Doubles return of serve (avoiding the net player)

Friedman Whip

Professional
Your partner should basically be standing on the T. Give the center service line maybe a foot or two so the ball doesn't hit you, but the best spot to defend poaches is basically right there.
What you say is not only terrible strategy but could also get you hurt. The only possible positive thing about standing close to the T like you say is being a distraction to the server.
 

Yoneyama

Hall of Fame
Very interesting! Is the SABR all about reading the serve and getting to the pitch of the ball, like playing a good spin bowler? In cricket half volleys are the easy balls, no reason why that cant be the case in tennis.
Yeah it is kind of like that - SABR is easy as long as you know the patterns of the server and have a good judge of the pace they are going to serve at. It doesn't matter if the server is a really fast server or not, as long as you know what is coming you can adjust your prep for it.

The way I like to go about SABR returning is you just want to have a plan in mind of where you want to hit the return of serve. Pick a spot on the court and when the server is in trophy position start moving forward. You want to be about half way to your destination when the ball is hit. That way you can track the ball as you move forward. If you are successful and can keep your eye on the ball as it bounces, the half volley is very easy as the ball is the ball is going to have the pace and spin on it already - all you need to do is direct it back. You don't need elaborate or full swings, just little bunts. Practice it enough and it is easy.

The only times I get caught out is if the server gos up the tee, or pulls out a stupidly fast serve unexpectedly. Serves out wide and other general service points the SABR is really effective. I tend to not cover the tee as much because where I am, servers go for the tee far less then other spots. But obviously if you're playing someone who frequents a specific service spot you can adjust your SABR return position accordingly.


Good little video of the man himself. Of course he makes it look easy, but out of all the things Federer makes look easy, I think the SABR is the most achievable thing a rec player can learn to do well. I hope we see more pro's employ this tactic, especially on second serves that are loaded with spin and not much pace. Watch Federer pick off second serves in that vid and others. The kick serve is rendered useless if the returner hits it a fraction after it bounces before it has a chance to kick up.
 

xFullCourtTenniSx

Hall of Fame
What you say is not only terrible strategy but could also get you hurt. The only possible positive thing about standing close to the T like you say is being a distraction to the server.
If you don't want to get hurt, I'd advise not playing a sport, especially if you're too slow to block or dodge.
 

HuusHould

Professional
In singles, sure. In doubles, no. In singles, you get to start with your better shot and can hit heavy topspin to their backhand or hit a heavier and deeper shot to the middle of the court that they can't attack. In doubles, a good net man will be crowding the net and able to reach basically EVERY shot you can hit unless you hit it short into the alley, which is incredibly tough. Not only that, half of the DOUBLES court is exposed so they can just bunt it to that side and win since your weight is moving the other way. Inside out or inside in forehand from a righty on the ad side or lefty from the deuce side is better. Your partner can shade over to cover the middle while you go for your weapon and you guys can still cover most of the court. Also, the net player will have a harder time since the range of angles you have is much better. Run around forehands in the center is basically giving up the point against decent players though. I basically told a guy I was kicking the ball up the T to his backhand, he ran around it to hit a forehand (which he did reasonably well), and my partner was sitting 2 feet behind the center strap of the net and easily put the next ball away before the returner could even move to defend. The returner basically handed us that point.
This all makes sense. You have an extra lob option if you take it on your righty bh from the deuce court as well. If its a body bh serve you can fade the lob/pass back into court also. It does seem like a good/athletic net player can cover pretty well any shot you can hit when you run around the T serve.

So the net player should always volley to the returners side of the court when they run around a deuce court T serve? I often watch the lady run around a T serve from my partner and just watch it go by. (I'm a bit slow off the mark and have trouble getting down low on my left leg due to injury)
 

HuusHould

Professional
Good little video of the man himself. Of course he makes it look easy, but out of all the things Federer makes look easy, I think the SABR is the most achievable thing a rec player can learn to do well. I hope we see more pro's employ this tactic, especially on second serves that are loaded with spin and not much pace. Watch Federer pick off second serves in that vid and others. The kick serve is rendered useless if the returner hits it a fraction after it bounces before it has a chance to kick up.
Good vid of the SABR master. I noticed though in the slow mo of the last one he did against Novak that it isnt always a rank half volley, I mean that one was around waist height when he struck it.
 

xFullCourtTenniSx

Hall of Fame
This all makes sense. You have an extra lob option if you take it on your righty bh from the deuce court as well. If its a body bh serve you can fade the lob/pass back into court also. It does seem like a good/athletic net player can cover pretty well any shot you can hit when you run around the T serve.

So the net player should always volley to the returners side of the court when they run around a deuce court T serve? I often watch the lady run around a T serve from my partner and just watch it go by. (I'm a bit slow off the mark and have trouble getting down low on my left leg due to injury)
Body serves you can run around if you prefer. It's easier to do something with a forehand in that spot than a backhand for most.

The net player should hit that volley to anywhere but the middle. Close in on the net and open up your angles. You can go to the open court the returner left for you or go at the opposing net player.
 

Friedman Whip

Professional
If you don't want to get hurt, I'd advise not playing a sport, especially if you're too slow to block or dodge.
Years ago I was playing a league or tournament match, I forget which. Point is it was against guys I didn't know and never saw again. Guy was standing with one foot in the service box and one out. I was just playing "C" level at the time and didn't have that much control of my serve but I took a big swing at a flat ball trying to hit the guy. Have done the same thing a few other times with no success. But this time it was a perfect shot, as far as I was concerned. Caught him smack in the chest. He must have stumbled a bit trying to get out of the way so that when the ball hit him he went down backwards right on his butt.

I immediately went into my fake apology. I'm so sorry, so sorry, didn't mean to do that. I was completely insincere but he apparently bought it. In this case he didn't get hurt badly. And he didn't line up in that particular spot again.

It used to bother me when guys would do this and I would take shots at them but this was the only time I connected. I subsequently came to a different point of view. Now I have overcome any distraction value involved. I's just like when you're pitching baseball and a batter starts waving his bat over the plate trying to distract. You just look through that and focus on the target,ft the catcher's mitt. Now I'm not distracted and just focus on hitting a serve right inside the T, knowing that if I can hit that serve, this clown standing at the T is now a distraction to his partner and is also blocking a substantial portion of the court from his partner's crosscourt return. And not only that but these guys are now out of position for the next shot coming to them because they have one guy in the middle of the court, the other on one side and the other side is left open.
 
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tonylg

Legend
I think a few people are misunderstanding the role of the person at the net on return of serve. It changes depending on where the ball is and you should be constantly on the move.

You stand near the centre to block the easy volley until you know your partner's return is not going to be volleyed, then you move forward and toward the middle of your side to cover the sideline. If the ball goes back to your partner, you drift back a couple of steps and ease towards the centre again. You continue this as the rally goes on, looking for opportunities. If your partner goes sharply cross court, you cover the now open sideline. If your partner goes more up the middle, you drift that way too, cutting off some options and daring your opponent to make the now even lower percentage down the line shot.

There's nothing more comforting for an opponent than knowing you are just going to stand there wait for the ball to come to you, rather than make something happen.
 

HuusHould

Professional
Body serves you can run around if you prefer. It's easier to do something with a forehand in that spot than a backhand for most.
I prefer to hit a sidespinning bh lob in reply to the body serve, or a low trajectory slice lob. My take is that if you run around it, you fall prey to all the downsides you mentioned regarding running around the T serve, except you're not quite as far out of position.

The net player should hit that volley to anywhere but the middle. Close in on the net and open up your angles. You can go to the open court the returner left for you or go at the opposing net player.
I guess it depends on the type of return and how well you get into position!?
 

HuusHould

Professional
I think a few people are misunderstanding the role of the person at the net on return of serve. It changes depending on where the ball is and you should be constantly on the move.
Do you have any advice on how to cover the volley if your partners return goes to the net player? I read Kathleen Krajcos operation doubles and she says if you watch the net player and not your partner hitting the ball, you can tell when they are going to poach (but sometimes they go to poach and dont make it, or even fake poach and that puts me out of position for their partners volley). Also she says to cover the angular gap between you and your opponent, but depending on where they hit the volley from they often dont volley there. I find myself often thinking Id be better off starting on the baseline for the first serve? It often appears to me like the " returning net player" (especially the lady in mixed doubles) is a sitting duck to have the poach of the return hit past them.
 

tonylg

Legend
If you've got a partner who is getting picked off on return regularly, then standing back is certainly an option. I'd say a last resort, but an option nonetheless.

I find it strange that your partner couldn't go down the line or hit a crosscourt lob return. It really is starting to sound like a bit of a mismatch, in which case you are going to lose regardless of strategy.
 

S&V-not_dead_yet

Talk Tennis Guru
Do you have any advice on how to cover the volley if your partners return goes to the net player? I read Kathleen Krajcos operation doubles and she says if you watch the net player and not your partner hitting the ball, you can tell when they are going to poach (but sometimes they go to poach and dont make it, or even fake poach and that puts me out of position for their partners volley).
I think that's good advice. There's intense debate of whether to look back or not: watch enough doubles clips and you'll see both examples. The Bryans, for example, look back.

I do not look back because then I have to track the ball forward and then re-acquire the net man; I find it a lot easier to just focus on the net man: if I see him planted in the alley, he's likely not a poach threat. If I see him moving diagonally towards the middle with his racquet raised, I know I'm in trouble.

Also she says to cover the angular gap between you and your opponent, but depending on where they hit the volley from they often dont volley there. I find myself often thinking Id be better off starting on the baseline for the first serve? It often appears to me like the " returning net player" (especially the lady in mixed doubles) is a sitting duck to have the poach of the return hit past them.
The closer to your partner, from a left/right perspective, you position yourself, the more middle you take away from the net man. You're taking away the easy shot and inviting him to hit the more difficult one [cross court].

This is no guarantee they won't just hit the CC volley winner. You're not looking for guarantees: you're looking to play the highest % play and also to try and take away the highest % play from your opponents.

As far as up/back positioning goes, the closer you are to the net, the less time you'll have to react and the more angle you open up between you and your partner. I like somewhere around the SL, maybe even a bit behind.

I've heard good things about Pat Blaskower's book *The Art of Doubles*.
 

xFullCourtTenniSx

Hall of Fame
I prefer to hit a sidespinning bh lob in reply to the body serve, or a low trajectory slice lob. My take is that if you run around it, you fall prey to all the downsides you mentioned regarding running around the T serve, except you're not quite as far out of position.
I find good sidespin lobs are good at messing with people. Did a lob/overhead drills with some 4.5+ players who were really dialed in on the overheads, threw two sidespin/underspin lobs (first one to test the response, and second with as much junk as I could put to mess with them even more), they missed both of them. Then again, everyone else was basically throwing up deep topspin lobs or flat lobs. Really depends on what you're used to.

I guess it depends on the type of return and how well you get into position!?
In general, hitting at the net person is a good shot if you're on top of the net. They have less time to react and their partner is unlikely to have their back if the net player misses. It's best if you can get it at their feet, but anything below the net is good because their next shot has to pop up at least a little to get over the net, meaning you can hit down again and keep forcing them to hit difficult shots just to stay in the point.

With the open court, you're more likely to hit an winner (without worrying about pegging someone), but the returner might also be a total monster and still reach it and get it back somehow. Overall, this has a slightly better chance of ending the point, but the other point is slightly better in recovery since you keep the ball in front of you. Then again, in this scenario, you got plenty of time to recover for the next ball anyway. If you could, you should hit here (less chance of angry or salty players), but both sides have a very high chances of winning the point. I generally put these shots to the far side of the net man, around where the singles sideline is, since I'm not particularly good at volleying away from where my weight is moving.
 

HuusHould

Professional
I think that's good advice. There's intense debate of whether to look back or not: watch enough doubles clips and you'll see both examples. The Bryans, for example, look back.
I haven't watched a lot of doubles, mainly because singles dominates the telivision coverage, I just assumed that all the pros dont look back given what Krajco had advocated. But thinking about it logically if you can see what type of shot your partner has hit early you might have an idea as to whether it will get poached earlier and thus position appropriatley earlier.

The closer to your partner, from a left/right perspective, you position yourself, the more middle you take away from the net man. You're taking away the easy shot and inviting him to hit the more difficult one [cross court].
I think taking the middle away from the aggressor is a good idea, dont let them take the sideline out of play.

This is no guarantee they won't just hit the CC volley winner. You're not looking for guarantees: you're looking to play the highest % play and also to try and take away the highest % play from your opponents.
Yes, thats right. When the net player gets a decent shot on the return, the odds are against you.
 

HuusHould

Professional
As far as up/back positioning goes, the closer you are to the net, the less time you'll have to react and the more angle you open up between you and your partner. I like somewhere around the SL, maybe even a bit behind.
Seems like positioning central and back minimises the angular gap, I think people tend to position in the centre laterally of the relevant courts (deuce or ad) service line just as a convention, without any thought as to what theyre trying to achieve.

I've heard good things about Pat Blaskower's book *The Art of Doubles*.
Thanks, I'll have to get a hold of it.
 

HuusHould

Professional
find good sidespin lobs are good at messing with people. Did a lob/overhead drills with some 4.5+ players who were really dialed in on the overheads, threw two sidespin/underspin lobs (first one to test the response, and second with as much junk as I could put to mess with them even more), they missed both of them. Then again, everyone else was basically throwing up deep topspin lobs or flat lobs. Really depends on what you're used to.
I havent tried sidespin/underspin lobs a lot, but could see how it could work. I favour sidespin/topspin lobs which you cant get as much movement on, but you can hit a bit more offensively. To me it just gives me more chance to bring the ball down into court before the baseline and is generally a bit more difficult to run down than the sidespinning backspinner (although the sidespin makes for an awkward tweener!)
 

HuusHould

Professional
In general, hitting at the net person is a good shot if you're on top of the net. They have less time to react and their partner is unlikely to have their back if the net player misses. It's best if you can get it at their feet, but anything below the net is good because their next shot has to pop up at least a little to get over the net, meaning you can hit down again and keep forcing them to hit difficult shots just to stay in the point.
So going at the net players a good idea if you can get them playing from below net height, then get ready to attack a floater volley.

With the open court, you're more likely to hit an winner (without worrying about pegging someone), but the returner might also be a total monster and still reach it and get it back somehow. Overall, this has a slightly better chance of ending the point, but the other point is slightly better in recovery since you keep the ball in front of you. Then again, in this scenario, you got plenty of time to recover for the next ball anyway. If you could, you should hit here (less chance of angry or salty players), but both sides have a very high chances of winning the point. I generally put these shots to the far side of the net man, around where the singles sideline is, since I'm not particularly good at volleying away from where my weight is moving.
So the recoverys easier when you go to the back players side. Sometimes if you dont do enough with an angled volley to the open court a really quick net player can run it down. Yeah salty opponents are never much fun haha, but if theyre cutting down your angles they have to accept the possibility they might wear one.
 

Off The Wall

Semi-Pro
I see many players treat a doubles serve like a rally ball. They hang back behind the baseline line, wait for the ball to arrive, and try to hit hard drives These returns are not intimidating to a good net man. He knows he’ll have more time, which means more court can be covered on a poach.
If you Move forward to return the ball, either before or after the serve is struck, the net man will be more cautious. There will be less time to react, which means less court can be covered. He will not be as likely to poach. The more aggressive your movement, the more defensive his movement will be.
 

HuusHould

Professional
The only times I get caught out is if the server gos up the tee, or pulls out a stupidly fast serve unexpectedly. Serves out wide and other general service points the SABR is really effective. I tend to not cover the tee as much because where I am, servers go for the tee far less then other spots. But obviously if you're playing someone who frequents a specific service spot you can adjust your SABR return position accordingly.
How come the SABR is easier on wide serves? You have a 1hbh SABR right? One situation I was thinking of trialing an off 2hbh SABR is on the deuce court where the server positions right next to the centre tag and their partner at the net positions close to the net and quite central, so they only really leave the server half the box to serve into, so anything from a T serve to a body serve. This theoretically would make it easier to get to the pitch of the serve and SABR it!? The only other way to avoid the net player getting their racquet on the return in this situation is by lobbing.
 

movdqa

Talk Tennis Guru
I see many players treat a doubles serve like a rally ball. They hang back behind the baseline line, wait for the ball to arrive, and try to hit hard drives These returns are not intimidating to a good net man. He knows he’ll have more time, which means more court can be covered on a poach.
If you Move forward to return the ball, either before or after the serve is struck, the net man will be more cautious. There will be less time to react, which means less court can be covered. He will not be as likely to poach. The more aggressive your movement, the more defensive his movement will be.
 

HuusHould

Professional
Off on a bit of a tangent - Does anyone know what the hindrance rules are in doubles. For example can I call "switch" (change sides) to my partner just before my opponents hit the ball?
 

S&V-not_dead_yet

Talk Tennis Guru
Off on a bit of a tangent - Does anyone know what the hindrance rules are in doubles. For example can I call "switch" (change sides) to my partner just before my opponents hit the ball?
You're not supposed to say anything after you have hit the ball and it is travelling towards your opponent [ie it doesn't matter which side of the net the ball is on].

So, in your scenario, since the ball is moving towards your opponents, they could call a hindrance on you.

In real life, if you say it soon enough after your team hits the ball, it rarely gets called. If you do it just before they hit the ball, that's likely disruptive.
 

HuusHould

Professional
You're not supposed to say anything after you have hit the ball and it is travelling towards your opponent [ie it doesn't matter which side of the net the ball is on].

So, in your scenario, since the ball is moving towards your opponents, they could call a hindrance on you.

In real life, if you say it soon enough after your team hits the ball, it rarely gets called. If you do it just before they hit the ball, that's likely disruptive.
Thanks, yeah that makes sense. I often call "switch" or "stay" just after hitting a volley from behind my partner (uaually mixed).
 
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