Returning mastery of doubles
At the junior level, many players compete in singles and doubles because they have a chance to get points from each competition. Additionally, it has an impact on young athletes’ development so it has advantages from the coaching perspective. On the top level of performance, ATP and WTA players focus more on their particular profession so they rarely play both singles and doubles. To be the best in the world, it is necessary to train directly for one of these games. Looking at professional doubles players, it is simple to observe how the game differs from singles. There are many situations where players have to choose different solution than in singles to win the point. One of these areas is return and this article will show you how to master this important skill.
Return of the serve is a much more difficult job to do in doubles than in singles. This difference comes from the net player, who puts a lot of pressure on the returner. While waiting to return, player is not sure if the opponent will poach or not so it creates a stressful and uncomfortable situation. In singles, player can decide before the serve if he wants to respond to the shot with cross-court, middle or down the line shot. Unfortunately, this comfort is taken away from the doubles players and they have to pay attention to the opponent at the net. Knowing that less precise returns can be poached, player has to aim for smaller and more difficult areas on the court so it makes execution really difficult. This is one of the reasons why the best singles players are not on top in doubles rankings. Players train specifically for their matches so they have habits that are not easy to change. Let’s see what we have to know about the return before our doubles duels in the future.
Return deep cross-court
Cross-court return is a primary shot in doubles. Players have to learn how to maintain consistency while responding to the opponent’s serves. Hitting deep helps to keep the server behind the baseline and force him/her to hit shorter or weaker ball. Additionally, hitting the ball close to the baseline is a great situation for out partner to try to poach. If the opponent is behind the baseline, player at the net can risk more and move further to the partner’s side to get the next ball. Even if the opponent will try to surprise with down the line shot, it is pretty easy to get by the net player because of the longer distance to the net from behind the baseline.
Return cross-court into the alley
Another option that is available for doubles players is hitting cross-court into the doubles alley. This scenario happens often when opponent is active at the net. Good net players are able to quickly cover almost entire cross-court direction so the only possible spot to hit by returner is doubles alley. This option requires great control over the ball because any mistiming can result in wide fault or easy put away by the net player.
Lob over the net player
Lob is one of the most effective returns in doubles but difficulty of the execution discourages players to use it more often. The opponent at the net can intercept defensive lob so players prefer to drive the ball even in deeply defensive situations. On the other hand, offensive lob is used successfully in the rallies but it is not as visible while returning. The reason of this difference comes from the speed and bounce’s height of the serve and that’s why offensive lob should be trained more often to create comfortable feelings in player’s mind. Successful returning lob can put serving’s team into deep troubles because of the changes in court’s positioning. Server runs to the other side while partner switches the sides what results in down the line direction as a primary option to hit. For the skilled doubles team, it is matter of time when net player poaches during the down the line rally so there is a big chance for returning team to get advantage over the point.
Return cross-court into the legs
Many successful players base their tactics on serve & volley. After forcing serves, players try to get to the net and get advantage with the first volley. Returner’s job is to put the ball into the legs of the coming player because it change defensive situation into neutral or offensive one. It is really difficult to hit the ball deep and outside of the net player’s range when the point of contact is around the ankles. This return is a priority for all world-class doubles players so everyone should learn how to execute this shot.
Return down the line into the net player
Don’t forget about the most basic and effective return in doubles. Hitting into the net player is a great opportunity to gain many benefits. Firstly, we can get an easy point if the opponent misses the shot. Secondly, we can send an alert to the opponent that he/she shouldn’t be comfortable with poaching on all returns so it will give us more chances with future cross-court returns. Many net players are playing perfect volleys in dynamic situations but they are not as successful in more static situations so down the line drive is a good choice to test it.
Doubles is a different game than singles so the same shots have to be executed with different tactical intentions. Serve and return are two shots that start each point in tennis so players should spend a lot of time on these skills. Having only one weapon to respond to serves won’t be enough while playing against decent doubles teams so practicing different returning patterns is a necessity. Next time you will prepare for the doubles games, try to incorporate different returning solutions to expand your responsive skills. There is nothing more frustrating than the opponent poaching on your returns so make it impossible with different options in your skills’ bag.
About the Author
Marcin Bieniek is a tennis coach from Poland and a former professional player (Polish National Juniors Team). He is a certificated tennis coach by the Polish Tennis Coaching Association and the Professional Tennis Registry. Marcin has worked with many of the top 20 Polish Juniors and the top 150 players in the world.