Mastering the "Meat and Potatoes" of a Doubles Point

July 5, 2017
Meat and Pototatoes Of A Doubles Point

Mastering the “Meat and Potatoes” of a Doubles Point

One thing I always notice when playing as well as coaching is that most doubles points are won early in the point. The team that can navigate the first few ( in most cases 2) shots will ultimately control play and win the match. I'm talking about serve and first volley for the serving team and return and second shot ( volley, passing shot, lob) for the receiving team. If you've ever played a team that consistently makes those shots you already know that they're very tough to beat and that they tend to be just as tough in the points that go longer than a few shots.  Here's what makes these teams so tough and what you can do to be a tough doubles team too.

    1.) They serve smart rather than hard. Good doubles players understand that the most important statistic on your serve is first serve percentage. If you consistently get a high percentage of first serves in it allows you to set up your point more easily because you're not on the defensive like you often are on a second serve. From a psychological standpoint, the receiver usually misses more first serve returns because they are expecting a better serve and they are concerned about what the server's partner is doing at the net. Also, a well placed first serve can get the receiver to hit the return where it is manageable for you and your partner, allowing you to hit a set up volley and back them into a corner.

   2.) They volley with the proper amount of aggression on their first volley. When I was in college we had a motto in doubles, "first serve, first volley." That meant get your first serve in and make your first volley all the time. One of the reasons many players don't do this very well is that they are much too aggressive on their first volley, trying to win instead of set up the point. They try to hit a lot of winners and amazing shots instead of consistent, solid set ups. Many players also don't understand when they need to neutralize a very good return. If someone rips a return at your feet you need to soften your hands and volley (or half volley as the case may be) the ball back. You're just trying to get the ball back to the receiver and make them make another shot right away. You and your partner will be in better position than you were on the return and they will have to prove that they can now make another great shot right away ( most of the time they can't).  

  3.) They're not over aggressive when they're behind. One of the worst things you can do when you're down in your service game is for the net man to start poaching like a crazy person. This rarely works and allows your opponents to relax, knowing you will not be playing smart tennis. If you get down on your serve, now is the time to hit some good first serves, make your volleys and be consistent. If you're down 0-40, you can't miss anything! Be steady and smart. If they hit a winner, so be it.  If the ball comes to the net man then by all means help the server out but for the most part you're going to have to dig yourself out of this one. Don't leave the alley open, don't take unnecessary risks and, as my partner and I often say " grind it out."

 4.) They don't hit serves when they're down game point that can cost them the game. If you're down 30-40, or any other game point, you need to make sure that you serve the ball so that one or both of your team will have a play on it. One of the worst things I see is when a team is down game point and they serve the ball out wide. You are opening up so many angles for the receiver and stretching your defense apart to cover both alleys. If the net player is leaning to the alley ( since they can't afford to give away game point), they will be leaving the middle open and won't be able to pick off a floater or weak return. The server has to cover the angle crosscourt return so a hard middle ball, an alley shot, a sharp angle crosscourt and a down the line lob will all be effective.  You're making it too easy for the other team! Serve at their body with a lot of spin and try to get them off balance. Don't give them easy angles.

 5.) They are flexible yet committed on their returns. You should have an idea of where you want to hit your return before the server serves but that can change if you don't get the right serve. You need to be able to adjust to the ball once it's served. Our coach used to say "wait, then decide." Read the serve, look for any movement by the opponents. Once you've locked in on what return you're going to hit, commit to it and hit it well. Don't be wishy-washy or indecisive. That will cause errors. No free points for them. Unless they hit a service winner, get the ball in play.

 6.) They have a feel for what the second shot should be after their return of serve. Once you've hit your return you've created a situation and your next shot should be based on the situation you're in. For example. You hit a low return crosscourt and the server gets drawn inside the service line after hitting the half volley. They should be vulnerable to a lob, preferably an offensive lob if possible. If your return pulled the server out wide, one option is to hit the next shot in the space directly between the two opponents, on the server's side. You don't want to be hitting random "ego" shots. You want each shot you hit to complement what you have already hit and what you're going to hit next.

 7.) They put pressure on the server's second serve. Here are four great returns to hit on a second serve.

               a.) Chip and charge. Take a kick or spin serve on the rise and chip it crosscourt. Now your hunter can get up close and you can come in. You're taking away time and leaving them with limited options.

               b.) Drive and charge. If the opponent doesn't have a second serve with a lot of spin, take it right off the bounce and hit it flat and low. Again, you and your partner are closing fast.

               c.) Offensive lob return. If the server is trying to get in quickly after their second serve, push a lob just over the net man's head.

               d.) Run around your backhand and rip the ball inside out or inside in. As a lefty, this is the main reason I like to play the forehand side. I want the server to know that I am going to hit a forehand and there's nothing he can do about it. My partner, as a righty can do the same on the ad court. We are daring him to try to ace us down the middle ( it rarely happens) and we often get double faults in crucial situations because they know what's coming and they're powerless to stop it.

You’ll notice that what we refer to as “The Meat and Potatoes” of a point always revolves around the serve and return. If you’re not working on them in every practice, you’re missing an opportunity to be great at what matters...the first two shots of the point!