The Ten Strategy Tips Every New Doubles Player Needs to Know

SouthernCourts

Semi-Pro
This will be the most disappointing body of a message in the history of these forums, because I'm actually not the guy who can write this article. I'm the guy who, as a 3.5 just beginning to learn the nuances of doubles in my USTA league, would love to READ this article. I know the very, very basic stuff, like switching, or staying back when your partner returns serve to cut off the angle in case he hits it at the net man, but anything more involved, and I'm clueless. And I've experienced what I'm sure is a common phenomenon—either losing to, or beating by narrow margins, players who you know you would whoop on in singles.

Any help, or even links, appreciated.
 
D

Deleted member 23235

Guest
My quick top 10:
1. get your first serve in
2. strive to get your partner at net to finish all points (ie. favor serving down the center T)
3. poach, poach, poach (forget the damn alley)
4. split step on every opponents shot (ie. keep moving, don't be a stick in the mud)
5. learn to love overheads
6. learn to love volleying... strive to to never hit a groundstroke (looking at you guys trying to play singles on a doubles court)
7. talk to your partner (mini point or game or set postmortems - what's going right/wrong)
8. never volley behind you - always toward the direction you're poaching (yeah, drop shots look awesome, but 9 of 10x, the baseline person will get it, and make you eat it)
9. don't look back to see where your partner is hitting the ball
10. when ball is above the net - volley down at the net person's feet (usually the dtl person); when ball is below the net - volley up and toward whoever is furthest back (usually cc person)

11. ABC - always be closing (the net - but generally a universal truth about anything you do :p)
 
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awjack

New User
My quick top 10:
1. get your first serve in
2. strive to get your partner at net to finish all points (ie. favor serving down the center T)
3. poach, poach, poach (forget the damn alley)
4. split step on every opponents shot (ie. keep moving, don't be a stick in the mud)
5. learn to love overheads
6. learn to love volleying... strive to to never hit a groundstroke (looking at you guys trying to play singles on a doubles court)
7. talk to your partner (mini point or game or set postmortems - what's going right/wrong)
8. never volley behind you - always toward the direction you're poaching (yeah, drop shots look awesome, but 9 of 10x, the baseline person will get it, and make you eat it)
9. don't look back to see where your partner is hitting the ball
10. when ball is above the net - volley down at the net person's feet (usually the dtl person); when ball is below the net - volley up and toward whoever is furthest back (usually cc person)
Good list.
 

Bluefan75

Professional
My quick top 10:
1. get your first serve in
2. strive to get your partner at net to finish all points (ie. favor serving down the center T)
3. poach, poach, poach (forget the damn alley)
4. split step on every opponents shot (ie. keep moving, don't be a stick in the mud)
5. learn to love overheads
6. learn to love volleying... strive to to never hit a groundstroke (looking at you guys trying to play singles on a doubles court)
7. talk to your partner (mini point or game or set postmortems - what's going right/wrong)
8. never volley behind you - always toward the direction you're poaching (yeah, drop shots look awesome, but 9 of 10x, the baseline person will get it, and make you eat it)
9. don't look back to see where your partner is hitting the ball
10. when ball is above the net - volley down at the net person's feet (usually the dtl person); when ball is below the net - volley up and toward whoever is furthest back (usually cc person)

11. ABC - always be closing (the net - but generally a universal truth about anything you do :p)
I thought it was "Always be Cobbling."

PS, can you tell my doubles partner this? Although since he seems to hate the net....
 

OnTheLine

Hall of Fame
protect the middle!
When your partner is about to return from the baseline in a rally, you are at the T with your attention on your opponents ... follow the ball ... short ball, prepare to defend ... deep ball move forward offensively
 

awjack

New User
I thought it was "Always be Cobbling."

PS, can you tell my doubles partner this? Although since he seems to hate the net....
It's tough playing with a partner like that. Not sure what is more frustrating, a partner who won't come in or one who is afraid when they are.
 

kevrol

Hall of Fame
Good list so far. Here would be my top items:
  1. Don't go for a winner on return of serve. Just return it cross-court and then look for winners
  2. Close in on the net
  3. Look for a poach but only if you are planning to end the point with it.
  4. Learn to volley
  5. Be willing/able to chase down lobs and return it with another lob as this will give you a chance to get back in the point.
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
My quick top 10:
1. get your first serve in
2. strive to get your partner at net to finish all points (ie. favor serving down the center T)
3. poach, poach, poach (forget the damn alley)
4. split step on every opponents shot (ie. keep moving, don't be a stick in the mud)
5. learn to love overheads
6. learn to love volleying... strive to to never hit a groundstroke (looking at you guys trying to play singles on a doubles court)
7. talk to your partner (mini point or game or set postmortems - what's going right/wrong)
8. never volley behind you - always toward the direction you're poaching (yeah, drop shots look awesome, but 9 of 10x, the baseline person will get it, and make you eat it)
9. don't look back to see where your partner is hitting the ball
10. when ball is above the net - volley down at the net person's feet (usually the dtl person); when ball is below the net - volley up and toward whoever is furthest back (usually cc person)

11. ABC - always be closing (the net - but generally a universal truth about anything you do :p)
No. 9 has been discussed a lot. You should be looking at the other net man if you are the net man and your partner is receiving serve (but see below), as he is the first in the path. But in other cases, a quick backwards glance at your partner to see the kind of shot he may hit is considered OK.

No. 3 is good if you are the net man on the serving side. But if you are a net man on the receiving side, club doubles and league matches force you to be at the service line and not closer, because of line calls. I have been in numerous situations where line calls are difficult to make by the returner as he is focused on the ball, and an out call by the net man is hotly contested if he is not looking from the service line. I have given up on this and always stay on the service line, and have to look at where the serve is landing, and not at the net man.
 
7. talk to your partner (mini point or game or set postmortems - what's going right/wrong)
I'd also stress that you need to communicate during points. Call out switches, call out who is getting balls that are in between players. One of the rules I have tried to play by is the back man calls the play. Opponent lobs cross court - back man calls the switch. If the ball is short, man in back can call off partner if he has the better shot, etc.
 

McLovin

Legend
1. Don't go for a winner on return of serve. Just return it cross-court and then look for winners
When I coached a girls high school team, this was my biggest pet peeve. They always tried for the winner up the line. It drove me crazy.

I'd tell them 'Cross court, cross court, cross court!!!! And if they poach on you...return it FURTHER cross court!'. Obviously if you have an overly aggressive net person, and they are successfully picking off your return, then maybe...maybe go up the line. But even then I'd prefer the Jamie Murray return of lobbing up the line instead of ripping it.
 

Traffic

Hall of Fame
My quick top 10:
1. get your first serve in
2. strive to get your partner at net to finish all points (ie. favor serving down the center T)
3. poach, poach, poach (forget the damn alley)
4. split step on every opponents shot (ie. keep moving, don't be a stick in the mud)
5. learn to love overheads
6. learn to love volleying... strive to to never hit a groundstroke (looking at you guys trying to play singles on a doubles court)
7. talk to your partner (mini point or game or set postmortems - what's going right/wrong)
8. never volley behind you - always toward the direction you're poaching (yeah, drop shots look awesome, but 9 of 10x, the baseline person will get it, and make you eat it)
9. don't look back to see where your partner is hitting the ball
10. when ball is above the net - volley down at the net person's feet (usually the dtl person); when ball is below the net - volley up and toward whoever is furthest back (usually cc person)

11. ABC - always be closing (the net - but generally a universal truth about anything you do :p)
#2 was the biggest help for my last doubles. Service to the T or deep groundstrokes to the opponent at baseline. It works way better than me trying to win the point with a baseline winner :rolleyes: or trying to run the receiver off the court.:confused:
#9 I struggle with. I stopped looking back and I'd catch the short lobs too late to get out of there...I started taking quick glances but not dwelling. Maybe this goes to #7. Is there a way for back person to warn of weak lob or otherwise T-ing up a winner for the opponent's net person?

  1. Don't go for a winner on return of serve. Just return it cross-court and then look for winners
Will totally work on this for next match.
 

MathGeek

Hall of Fame
#4 was our big fail last week. Both my partner and I stopped too soon when it looked like we didn't need to get it.

We had backed off our aggressiveness at the net (too many UEs) thinking the net man should only hit balls to our advantage, not anything he can touch. But then the baseline guy needs to cover more ground and expect the net man to change his mind when a shot is a big reach with a likely UE.

Don't let your net man fake you out!
 

willeric

Rookie
This is overrated: 1. Always get your first serve in

The reason is that I'm looking for free points off of my first serve. If I get 2 free points, and then win 50/50 off of my second serve, I hold. So I do best with a 50% first serve rate. I've tried getting all my first serves in, and I generally win 50% of my serves games. (This assumes everyone is more or less at the same level. This has also been accurate in doubles.)
 

Doc Hollidae

Hall of Fame
1. Placement over power.
2. Favor the middle over guarding your alley as the net man, until they prove they can hit down the line consistently.
3. Communicate with your partner. (On switches, hand signals, talking before every serve, etc.)
4. Move with your partner. Pretend you guys are connected by a rope. If they more right, you move right.
5. Control the net.
6. Hit to the weaker opponent as often as possible.
7. If you get a second serve early in the match, slam it at the net guy. It could shake his confidence and cause him to be tentative when poaching or taking a middle ball.
8. When your partner is returning. Stand on the service line close to the T. This will help cover the middle if your partner isn't able to get their return cross court.
9. Learn how to hit a kick serve. Helps with the serve and volley.
10. Don't be afraid to try I formation or Aussie. Giving your opponents different looks can mess with their rhythm or groove.
 

ZirkusAffe

Semi-Pro
Play a lot of matches with your partner get to know your team's overall strengths and weaknesses.
Figure out return side, who's comfortable with what.. I started playing AD almost exclusively for doubles and had been comfortable with it always but my partner's BH is weaker although his FH is strong and he preferred AD returns for hitting his FH so I gave up AD for deuce had to learn it but it paid off as we're both comfortable returning and he can play off his FH more often from AD plus it's a weapon so on ad points it helps especially vs a potential 2nd serve. My job deuce side just get everything back.
Get to the net, have a plan whether serving or returning to move in, when/how to move... Not exclusively S&V but when to S&V and when/how to get to the net during points. Like Doc mentioned Placement over power also court position like both up... you will run into teams that like to lob almost auto lob even with you back but the norm is if your team gets to the net you should have success.
 

SinjinCooper

Hall of Fame
This is overrated: 1. Always get your first serve in

The reason is that I'm looking for free points off of my first serve. If I get 2 free points, and then win 50/50 off of my second serve, I hold. So I do best with a 50% first serve rate. I've tried getting all my first serves in, and I generally win 50% of my serves games. (This assumes everyone is more or less at the same level. This has also been accurate in doubles.)
If you're getting free points off of 100% of your first serves, and are getting 50% of them in, by all means, go for your first serves.

Also, send me a picture of you with the Wimbledon trophy. Because that's a lot better than guys like Sampras could ever achieve.
 

Max G.

Legend
It does seem to me that pro players try to get a higher first serve percentage in doubles than in singles. From tennis abstract, Jack socks first serve percentage is 58 in singles, 66 in doubles. For pospisil: 57 in singles, 63 in doubles. Nadal 70 in singles, 72 in doubles. Feliciano Lopez, 59 in singles, 72 in doubles. Isner 69 and 70. Mahut 60 and 64. Herbert 57 and 64.

Obviously, getting "all" your first serves in is a big exaggeration, but according to how the pros play, a higher first serve percentage is important for doubles.
 

stapletonj

Hall of Fame
1. hit 2nd serve kickers and slicers almost exclusively when serving.
2. down the middle solves the riddle. serves, groundstrokes volleys and overheads
3. Thou shalt get to the net as soon as possible - server, receiver, everybody
4. chip slice cross court returns - 90% of the time
5. run down the lobs.
 

Dartagnan64

G.O.A.T.
If you're getting free points off of 100% of your first serves, and are getting 50% of them in, by all means, go for your first serves.

Also, send me a picture of you with the Wimbledon trophy. Because that's a lot better than guys like Sampras could ever achieve.
Sampras didn't play weekend warrior saps. i'm sure against any of my opponents Sampras would be 100% on second serve free points.

If I get my first serve in where I'm aiming, I usually get those points. Flat serves to the BH in 3.5 tennis leads to sitters for my partner to put away. I'm not going to win WImbledon anytime soon, but I can win first serve points with ease in 3.5 doubles with a good attacking partner.
 

OrangePower

Legend
My quick top 10:
1. get your first serve in
2. strive to get your partner at net to finish all points (ie. favor serving down the center T)
3. poach, poach, poach (forget the damn alley)
4. split step on every opponents shot (ie. keep moving, don't be a stick in the mud)
5. learn to love overheads
6. learn to love volleying... strive to to never hit a groundstroke (looking at you guys trying to play singles on a doubles court)
7. talk to your partner (mini point or game or set postmortems - what's going right/wrong)
8. never volley behind you - always toward the direction you're poaching (yeah, drop shots look awesome, but 9 of 10x, the baseline person will get it, and make you eat it)
9. don't look back to see where your partner is hitting the ball
10. when ball is above the net - volley down at the net person's feet (usually the dtl person); when ball is below the net - volley up and toward whoever is furthest back (usually cc person)

11. ABC - always be closing (the net - but generally a universal truth about anything you do :p)
Good list. Unfortunately, easier said than done!
 

OrangePower

Legend
A lot of discussion about #1 get your first serve in.

I think in general this is a good rule, but of course there are going to be individual exceptions based on your 1st serve vs 2nd serve effectiveness, and how well the opponents are returning.

I have a good 2nd serve that is reliable and often good enough to win most 2nd serve points in dubs. Partly this is because my partner is very good at the net and can put away many returns even off my 2nd. So when playing with him against opponents who cannot consistently attack my second, I will go for big 1st serves with lower %. But if playing with a different partner who is not as good at net, or against very good returners, then I dial back the 1st and go for more %.

Anyway I think the default of 'get your 1st serve in' is good, and then on a match by match basis go for more aggressive 1st serves if (1) Your high % 1st serves are being punished, or (2) you find that you are reliably winning points off your 2nd.
 
D

Deleted member 23235

Guest
A lot of discussion about #1 get your first serve in.

I think in general this is a good rule, but of course there are going to be individual exceptions based on your 1st serve vs 2nd serve effectiveness, and how well the opponents are returning.

I have a good 2nd serve that is reliable and often good enough to win most 2nd serve points in dubs. Partly this is because my partner is very good at the net and can put away many returns even off my 2nd. So when playing with him against opponents who cannot consistently attack my second, I will go for big 1st serves with lower %. But if playing with a different partner who is not as good at net, or against very good returners, then I dial back the 1st and go for more %.

Anyway I think the default of 'get your 1st serve in' is good, and then on a match by match basis go for more aggressive 1st serves if (1) Your high % 1st serves are being punished, or (2) you find that you are reliably winning points off your 2nd.
agreed
This is overrated: 1. Always get your first serve in

The reason is that I'm looking for free points off of my first serve. If I get 2 free points, and then win 50/50 off of my second serve, I hold. So I do best with a 50% first serve rate. I've tried getting all my first serves in, and I generally win 50% of my serves games. (This assumes everyone is more or less at the same level. This has also been accurate in doubles.)
of 100pts

50% of 100 = 50pts (ace/forced error)
50% of 50 = 25pts

70% of 100 = 70pts (more conservative serve, but still much more aggressive than a second serve = let the opponents get the return back slightly more, but your partner puts away more)
50% of 30 = 15pts

In general if Pros can't hit aces all the time, why should i even try... the risk to reward ratio is too low.
i'm better off hitting a slightly aggressive serve (vs. a very aggressive serve), and let my partner put away the easy volley...

presuming you don't have trust issues, that is..
 

OrangePower

Legend
of 100pts

50% of 100 = 50pts (ace/forced error)
50% of 50 = 25pts

70% of 100 = 70pts (more conservative serve, but still much more aggressive than a second serve = let the opponents get the return back slightly more, but your partner puts away more)
50% of 30 = 15pts

In general if Pros can't hit aces all the time, why should i even try... the risk to reward ratio is too low.
i'm better off hitting a slightly aggressive serve (vs. a very aggressive serve), and let my partner put away the easy volley...

presuming you don't have trust issues, that is..
Agree, but the thing is, you can't just look at probability per point, and then extend that to 100 points or whatever. Because in addition to average probability, you also have to consider the variance. Here's an example:

Option 1: First serve at 50%, wins 80% of points on average, second serve wins 40% of points on average.
Option 2: First serve at 75%, wins 60% of points on average, second serve wins 40% of points on average.

If you look at it simplistically, option 1 gets you 60 /100 points, option 2 gets you 55 / 100 points. So is option 1 better? Well, depends on the distribution of those points. Maybe option 1 means some games you win all the points (all your first serves go in), but in one game you miss all your first serves and then get broken... and sometimes one break is all it takes. Whereas option 2 means all games are closer, but with less variation, and so you win them all.
 

Nellie

Hall of Fame
I am a much better (record-wise) at doubles than singles, and here are a couple of things that work for me.

1) always be moving when you are at the net (don't just stand and watch the ball). I take a couple of steps to follow the location of the ball (back to the service line when the ball is near the net, forward when the ball is deep, and to the side the ball is located)

2) always be doing something at the net (poach or pretend to poach). I try to poach at least once per game and even if that fails, I get a lot of shots hit at me after the poach. I like to put pressure on the other team, especially the serve receiver. Poaching does not mean going for a sitter (that is assumed when you are at the net) - poaching means going across just before the ball is hit by the opponent. I like to start moving just at the other player starts swinging

3) Don't overthink your shots - aim down at a closest netplayer when the ball is high (above the net) and aim deep and away from the closest netplayer when the ball is low.

4) strategy-wise (these are debatable but work for me - use at your own discretion), when I am serving/receiving serve, I always come up, but further from the net from my partner (slight stagger), and I am responsible for chasing every lob that is not an overhead. I find that this allows my partner to be more aggressive at the net and to avoid any confusion/delays about chasing down lobs (I start running the instant I see the ball is high). I started doing this in spite from a partner that would wait and call switches too late .
 
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Gazelle

G.O.A.T.
My quick top 10:
1. get your first serve in
2. strive to get your partner at net to finish all points (ie. favor serving down the center T)
3. poach, poach, poach (forget the damn alley)
4. split step on every opponents shot (ie. keep moving, don't be a stick in the mud)
5. learn to love overheads
6. learn to love volleying... strive to to never hit a groundstroke (looking at you guys trying to play singles on a doubles court)
7. talk to your partner (mini point or game or set postmortems - what's going right/wrong)
8. never volley behind you - always toward the direction you're poaching (yeah, drop shots look awesome, but 9 of 10x, the baseline person will get it, and make you eat it)
9. don't look back to see where your partner is hitting the ball
10. when ball is above the net - volley down at the net person's feet (usually the dtl person); when ball is below the net - volley up and toward whoever is furthest back (usually cc person)

11. ABC - always be closing (the net - but generally a universal truth about anything you do :p)
Tip 2 is probably the best ever. I don't play doubles often, but when I do, regardless who is my partner, they serve outwide 90% of the time. Which means the return is usually coming back sharp crosscourt, and I can't get near to it to volley even if poach. Serving down the T is so much more helpful to the player at the net.
 

willeric

Rookie
If you're getting free points off of 100% of your first serves, and are getting 50% of them in, by all means, go for your first serves.

Also, send me a picture of you with the Wimbledon trophy. Because that's a lot better than guys like Sampras could ever achieve.
I'm not playing against ATP pros. If you read my post, it said assuming all players are at the same level. Obviously if someone can't return my second serve, I won't bother hitting any aggressive first serves.

I think it's very common in doubles that if you get a good first serve in, your partner is going to have an easy put away at net.

agreed

of 100pts

50% of 100 = 50pts (ace/forced error)
50% of 50 = 25pts

70% of 100 = 70pts (more conservative serve, but still much more aggressive than a second serve = let the opponents get the return back slightly more, but your partner puts away more)
50% of 30 = 15pts

In general if Pros can't hit aces all the time, why should i even try... the risk to reward ratio is too low.
i'm better off hitting a slightly aggressive serve (vs. a very aggressive serve), and let my partner put away the easy volley...

presuming you don't have trust issues, that is..
I'm not saying that I'm hitting aces. All I'm looking for is my serve to generate weak returns. But if you try to get all first servers in, all of a sudden you lose the advantage you get from serving. If I'm serving 90-100% first serves in, I'm playing it really safe. If that works, I'll keep doing it. But I have found that often I'll get 100% of first serves in and not hold. I have found that I hold serve better if I really go for aggressive first serves even if my percentage drops considerably.
 

Max G.

Legend
At the pro level, it seems the "correct" percentage of first serves to go for, on average, is somewhere in the low 70s in doubles. If you're making more than three fourths of your serves you should probably go for more, if you're making only half or sixty percent, you should probably get more in.

Of course that's on average, in the pros, so I don't know what the right answer is in rec tennis. But in general, I think the advice comes down to "In doubles, you only need to hit your first serves well enough to get your partner a volley, you don't need to go for unreturned serves".
 

M Pillai

Rookie
quick backwards glance at your partner to see the kind of shot he may hit
I disagree. May not get the deserved punishment against opponents who are not moving well. But good doubles players (at any level) move well, and would punish you for that fraction of a second lost concentration. Learn to know what shots your partner is playing by looking at the opponents move and reaction. Also after playing with your partner for sometime, you should know what his natural shots should be.

I believe, a net player with partial concentration is an easy target for opponents.
 

stapletonj

Hall of Fame
Ummm... wut?
sorry, I get a lot of balls served to my backhand, I should've said that. basically, keep your return LOW, it's the cross court return that floats a little that the net man jumps on.
now, if the serve is slow, floaty, bounces high etc., sure, nail it at the net man more often, but when you are getting slower serves that you can handle no problem, you are gonna have a good day anyway.
 
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