players must learn that their position away from the ball is dependent upon their partner’s position as well as where the ball is hit.
The first mistake concerns the positioning of a doubles team in the one-up, one-back position when returning a ball. When a ball is hit crosscourt to the back partner, the net partner must move to a defensive position because he does not know two specific things:
Where his partner is going to hit the ball
Where the opposing net player may move to (Poaching)
I think most players know that if a ball is hit back deep to the opposing player at the baseline, the net partner of the team that just hit the ball deep to this back player will generally move forward into an offensive position. Therefore, the player who is at the net when the ball goes back to his partner must move back in anticipation of what I call a “worse case scenario.” That is, if your partner is forced back to hit a ball from his own baseline, you (as the net person) must assume three worst case scenarios:
Your partner will hit a weak ball
Your partner will go down-the-line
The opposing net player is going to poach (which puts him intercepting a volley right in front of you!).
With a partner who stays back, the net partner, must take on a defensive position, one that provides time to react to balls volleyed offensively by your opponents.
By playing too close to the net when your partner is hitting deep from the baseline, you create a huge gap between you and your partner, one that gives your opponent an opening to the longest open part of the court, the diagonal. I see this configuration much too often, and, as a result, any shot hit from the back player ends up being volleyed to this open court.
If the net player would simply back up to the service line whenever a ball is hit crosscourt away from him to the back partner, then the net player gives his team a much better opportunity to cover the court. In addition, even when the partner’s shot is hit weakly, moving back to a defensive position gives the net player a fighting chance to react to the volley. By staying up close to the net, not only does the opposing net player have the previously mentioned huge gap to volley to, on a poach, the intercepting volley is going to be right in front of the net man with virtually no time at all to react to a ball hit right at them.
The second common tactical error I see in doubles play concerns ball placement--particularly hitting certain volleys to the wrong place.
The first volley is the easy volley hit above the net. Too often, I see players volley this ball straight back to the deep player when they either had an opening between the players or an easy volley hit through the opposing net player.
Low volleys must be kept away from the opposing net player. Because low balls have to be volleyed "up" to clear the net, we don't want to get ourselves killed by trying to hit these low balls through the net man.
As a general rule, high volleys (hit inside the service line) are hit through the net player; low volleys are hit either to the back player or for a sharp angle volley (assuming the player can hit such shots!).
Another problem I often see, even among skilled players, is the high volley hit from behind the service line. Because many players understand the general rule I just mentioned, when they get a high volley deeper on their side of the court, they have an urge to hit down the line. Not only are they back deeper, the net player on the other side is usually back deeper too. So, even a well-hit volley hit at this net player is often returned for a winner or a set up ball. If you're positioned behind the service line and you must make a high volley, it is more effective to hit an aggressive ball crosscourt, preferably deep, and look for an easier volley or overhead on the returning ball. Crosscourt, you have more court to hit into, (diagonal), and have a lower part of the net to clear. Crosscourt, the player has more court to hit into, (diagonal), and has a lower part of the net to clear.
There are many other situations and scenarios as well as exceptions to these generalizations that players need to learn and experience. However, these two specific errors mentioned are part of this bigger picture. Understanding first the reason for these "rules of thumb," and then being able to correctly execute them-contribute to the overall success of any doubles team.
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For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
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