Strategy for Return of Serve in Doubles

by: Ed McGrogan | July 23, 2009

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Working together as a team when you’re receiving is just as important as coordinating your moves when you’re serving.

In doubles, teamwork is essential. You and your partner should move together as much as possible, and when returning serve you should be aware of each other’s every move. Typically, the serving team will try to take an offensive position at net. Your goal should be to take this position away from your opponents and seize control of each point. Here are some ways to get the job done.

BEGINNER

OBJECTIVE 1: Hit the return crosscourt

Beginner
If you hit your return down the line, go right at the net.
This is the bread-and-butter return in doubles, and if executed well it has many advantages. Next time you watch a great doubles match, pay attention to the receiving team. The fi rst thing you’ll notice is that most returns are hit low and crosscourt. Not only is this the best play for the pros, but it will work miracles in a beginner’s game as well. Hitting your return crosscourt (and low, if possible) keeps the ball away from the net person across from you. It’s safer because the net is lower in the middle and you have more court to work with when you hit diagonally. Also, your partner will be in a good position to help you out by being a threat at the net if the server pops his volley up.

OBJECTIVE 2: Try the lob
This is a great way to mix up your returns. Usually, you’ll lob over the net person’s head (down the line). But if the server rushes the net, you may want to lob crosscourt. Make sure you alert your partner of your intentions before the point starts so he or she can be ready to move back to defend against a possible overhead. If the ball goes over the net person’s head, it gives you and your partner a chance to take over the net position. Don’t squander this opportunity by remaining at the baseline. A good mix of crosscourt returns and lob returns will make life difficult for your opponents and will hopefully put you in the driver’s seat.
 
INTERMEDIATE

OBJECTIVE 1: Chip and charge

Intermediate
You can take some pressure off the returner by keeping both players back.
In high-level doubles, the net team usually wins the point. So trying to get to the net should be one of your objectives. A good way to do this, especially if your opponents don’t have big serves, is to chip and charge your way to the net. Another option, if you’re uncomfortable hitting the chip, is to take the ball early with a short backswing and block the return. If one of your opponents hits a weak second serve, focus on hitting a deep crosscourt return and follow the ball to the net. This puts both you and your partner in offensive positions and places your opponents on their heels. Practice your volleys so you’ll feel comfortable at the net. This will add an intimidation factor to your game.

OBJECTIVE 2: Rip it at the net person
While returning crosscourt is the percentage play, you should occasionally blast a shot at the net player—the element of surprise might catch him off guard and produce a weak reply or an unforced error. In the warm-up, check to see how good your opponents’ volleys are. If you notice that one person has a weaker volley, you may want to take advantage and try hitting at him on occasion. You don’t want your opponents to get too comfortable in expecting the crosscourt return every time. Keep them on their toes.
 
ADVANCED

OBJECTIVE 1: Poach if your partner hits a good return
Advanced
You can take some pressure off the returner by keeping both players back.
One of the first things that strikes you when watching Bob and Mike Bryan play doubles is their constant movement during points. Poaching is a big part of their success; it keeps their opponents guessing and can also be a successful play for you. All too often, players only think of poaching when their partners are serving. That works very well, but a more surprising play would be for you to poach when your partner hits a good return. Tell your partner beforehand that if he or she hits a low, crosscourt return, you might cross over (be sure to move forward on a diagonal) and pick off the next shot. Your opponent will be forced to hit a low volley, which might set you up for an easy ball.

OBJECTIVE 2: Play back as a team
This tactic can be used in a number of different situations. For example, you might both play back if you and your partner have great ground strokes but your volleys leave something to be desired. Another situation may be when your opponents have excellent serves or volleys, making you and your partner target practice when you’re at net. The best doubles teams on both the men’s and women’s tours do this now more than ever, particularly when receiving the fi rst serve. You might also want to employ this tactic as a change-up, especially if things aren’t going so well in a match.

Illustrations by Craig Zuckerman
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