Clean winners in doubles aren’t as valuable as you may think.
Few things in doubles feel better than driving a clean winner past your outstretched opponents. Your partner will be pumped, your opponents stunned and you should feel ... incredibly lucky. While there are many open spaces in which to hit clean winners in singles, the “hit ’em where they ain’t” strategy usually brings more pain than pleasure on the doubles court. You’re better off attacking your opponents in the following three less-flashy ways: low, high and in between.
• Low balls—shots at your opponents’ feet—are among the most difficult shots to return. Even if your opponent digs one out, the shot will likely float up over the net, giving you a chance for an easy volley, overhead or strong groundstroke.
• “High” means lob. A good lob pushes your opponents away from the net and forces them to hit overheads (the most physically demanding shot in the game) from deep in the court—not an easy thing to do consistently.
• Then there’s the most effective shot in doubles: between your opponents. When you hit low shots between your opponents, the ball will travel over the center of the net, the lowest part. Plus, your opponents often will be confused as to who should take the shot. Finally, when you hit down the middle, your opponents won’t have any angles to work with. They’ll have to create their own, which is extremely difficult.
High-level doubles teams understand that the game is not about hitting clean winners. It’s about minimizing errors and forcing the other team to miss. These three strategies are guaranteed to accomplish both. Let the other team hit the dazzling winners. You play disciplined, percentage tennis and win the match.
Greg Moran is the director of tennis at the Four Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton, CT, and author of Tennis Doubles Beyond Big Shots.
Illustration by John Rodgers
Originally published in the May 2011 issue of TENNIS.