Cover 1/2 the Alley
Hitting a groundstroke down the line from a cross court ball is statistically the most common error in tennis. Simply put. It’s very hard to consistently hit the ball down the alley and past the net player. *Try hitting an aggressive ball down the line alley from a dead ball feed. Give yourself 10 attempts and see how well you do. I’m not saying going down the line alley is not a good shot (it’s crucial to keeping the net player honest), all I’m saying is that it's much harder than going cross court, so as a net player you should prepare to expect more cross court balls than alley lines. Therefore, its smart tennis to position yourself in a way that you can cover more of the middle while at net.
I suggest that my players position themselves at the net in a place that they can cover 1/2 of the alley with a strong lunge. This positioning is going to make you more aggressive and available to intercept balls coming cross court from the opposing net player, and also serve as alley bait for the baseline player to take the risk of going down the line.
Most recreational net players assume responsibility when they get passed down the alley line. I contend that if you get passed down the line by the baseline player, that it's your partner's weak groundstroke or serve that made the line alley available. If you retreat to the alley after getting passed a couple of times, you are giving your opponent the easiest possible direction (cross court) and basically making your partner play singles. If your partner is consistently leaving balls short and weak for your opponent to attack, then be prepared to defend the line, but refrain from covering more than half the alley!
If you think of the image to the right as a good representation of your partner and your sides of the court, then you’re doing it wrong. The centre line does not divide the doubles court! A more accurate representation of doubles court coverage is the image below. You can think of the net player as controlling the airspace in their section of the court then they become a much greater threat to be involved in baseline exchanges.
Once you learn to cover the most traffic heavy areas of the doubles court, you will force your opponents to take more risks to beat you, and receive more free points from errors in return. Have fun improving your court coverage and your net play on the doubles court.
Modern Doubles Strategy:
When to use 2 back on return
One of the most successful tactics on the professional doubles tour at the moment is playing both receivers back on the return. The Bryan brothers use this strategy often to counter the bigger servers they face and to set up their booming groundstrokes. Due to Mike being a right hander and Bob being lefty, both their forehands are in the middle of the court, which is great when two players at the net are forced to volley over the low part of the net down the middle to their forehands! This is an advanced strategy for the Bryan’s but the average doubles team can use this strategy too.
So why would a club doubles team play both back on return? If you and your partner are facing a particularly good server who is forcing errors or put away volleys for their partner, playing two back gives your partner a chance to defend the putaway volley since when that player is at net they are a sitting duck for the putaway volley.
Giving your opponent a look at a different return formation often disrupts the servers rhythm and has the potential to neutralize that server. This allows the returners to be more aggressive as it opens the court up for the return. Where once an errant return down the line would be a certain put away at the net player, the return team can now defend the putaway volley better as they have more time to react to the ball.
Another time to use two back on return is if you or your partner are having a tough day and need to regain some confidence at the net. Two back allows you to start the point from the baseline and work yourself into a position where you can choose when to come to the net, either on a good approach from your partner or yourself. This takes the pressure off the player on the baseline who has to keep the ball away from the opposing net player and allows you to hit your volleys from an offensive position rather than reacting or defending at the net.
Mixing the two back on return is a great way to change up your strategy or adjust to strong serving from your opponents. Practice two back and you will add another strong strategy to your doubles game. The more options you have, the more you are able to adjust and change your game and avoid being predictable and one dimensional. Take a leaf out of the Bryan brothers book and try two back on return, you will like your results!
See you on the courts, Joel Myers
USPTA Elite Professional
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego