Doubles - Tactics and Recollections
Doubles is such a kick, somehow the tactics are broader, there is less an element of control than in singles, four personalities to manage, partnering issues, options of who serves in the sun, determining where the chink in the armor is on the other side of the net, and much much more.
So as an observer of our doubles teams at the club, as well as a coach of many doubles players, what follows are general keys to doubles strategy - and these keys prevail for 3.0 doubles as well as 5.0 doubles.
Serve and Return
Doubles is just about the serve and return. Servers hold serve when they get most if not all of their first serves in. There is way too much pressure on the server who continually hits second serves - because this serve is generally weaker, and this serve may also lead to numerous double faults.
Receivers must get the return in play. Generally, in a game where the receivers have made all (repeat all) of their returns, they have an excellent chance to break. Winners get most of their first serves in, and winners make their returns - note there is no mention of placement, power, spin or speed - just the nuts and bolts - serve and return.
Assuming you in fact serve consistently and return consistently, then the following may apply, but note if you are not serving well or not returning well, all the strategy in the world is for naught.
Take the net on your return of their second serve - every time. The game can be dominated at the net, and returning the second serve is the most direct route to the net, and may even elicit more than a normal number of double faults.
- Use the lob. Generally you can find one of the two opponents who do not play strong or confident overheads. Discuss this with your partner beginning in the warm-up, continue comparing notes throughout the match, and when you find the weak overhead link - lob that poor soul often, especially on the big points.
- Note your shadow. If the sun casts your shadow in the direction of an opponent who is at the net - this is a perfect time to throw one up in the air which will be truly impossible to see if the lobs trajectory causes the opponent to look up into the sun. Yes, this is ethical, this is legal, and yes this is deviously sinister.
- Moving targets - when being attacked by either a serve and volleyer or a returner and volleyer (see #1) always play the ball to the moving player. The stationary net player is generally more competent than the volleyer who is charging the net, for this player must negotiate a split step and be able to volley on the move.
- Two against one - assuming all are right handed - the receiver in the deuce court can take the net with a soft low lob down the line over the net persons head. When executed properly, the server will retrieve this lob with their backhand, will generally be unable to generate any real pace, and so will generally lob. The server's partner usually crosses but stays close to the net, not realizing they are now on defense. The lobber moves forward to the service line, the lobber's partner holds their net position, and now either one of you can smash the overhead at the opponent at the net. Truly two against one.
- Whenever you and your partner set up a two shot sequence where your shot sets her up, or vice versa, always make eye contact to acknowledge your teamwork.
- On the changeover, always, repeat always, cross the net post with your partner. This suggests teamwork, this enables you to talk if you think of something, and this may even arouse suspicion from your opponents. Losing teams tend to walk apart from one another (often grousing about the partners liabilities) winners walk together - it's true and if you look you will be amused at how often something this simple occurs.
Finally, permit a fond memory or two of the many doubles matches played with Keith Zimmerman, Jack LaFever, Bill Strei, Chuck Bleckinger, Jack Atcheson, Skip Singleton, Ed Gaskell and Juan Weiss.
I learned all the net rushing ploys from Bill Strei. Bill volleyed and smashed superbly, was a shrewd tactician, and had an uncanny knack for playing loosely and relaxing me as well. Bill expected both of us to get to the net on every point! That is, serve and volley on first and second serve and return and take the net on their first and second serve (the exception was when the server hit bombs, which we encountered a few times).
Juan Weiss, of Cuban Davis Cup fame, carried me to many titles in New Orleans . Juan had a big serve, and volleyed with touch and finesse. The secret to our success was that Juan was 20 years older than I, so when the opponent's played the old guy (him) they were actually playing to our strength. Much like Bill, Juan was a shrewd tactician, holding many mini meetings with me as we changed ends, and he would move from tactics to post match celebratory planning as victory neared. I will forever remember the Cuban celebrations in the Garden District when Juancito took the Conquistador under his wing.
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