Doubles is a game of percentages. The team that wins is not the team that hits the best shots but the one that does the right things over and over.
Here are 10 rules to better doubles:
1. Think “me”
Many doubles players hesitate when going to the ball because they tend to worry about encroaching their partner’s space. They play with a “you mentality.” As the ball comes they are always thinking “you.” Changing the mentality and looking to get as many balls as possible will make you a much more effective player.
2. Move every time the ball is hit
Every time a player hits the ball all players need to change their position based on the characteristics of the shot. In general, successful players will follow the path of the ball and look to cut angles.
3. Who covers the middle?
This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in doubles. The forehand volley does not cover the middle as is commonly quoted. It is the player diagonal to the shot who does. Being clear about this will make a huge difference in your game.
4. Move with your partner
In order to cover the court better it is essential that you learn to move with your partner. Ideally you need to strive to form a wall at the net by always keeping the same distance to your partner. That is, if one of you moves laterally the other one must follow. Also, the one up one back formation will only be effective as long as the opponents are playing the same way. When facing two players at the net you need to scramble to line up with your partner at the net or in the back.
5. Communicate with your partner
Doubles is a team sport and the only way to be successful is to work as a team. Constantly communicate with your partner: After each point to provide support and discuss strategy; during changeovers to evaluate performance and set tactical goal and during the points yelling “out” balls and directing him/her into position.
6. When in doubt hit through the middle
Hitting often through the middle of the court has many advantages: It will greatly minimize your mistakes; it will prevent the opponents from hitting angles and it will tax your opponent’s communication and net-coverage skills.
7. Serve to the weakness
Forcing the opponent to start the point with their weakest shot can easily make the difference between holding your serve or struggling. Serve mostly to the weakness with occasional variations into the body and to the strength.
8. Start the point consistently
Making the opponent’s play every point by cutting down unforced error is key. Focus on making most of your first serves and returns. Hit at a pace that you can totally control. The serve and the return do not have to be “great” but they have to be “in” – always!
9. Control the Net
Although doubles strategy has changed over the years and some players have found some success playing from the baseline, the most effective teams control the net. Constantly working on improving your volleys, overheads and your instincts at the net will make it much easier for you to pressure the opponents by seizing every opportunity to attack the net. Feeling comfortable serving and volleying and returning and volleying is the first step to take your game to the next level.
10. Help your partner win his serve
If your partner keeps having a hard time winning his serve, make sure that you are not part of the problem. Your role as the server’s partner is to get into the returner’s mind. You need to keep him/her guessing about what you will do. You need to be in constant motion, poaching and faking. Using signals to let your partner know what you will do is a must. You need to be an intimidating presence or the loss of serve will be on you.