Five Steps to Becoming a Better Doubles Player
“In singles,” Anne Hobbs says, “we go where the opponent isn’t; in doubles the goal is to out-rally your opponent.” Her advice: Rather than avoiding your opponent, try to outgun him, although she’s quick to add, “That’s not to say if you’ve made a space, you don’t put the ball into the space.”
GET SYNCHED UP
According to Hobbs, “In general, a team that is on line together is stronger than one up and one back.” Consequently, if you observe that your opponents are on line—even if they got there by, say, backpedaling for a lob—it’s time for your team to get on line. For the same reason, if you’re both back and your partner decides to go to the net, “you have to go along, even if you don’t feel like it, or think it’s wrong.”
PLAY YOUR OWN LOBS
When faced with an incoming lob, Hobbs observes that many players “tend to move to the side and call ‘yours.’” It’s better to own those lobs that are bound for your side of the court, calling your partner off them as soon as possible.
SEIZE THE MOMENT
Once you recognize that all four players are around the service line (tete a tete), your team should take the steps to win the point. According to Hobbs, these are (a) closing in, (b) aiming at one opponent’s feet (and keeping the play at that person’s feet), (c) aiming at the T and (d) defending the middle, which will help you close in. Closing in is paramount, regardless of whether you are in trouble.
Hobbs advises to poach only if you can play a better shot than your partner, and aim for the T. As for a net player who poaches against you, if he’s unsuccessful, then you don’t need to worry about him. But if he’s succeeding, rather than hit at him, or down the line (the popular responses), try a chip lob over his head to keep him honest.
ALWAYS THINK AHEAD
Make a choice of shot and a choice of where to go after you’ve hit the shot. You have to be an experienced player to know the high-percentage shots off each ball, but it’s a skill worth developing. “Execution of shot is much better when you’ve committed to what you’re going to do after that shot,” Hobbs says.
Originally published in the November 2011 issue of TENNIS.