Never Lose to a Server Who Stays Back Again!

November 1, 2017
Never Lose to a Server Who Stays Back Again!

Never Lose to a Server Who Stays Back Again!

Here are some rules I live by as a doubles player;

  1. Never underestimate my opponents.
  2. Focus on consistency, not flash.
  3. Learn and understand different ways to play the game.

There is one thing, however that I will never do as a player and never want my students to do and that’s to lose to someone that stays back after they serve instead of serve and volleying. This is a flawed strategy and one that can easily be exploited with the proper game plan (getting to the net as a team) and mindset.

Before I go further let’s remember that we’re talking about playing against players at or near your level. If you’re a 3.0, then you’re playing competitively against players from 2.5-3.5. If you’re a 3.5, opponents range from 3.0-4.0. In these cases there’s no excuse for losing to a server who stays back.

There are several inherent flaws when the serving team plays one up and one back:

  1. The server can be exploited by making them play a lot of different kinds of balls on returns that put them in jeopardy such as;
    1. Short angled balls.
    2. Low hard returns.
    3. Lob returns over the net players head.
    4. Attacking returns down the line hard at the net player ( especially inside-in off second serves).
  2. The net player is very vulnerable because both opponents are close to them and they have no reaction time.
  3. There is a huge gap between the partners that the receiving team can exploit when the time is right.

I know that right about now many of you are thinking that you play a lot of teams who use this formation and you struggle to beat them. Here are the key elements to ensuring victory against these teams:

  1. You need to get to the net on all returns. Use the return of serve efficiency drill to help you to be more efficient and take balls right off the bounce on returns.
  2. There are two areas of the opponent’s court that are vulnerable; short and angled to the server’s side is the first one. If you put your opponent is “jail” with your return, you and your partner will be able to get into a better attacking Hunter-Helper position

            and minimize their ability to hit hard groundstrokes and lobs. 

  1. When the server gets tired of having to charge in for short low balls, use the offensive lob return
  2. Don’t forget to take a weak serve ( first or second) and hit it hard right at the net player. Make sure you move in and take the ball as close to the player as you can. On courts with the blue lines for juniors I want my players inside that line when attacking the net position.

  1. Once you’ve hit the crosscourt return or the lob return, your positioning and mindset is critical to your success in winning a majority of the points.
    1. If you’ve hit the return SAL (short angled and low), the receiver can get just inside the service line and the receiver’s partner can get their “nose on the net” so they can cut off more balls. The server is limited in that it’s very difficult to lob from this position and you can’t hit hard groundstrokes either. Plus the server has to charge in to get these balls so they will make more errors. If you hit this return with underspin it stays so low that you take away all the server’s preferred shots. It will frustrate them.
    2. If you have hit the return deep (and sometimes you will) the key is to avoid being overly aggressive in position and shot selection. The server will be able to lob many of these deep balls so the receiver gets to a position behind the service line and their partner stays a little more than halfway back to the service line. We have to manage this situation instead of being in attack mode. Here’s the most important part; We don’t miss! If the server lobs crosscourt to the receiver (Helper), the Helper manages the overhead and puts it back in front of the Hunter. If the server hits the Helper a volley, the Helper sends the volley back to the same side of the court, back to the server. We are isolating the server and making them play two against one! The only time we hit to their partner’s side is when we get a ball we can attack (volley to Hunter, overhead to Hunter, floater or short overhead to Helper).

    1. Once you hit the offensive lob return the key is positioning and shot selection. The receiver becomes the new Hunter, getting inside the service line and looking for any short ball they can get to. The partner (new Helper) drops back just behind the service line to prevent a crosscourt lob from ever going over their head and to cover their partner’s back on a deep lob down the line.
      1. If the server’s partner doesn’t get back you will get many chances to attack them at the net on any short volley or overhead.
      2. If the server’s partner gets back we look for an opportunity to hit short or angled volleys and overheads. We make sure not to change the side we are hitting to when both are back until we can finish the point. If we’re in Hunter-Helper and switch the side we’re putting ourselves in a situation of getting burned by a crosscourt lob.
    2. One of the problems with returns is that so many players are so predictable. Everything is crosscourt, crosscourt, crosscourt, deep, deep, deep! You need to keep the serving team off balance, especially when the server is staying back. One of the things you need to do is attack the net player and their position. I like to take a first serve off the bounce and hit it as hard as I can right at them. They miss a lot and rarely win the point but it puts them on notice to keep an eye on their territory and not to think about poaching. It’s also a great way to win points, especially when the server doesn’t have a good serve.

Here’s a synopsis of what we need to do in order to beat these teams every time!

  1. Hit SAL returns and get to attacking Hunter-Helper positions.
  2. When you hit the return deep, manage the situation and don’t be over aggressive. No missing! Make volleys and overheads and force the server to hit a winner to win the point!
  3. Offensive lob returns and attacking down the line returns are the back breakers because they create chaos for the opponents and never let the net player help the server.

In our experience as doubles players we have been able to beat very good players who played with faulty tactics like staying back on their serve. As adult, competitive players you will face a lot of these players. You need to spend practice time working on every one of these situations until you and your partner instinctively know where to be and what to do in all situations. Remember, when you play against a server who stays back you should be playing two against one. Play smart and be consistent and you’ll beat them every time!