The Art of Poaching

by: Ed McGrogan | July 14, 2009

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Hone your skills in four easy steps.

Poaching may be the scariest move you’ll have to make on a tennis court. You need to leave your position at the net at just the right time, ?y across the court as fast as you can, and head right into the returner’s line of ?re. It sounds daunting, but to be a good doubles player, it’s essential that you learn to do it well.

There are four critical elements to poaching: your positioning, stance, timing, and direction. Let’s take each of them one step at a time.
Most players stand both too close to the alley and too close to the net to poach successfully. You should stand right in the middle of the service box for the best results (see below left). By positioning yourself in the middle, you’ll be right in front of the returner, who will immediately consider you more of a threat. You also will be able to intercept any return that’s not hit perfectly crosscourt.

Plant yourself in the center of the service box so you can cover the crosscourt return on your poach.
To move effectively, you should lower your center of gravity as much as possible. Widen your stance and bend your knees and you’ll be in position to push off and move quickly. You also need to be balanced: If you’re leaning in one direction and your opponent returns the ball the other way, you’ll have trouble reversing your momentum. You often see net players in doubles bouncing on their toes before their partners’ serves. If you’re in an aggressive, crouching position, you don’t need to bounce on your toes.

The best time to take off for a poach is either just before the returner strikes the ball or, even better, as he’s hitting it. In other words, make your move when the returner’s attention is on hitting the ball so he won’t notice you.
When you poach, the key is to move diagonally—sideways and forward at once. Players often only move to the side because they’re already too close to the net. By moving forward as well, you can use your momentum to punch the ball, increasing your chances of hitting a winning volley.
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