Singles and Doubles

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by Scuderia, Jul 22, 2009.

  1. Scuderia

    Scuderia New User

    Dec 5, 2007
    I've been playing singles my whole life, but have taken up on some doubles hitting as of recently.

    Thing is, in singles im pretty consistent - not many unforced errors also pointing out the fact that i dont push the ball. Just a bit of information on myself. I hit with a one-handed backhand which is pretty solid. I can mix spins pretty well as well as flattening out shots out pretty well, mediocre volleys, and a reliable first (flat) / second (medium paced, high kicking serve). Can't give you a rating as i dont think i can accurately rate myself.

    Anyways, played some doubles yesterday for the third time. I was shanking balls left and right, making tons, i mean tons, probably around 40+ unforced errors in 3 sets. You name it - Shanks, in the net, sailing long, only thing that worked well was my serve.

    Why is it i can play my game in singles, and absolutely play like crap with no consistency at all in doubles?

    Would like to hear your insights :)
  2. plowmanjoe

    plowmanjoe Rookie

    Aug 8, 2007
    because doubles is a completely different game. there's a lot of added pressure to make good shots in doubles. court positioning is also something you have to learn.
  3. SethIMcClaine

    SethIMcClaine Rookie

    Jun 26, 2009
    Harrisonburg VA
    Reflexes play a huge role, and the mentality of another person being there that youre trying to avoid can get to you
  4. naylor

    naylor Semi-Pro

    Jul 26, 2004
    New Zealand
    I'd agree with the first statement. As regards the second, the pressure is not so much on the good shot (obviously, if you can return serve in singles consistently with a hard cross-court that lands within 6 inches of sideline and baseline, and when the netperson tries to poach you can switch direction and place it equally well going down the line instead, then welcome to doubles stardom), but on the good placement - ensuring the net person doesn't get an intercept. And yes, positioning is important, you have to move and play as a team.

    The easiest start to doubles is if you can play S&V singles - because when you're serving you should attempt to play that every point, even most second serves. And the way you do that is by easing slightly on your first serve to ensure you get it in regularly, and replacing outright power with better placement - mostly down the T, but also some sliding away from, and some sliding into the returner. Good variety, always keep him guessing - but also keeps the netman guessing so they don't encroach.

    If you play S&V, it means you can volley - and particularly you can volley those awkward ones off your shoelaces. But here, instead of being able to aim those at "the gap" in singles, you have to aim them back at the returner - because in "the gap" there's a person that will make you (or your partner) eat fuzz if you put the ball there. So you have to be able to both play and place volleys. Also, you have to understand where the gaps are in doubles - most are between the opposing players (easy to see when they're both front or back, less easy when they are one-front-one-back - still between them, but you have to go for it from one side or the other). And if you're the person at the net, you have to be on your toes and moving forward into volleying position (much easier for the server to do, naturally moving forward), rather than stand flat-footed waiting for the ball to come by.

    Returning is marginally easier - in that in theory you'll get the majority of balls coming down the T, and they won't be bombs. But it's also more difficult, in that most of the time you have to put them back to the server to avoid the netman. And you have to vary the depth of your return - if the server is coming in, a deep return to the baseline is much easier to volley than a dipper to the service line. In many ways, the best return is a ball taken early, so more of that block/punch than a full-blooded return, back to the server - but where you also have the option, if you see the netman moving across to try to intercept, to just turn the face of the racket slightly and redirect the shot to the gap down the line. The idea when returning is to play in such a way that you can steal the net from the serving team - here, again, a S&V singles player can often also play chip-and-charge, so a good option is you chip/block deep to the server (particularly, if he won't S&V to you) and move in.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2009
  5. EndLy

    EndLy Rookie

    Jun 25, 2008
    i know what you mean.. doubles is a totally different game for me also. I've been getting a lot more used to now I think. When my side is serving I'm fine. It's just the added pressure of returning. I hit a one-handed backhand also and slice a lot of my returns off that wing cross court but not good enough to where the opposition can end the point with a put away volley. So I've actually tried to step back and make an either aggressive shot or kind of joke around and try a lob over the net player hoping for a rather loopy topspin shot from the backcourt.

    I enjoy playing doubles and it helps with the net game due to the quick reactions you need to make .
  6. fuzz nation

    fuzz nation G.O.A.T.

    Oct 20, 2006
    I'll add that while singles and doubles both demand some consistency, singles requires an extra helping of patience while doubles places more of a premium on constant aggression. Once I've played a whole lot of doubles over a few weeks, my singles brain suffers and I often try to make something out of nothing instead of managing my points and waiting for opportunities when I'm in a singles setting.

    After you play more doubles, you'll develop more of the instincts that are useful for that game. Moving effectively with a partner and owning the net are skills that simply come with experience, but you'll also want to develop the tools to let you thrive in doub's including reaction volleys, half-volleys, well placed returns, etc. Don't just play doubles to get better at these shots; drill them with real purpose so that you can improve.

    We're dealing with a different geometry in a doubles match and one huge advantage can come with learning to keep your shots low over the net. Lots of put-aways come when someone leaves a shoulder height ball sitting around the net that the other guys can drive down through the court. In singles, a neutral rally usually means keeping your strokes deep with significant net clearance. In doubles though, those shots need to be lower to keep the opposition defensive. Learn to keep more of your returns, volleys, etc. down on your opponent's feet and you'll be forcing them to hit up.
  7. GuyClinch

    GuyClinch Legend

    Aug 12, 2004
    There is quite a bit to learn with regards to doubles.

    First there is the positioning. If you learn where to stand and even more importantly how to move when in response to how the ball is hit it will help you tremendously.

    People screw up the "off the ball" stuff alot. The net guy whether on the return side of the server side often doesn't move how he should. If you can learn the rules for this it can ratchet up your game alot I find. I swear one article on tennisone helped me so much on this. I was making alot of mistakes that I didn't realize..

    Now with my partner I can beat teams that individually - I cannot reliably beat either player in singles nor could my partner..

    The second part of doubles is getting better at doubles shots. People think its the volley but often thats not bad because your starting from a pretty decent volley position.

    The two shots you really need to get are the low cross court return of serve and the overhead. These two shots will make you into a decent doubles player. For the overhead its critical that you don't charge in and anticipate a volley all the time. Watch the opponent for lobs and the then use a drop step to turn back and cover them.

    The return of serve was a real issue for me. Because the net player ruins alot of singles return shots. In singles a deep lazy topspin forehand is fine - as is a respectable down the line shot. In doubles both of these shots are often ruinous. The opposing net player will eat these for breakfast.

    Mentally (and this is your problem so it seems) remember to use a lose grip so you don't stress out (you have a teamate now that adds alot of stress) and be aware that you can't really groove your strokes playing doubles. And no telling yourself not to stress doesn't work I find. That's why I stress the lose grip. You have to force yourself not to stress. :p

    I try to work on hitting doubles friendly shots in singles - to improve my doubles game. That is I hit low cross court returns and approach the net more so I get lobbed more.. This can help you feel ready when you play doubles.

  8. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

    Aug 31, 2006
    To OP:

    You are perhaps getting distracted by the net player and taking your eye or concentration off the ball? Maybe see if some extra ball focus will help? You have to be a lot more precise with groundstrokes in doubles, so any distraction that causes you to miss even a tiny bit can be a big problem.


    I'm a doubles player who is learning singles, and I think you are totally right.

    In singles, the price paid for bad positioning is immediate and apparent: opponent will hit into open court and point is lost.

    In doubles, the price paid for bad positioning is invisible and, more often than not, the price is paid by your partner. Say my partner hugs the doubles alley out of fear of being passed down the line or out of fear of having to hit a volley, or both. Who pays the price for that? It's me. Worse, she will have no idea that the reason I am getting killed or can't hold is because her positioning is bad.

    It's very hard to play doubles with anyone who doesn't understand doubles or who doesn't understand that if they are a potted plant at the net, that is a big problem. So yeah, you singles players need to study up and learn proper positioning, stat.
  9. user92626

    user92626 Legend

    Jan 27, 2008

    Either a very strange partner or very strange perspective on your part. If your partner fears of having to hit a volley, why is she/he even up at the net? That's like saying someone comes to the court, stands way off to a corner because he fears hitting a groundstroke!

    Ok, so if your partner hugs the doubles alley, isn't he/she already covering the doubles part of the court, effectively making it a singles court for you. So, all left for you to do is be a good single player and do your part, no?

    I'm a doubles and singles player. I have no problem beating any random player in my circle in singles game. In doubles, I just need my partner to do his little part which is effectively covering a small part of the court. Then, I'll just play like a very aggressive singles game and we'd win. We would lose if my partner tries to do more than he needs to, like leave his wing open, over-reach and get in my way or can't volley an easy shot back.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2009
  10. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

    Feb 21, 2007
    Let me just repeat a post I've done a couple of times...

    In the old days, and pretty much at all levels except the absolute beginner, everybody was at least trying to play serve and volley, chip and charge.
    Today, it's a lot more complex because there are all kinds of formations and strategies that win matches, at all levels. IMHO, however, what you and your partner have to do is pick out a strategy that works for you...that maximizes your strengths, tries to deny the opposing team the opportunity to pick on your weaknesses, and, most important allows you to play as a team. This last bit is really important. When I watch a lot of doubles these days, and I don't mean to pick on anyone, but it tends to happen most below the 4.0 level, what I see are four people playing singles on a doubles court. To effectively play together as a team, you and your partner need to sit down and have a fireside chat about what you're going to do, because you each have to know what the other is going to do and you can't depend on ESP for that information. And I think what you'll find is that there are general principles you can follow, but no cookie cutter solutions. Here's an example:

    - Team A has two strong servers. They elect, on both partner's serve, to serve and stay back with the other person at the net. This works really well for Team A, and they hold serve a lot. Why is this? Well, we said both players have strong serves...strong enough, it turns out, that at the level they are playing, the opposing team can only get back 40% of the returns, first or second serve, so the server gets a lot of cheap winners, and doesn't really have to expend the energy to serve and volley. And the second part of this scenario is that most of the 40% of the returns that do come back are wounded ducks, and the net person easily picks off most of these.

    - Team B also does the serve and stay back with a net person strategy, but it's not nearly as effective. In fact, Team B rarely holds serve using this strategy. Why is this? Well, to start with, both players have just so-so serves, so the opposing team gets lots of returns back, and is able to tee off on second serves. And neither player on Team B has an outstanding volley, and neither one particularly likes playing the net. But Team B actually has very strong ground strokes, because they're both tough baseliners in singles. For Team B, therefore, my advice is the following:

    - Serve, and both stay back. I'd say also return and both stay back.

    - Get some heavy groundies going. See what works best, maybe if you hit heavy to the back player (they're playing an back returner/up net player formation), you'll get some easy errors or some short balls that you can either whale on or use to hit an approach and move in. Don't neglect the net person, however, because remember that you have good groundies, and if you can hit some heavy balls at the net person, you may get some volley errors, short balls, or even force the net person to retreat...leaving the net open to you, if you want it.

    - The above might be plenty enough to win matches. If this is going well, however, you might want to experiment with having both of you move into net in situation where you get a short ball or drive one or both players on the opposing team behind the baseline. Yes, I know, playing net is not your forte, but what you're trying to do is come into net pretty much only when you know you've got an overwhelming advantage...and therefore you could probably hit the winning volley with a broom.

    So that's the kind of thinking that I recommend you and your partner do. I basically don't play a whole lot of doubles any more, but when I do, it's always with 3 other guys who only let the ball bounce on service returns. I like it that way...kind of like a knife fight in a phone booth.

    I had a partner a few years back who played doubles the way I do, serve and volley, chip and charge. We had both been playing tennis, and playing doubles, since God was in short pants, and got to the finals of a couple of big tournaments. So, naturally, we thought we knew everything there was to know about doubles. Then our coach, Dave Hodge, who played on the ATP tour and is now one of the National Team coaches for Tennis Australia ran a doubles clinic for 4 of us, including me and my partner. What an education that turned out to be. I summarized all this in another post, but I'll repeat it here, FYI.


    In men's doubles at the 4.5 level and above, there's some givens or almost so:

    - Serve and volley on both serves.

    - Chip and charge whenever possible. Keep the return down, make the server stretch for the volley, try to get up to net with your partner ASAP. One up/one back is a clear invitation to the other team...want a point? Just hit through the diagonal!

    - Court positioning/strategy is not necessarily what everybody thinks, and some of this came out in the preceding comments. As Dave Hodge said, "In doubles, each person has a job", to whit:

    - Server. Serving from way out near the singles lines is not really a good idea. You've just telegraphed that you're going wide on your serves...and if you're not, the serve in the duece court down the T is going to be a hazard, because it'll break into your opponent rather than tailing away. If you're serving from way out, you've also just left your partner with two unenviable choices: (1) Move over to cover the hole down the middle, and give up way too much space down the line, or (2) leave the hole down the middle open...and you can mail in the results of the match, see above. Serving from a little wider than your normal service position for doubles is fine...but if you can't hit a variety of serve directions/spins from there, go work on your serve, don't go stand way out somewhere.

    If you're not going to serve and volley, serve, hit the first groundstroke, and move in. If you put it off any longer than that, your partner is stranded, the other team just took over the net, and you just lost. Obviously, a good forcing serve is'd better get in at least 70% of your first serves, lose.

    - Server's partner. Most important player on the court. On every point, the server's partner, who is at the net, should either be faking or poaching. This means you gotta communicate with your partner, either via a strategy discussion before the point or via signals. You make the "poach or not?" decision as a team before the point, so neither one of you gets surprised. So what if your partner has a 57 m.p.h helium ball for a serve? Well, you do a lot of faking, and resolve to work on the serve next week in practice. You're also governed by what your opponents do, however. If the other team returns a 57 m.p.h helium ball to the same spot every time...well, I'd think about poaching. Stand maybe a racket and half's length from the net, in the middle of the service box. Yeah, you'll give up a little of the line...but the middle of the service box is just your starting point. You're allowed to move, once the point starts, if you see the returner winding up for a bullet down the line. And you're never gonna be able to poach effectively if you stand over on the singles sideline.

    - Returner. Okay, I'll say it: A doubles return is different than a singles return. Doubles is a different game than singles. All I ever play, any more, is singles, so if I wind up playing doubles, I know it's going to take me at least a set or two to get the movement, strokes, strategy and rhythm back on track.

    In ATP tennis, most of the guys play Andy Roddick Smashball, where you hammer a serve, the returner tries to hit heavy crosscourt through the court, and then we settle down for some heavy-duty long range artillery with 100 m. p. h. backhands and forehands. There is a trickle down effect all the way to most public parks/NTRP/high school tennis: everybody bangs the big serve, the returner goes for a heavy topspin return, and you're off the the races. In doubles, get lots of returns back (there are two guys on the other side of the net, and they're supposed to win their serves), make the other team move and stretch, and keep the ball down. I love people who belt a return off my serve that ends up going a 100 m. p. h. three feet over the net. Response: angled volley at the net man's right hip, point over.

    When you get a break in doubles, it's rarely at love. Usually, you get to 30-30 and scratch together a couple of winning points to get the break. Therefore, assuming you're both righties, who has the better backhand return in the ad court? Because at 30-40 or 40-30, you need to get the return back so you can break...and the chances are you're going to see a wide serve out to the backhand. It's also a reason why if one of you has a streakier return, put that person in the duece court. If you get a winning return in the deuce court, Mr. Steady in the ad court can then finish off the job. The reverse strategy doesn't work as well.

    - Returner's partner. The guy in the Danger Zone. If your partner hits a duck return, guess who's going to see the ball next? Answer: you, and the ball's going to be trying to dig you another navel. Returner's partner starts off on the service line, halfway between the center line and the singles sideline...and you're facing the server's partner...because if there's any trouble, that's where it's going to come initially. After the point gets started, follow the ball, and stay with your partner...

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