Poaching Questions (w/ video)
My partner and have decided that over this winter season we will work on performing more planned poaches. We tried to do this last winter, but our competitiveness got in the way and we would frequently abandon our attempts at the first sign of trouble. This year we are committed to practicing until planned poaches will work for us.
SO ... please watch the attached video and provide feedback to me on how our poaching can be improved. More description is provided below.
I am the player in Red, my partner is in Black.
I (red) generally have an effective 1st and 2nd serve. I can place it where I want with both spin and/or pace. Usually I will hit lots of kickers on first serves to make sure my 1st serve percentage is above 60%. I do not mind the half volley and usually hit that shot on my way into the net. When at the net, I like to start back by the T and to be moving forward into a split step on the servers contact. Sometimes I feel like I poach to early, but the opponents often shank the ball trying to turn the line late so maybe that is ok after all. Finally, I do not think I keep my hands high and forward enough while at the net.
My partner (black) has a very effective first serve, but sometimes lays in the ball on the second serve which puts me on the defensive if he is missing the 1st a lot. He usually has excellent hands at the net, although on this day he was a little off. I think that he moves later than I do on the poach so he tends to see more cross court balls ...
The video ... we lost this match 7-5, 7-6. After editing there was 17 minutes of actual game footage. I cut out all of the points where we did not try at least one volley ...I removed all of their service games, all service winners, return winners, aces and shanked returns. This left me with about 5 minutes of footage ... I kept what I thought was the best three minutes of play while we were serving.
Going early like you do, in our games, you'd get lots of DTL returns, especially off that weak serve.
You serving wide a lot, pins your netman, who doesn't like to poach, to his position to cover the alley.
A truly incredible lack of lob returns, especially CC to your partner. Of course, lobbing to you when you serve is a mistake, but lobbing DTL to make you run might be a good idea. Since your netman is doing little at net, maybe place him back one step.
It CAN be done, but poaching off your partner's serve is hard to do successfully.
I think the game is fine as it is...meaning the poaching. You have an OK serve, you partner basically puff balls both his serves.
Some things I see:
Your partner is too close to the net when you are serving - the poach is a diagonal motion across and toward the net. If he is moving only sideways, he will be too slow/defensive. Your positioning is pretty good
If your team is going to do a called poach:
1) try serving down the middle more to cut down the angles of return
2) commit to the called poach (i.e., switching sides). If you are the netman, you cannot poach aggressively if you are worried about covering the down-the-line return - that's your partner's assignment. Likewise, if you are the netman and call a poach, you need to aggressively move to cover the wide crosscourt return, because you partner needs to be hauling ***** to cover that down-the-line return. There should not be a time when you and your partner are lined up in the middle waiting for the ball.
3) be aggressive with the poach volley and try for a winning shot. If you just hit it back to the opponents, you are working hard with no benefits
4) I like to cheat a couple of small steps toward the middle before poaching when the serve bounces.
5) keep in mind that you will lose a lot of points when poaching because the opponents guess right - that's okay. You are trying to create chaos in their return game. Try poaching at least once a game to keep them honest (so don't stop poaching if you lose a couple of points).
A few things that I noticed:
First, your partner wasn't committing to the switch in the early points. You were moving over, but he was standing right behind you rather than switching.
Second, you tend to flop your wrist on high volleys. For example, at 0:55, 1:05, and 1:24. On an overhead, you need the wrist action to generate power. But on a volley, that wrist action just causes timing issues. You need to get your frame into position and, if you need to add a bit of power, drive the whole frame through the ball.
Finally, your partner doesn't anticipate weak shots very well. For example, at 1:41 he should anticipate that anything you send at the baseline player will cause either a weak reply or a very defensive lob. He should be moving in for the kill since you are sitting deeper and can cover the lob. Also, at 1:48, he should be looking for the floater given that player's history of hitting slice backhands when returning your serves. Although you had a fairly easy approach volley, your partner would have had an even easier put-away if he had gone for the kill.
A couple of things:
1) Your partner's serve is such that your competition can hit returns whereever they choose, meaning that if they decide to hit into your alley, they can.
2) Given #1, your idea to signal and sometimes poach, is a fantastic idea. The reason is that it ends up being very distracting and needlessly confusing to your competition such that they are playing very poorly and outright missing returns all over the place. My guess is your competition is not routinely dealing with the whole signalling/poaching thing all that much.
3) Aside from #2, your starting position when the serve is struck is deviated towards the middle and way back on the service line. True, because the serve is traveling so slowly that you have plenty of time to move across and forwards to poach or slide towards your alley, which is closer to the center of your responsibility. The fact that you are making this extra movement in the lag time when the serve is traveling over the net, is also maximizing the distraction factor for your competition.
4) As your partner gets pace on his serve and as you play competition who is less distractable, you will need to play more standard double positioning (lining up for the point closer to where you want to end up, ie the center of possible returns and then move from there for a poach), otherwise better competition is just going to make the decision to go into your alley before the serve is struck and is not going to second guess themselves with your movement and just burn you DTL. In addition if your partner gets pace on the serve you will be late to where you are trying to end up, so you will have to line up closer to the standard starting point (which is not where you are starting right now).
I'm surprised it hasn't come up yet. I'd say give this book a try:
The Art of Doubles: Winning Tennis Strategies and Drills
by Pat Blaskower
At about 1:28 you get lobbed cross court. Next time from the ad you get passed, and the lob could have been an option too. They talk about stuff like that, if you're approaching where should your shot go.
I'm not saying you should do this or that, but in this case video shows your opponent had options, which is good to see and learn for the next times.
There's a chapter on poaching. For example, it'd suggest that at 2:02 (looks like a planned poach) that your partner fully commits and then follows his volley aiming at the left ally (ok, could be practice or execution in this case).
It's probably better if you get it from the book, much better than I could explain it. It has tons of strategy, defines roles for players, and proposes targets and angles to cover. And most of all... it'll get you and your partner on the same page.
Some player's learn from books.
Some player's learn from advice/coaching.
Some player's learn by experience, usually after a bad experience.
While a book might be great for lots of players, it's a fact it doesn't work for everyone.
One key point is that your partner need to set you up for the poach. That means his serve and groundstrokes need to limit your opponent's return options, so the return becomes predictable.
In the current form, that's not poaching, those are emergency shots.
If your partner has a weak serve or groundstrokes, you might be better off playing 2 down instead of 1 up 1 down.
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