Josh's Fresh Take: March 2018 Edition

The Art of Doubles

Coach and Communications Lead, Josh Martin, weighs in on topics in the world of tennis and shares his two cents.
Doubles is almost a completely different game – that is from singles tennis. There are so many complex layers that make it fun, intricate and did I mention fun? Often when I first introduce the format to beginner players, both adults and youth alike, they play in stationary positions; one up and one back for the entire point, game or set. Although this positioning might be effective in starting a point, to many people’s surprise, it is actually the weakest doubles position in the game. Do I have your attention yet? Yes, you read that right. All these years of playing one up and one back and you were doing it wrong. Well not wrong, but not exactly right. The main theme in doubles is to work as a team and move as a unit. You are a wall. Nothing can or will get past you, ideally. Whether you are serving or receiving, the number one thing that you want to do as a doubles unit is to approach the net. Obviously this has to be done at strategic times. Approaching the net is not always the answer, especially if you hit a weak shot to your opponents, the last thing you want to do would be to approach the net because they will pounce. If you are playing smart opponents, that is.
So now you are asking yourself, when do I approach the net? Well, it is simple. If you expect your opponents to make a weak shot or your opponents have already made a weak shot, this is the ideal time to approach and have two net players rather than one. This is where you can pounce on your opponents instead. So why is this the strongest position? As a net player you take away something from your opponents, and that is TIME. This may be one of the most important aspects in tennis as you need time to set up and prepare for each shot. By taking away time and volleying a shot rather than waiting for it to bounce and hitting it at the baseline, you put pressure on your opponents to quickly set up and prepare for the next shot. Even if you do not have the strongest volley, after a number of volleys your opponents are going to get tired as they do not have enough TIME to set up for the next shot. The next question that I get 99.99% of the time is “wouldn’t they just lob over us?” Yes, yes they will try. However, a perfect lob is one of the hardest shots to make in tennis. Most of the time they will try and lob and either hit it out of the court or not put enough power or height on to the it and that is exactly what you want while at the net as you can simply overhead smash it home. The perfect lob is a tough shot and if it does happen when you and your partner are at the net, make sure to give your opponents props as that probably will not happen again in your match. Do not let a lob deter you from staying at the net! Approach, approach, approach!
The second strongest position in doubles is the Spanish position, with both doubles players back at the baseline. This is where you would want to be if you are defending at any point or if you and your partner are particularly weak net players. At the baseline, you have the time and space to react to attacking balls and to defend more effectively than if you were both at the net. Remember when I mentioned you do not want to approach if you hit a weak short shot? This is exactly where you would want to go in that situation. Although this is the second strongest position, I still recommend coming to the net as you will have a higher chance of winning the point at the net rather than grinding it out at the baseline.
The weakest position, as mentioned earlier, is one up and one back. This formation, if you have not noticed, is not a wall. There are many pockets and gaps, particularly in the middle, that leave you and your partner vulnerable that are otherwise closed off if you are either both at the net or both at the baseline.
My final tip of the month is to not get stuck in your positions. Whether it is any of the formations that I have mentioned or different variations, for example Australian (look this one up), be mobile and communicate with your partner. If a ball goes over your partner’s head and you have to run to their side in order to retrieve it, be sure to yell “switch”. This way your net player, if they know what to do, will cut across to the other side to cover the side you left vacant. This is so simple yet rarely gets done with beginners. Use this tool to make life easier for you. And finally, to all the net players out there – poach! Cut across to intercept a cross-court ball, have your racket up and be ready to volley. I can’t stress enough that you can move out there. You are not stuck in mud. Jump around, run, side shuffle, cross-over, dive, battle! Leave it all out there. It is a great game and one that has many different layers. Get after it.
Josh’s Fresh Take, signing off.