Updated: Sep 3
In tennis doubles, the middle of the court is the most critical point of the match. This is not always very obvious when you play. The general rule of doubles is to avoid the net player hitting a groundstroke wide on the opposite side of the court during the point.
But a recent stat on a coach education course I delivered for the LTA highlighted that 95% of shots travel crosscourt through the centre window.
So if you want to win more matches, the message is simple, as a tennis player you should protect and dominate the centre of the court.
Doubles Statistics to Drive Strategy
In doubles, hitting winners is the simplest way to win a point. Despite how players perceive it, a doubles game is considerably more aggressive than singles. Compared to their more popular sibling singles, doubles are often seen as more manageable, slower, and less demanding. After all, you just cover half of the court right?
A Tennis single's point can be built in a variety of ways. The statistics show that dominating the net and advancing yields far more winners than in the singles game, which is much more combative at the net than singles.
Most doubles play is with a minimum of one player at the net in the point-ending zone. The volley and smash are finishing shots, and because of the net's intimate nature, players can easily take away time and space from their opponent. It's much more challenging to end the point from behind the baseline, where your opponent has more time and space to react to your forehands and backhands on the other side.
These stats of from Graig O'Shanneessy, the godfather of Tennis analytics and statistics.
Unforced errors 27%
Unforced errors 27
What does this mean?
1. Be Brave – Winners are typically a result of being brave, taking some risks, and putting yourself in the heat of the battle. You have to hunt winners, and they don't come to you. You go looking for them. Where are most winners hit from? The net player hits more winners than the baseliner in doubles, just again, because the court's position makes it easier to find space or take time away from your opponent with a great net player and volleys.
2. Be quick – Points are short and sharp in doubles (or they should be). The pressure, energy and intensity are all significant factors that play a part in doubles. The net players play a massive role in this. Again, the position on the court is closer and more aggressive. Poaching of the return, serve, and volley and different formations like the Australian formation make effective tennis doubles strategy.
3. Work together– In Tennis singles, you can deploy a defensive tactic game plan in doubles; it's much more challenging to spend most of the match in defence because of four players on the court. In images, the more aggressive team will force their opposition into playing their game. Please don't sit back and wait for unforced errors; they are harder to come by in doubles than singles.
Control the Center Window - Where the action is
The centre window is where the action is; 95% of the shots during the match will pass through the middle of the court over the net strap. If you control the middle, you contain the game. The serve, return, and most baseline strokes will pass through this area.
X Marks the Spot
Take a look at the picture below, the two baseliners will keep the ball cross-court away from the net players, and the two net players will attempt to volley in between the two opposing players or they may get an easy volley at the net player's feet. All these shots have to travel through the middle of the court.
If you control the Center Window, you contain the match.
In my online short course on how to dominate in doubles, I show you how the top players (and you) can dominate the middle of the court when serving.
The server's partner is the first player to effectively attack the middle of the court and take control, trying to poach or intercept the returner. A common misconception among club players is that you can only poach a centre or T Serve. You can also learn how to poach on a wide serve in my course.
The server and server partner should communicate through hand signals, decide where each service is going, the type of spin and if the net player is going to protect the space, poach or even faking the poach.
This should be communicated before every point no matter if it's a first serve, second serve or from the deuce or advantage side of the court. These are not advanced tactics, they can be used by beginner tennis players as a great tactic.
Check out the course intro below
If you don’t control the Center Window, what can you do?
If you can't control the middle or are playing against an aggressive team crushing the middle of the court, you need to take the play away from the centre window. If you can take away the pressure from your side of the net, you and your doubles partner can turn around any doubles match.
You can attack the tramline, trying to hit a passing shot despite being a high-risk shot due to the lower angle, higher net, and less court space can at least cause some doubt in the net player. I like to test the net player's bravery by going straight at the net player. Let's see how well they react and volleying close to the body, if they are a weaker player, I can force them into less aggressive positions with my forehand or backhand.
The better option that offers less risk is to use the lob, make the net player hit high overheads or force the opposing team into a switch, which can cause a great deal of panic and stress at the club level.
Once you force your opponents away from the middle of the court, you should look to retake the territory.
TOP TIPS FOR TENNIS DOUBLES STRATEGY
Where You Stand Matters
In my blog, the five golden rules of doubles, I highlight the importance of positioning. To win matches, you must use your positioning to create pressure and stress in the opposition team. An example is the returner's partner, who traditionally stands just behind the service line. Most club players will stand in the middle of the line, and players feel that they are covering the tramline. However, the danger is not the server; the threat is the server's partner, who will be looking to volley down the middle of the court.
So you should position yourself just behind the service line, but right next to the centre service line; this protects the middle from the servers partners volley on the next shot and makes the service box look very small to the server. You also have more time if the server's partner goes at the opposition net player's feet from a weak return. This position is often wrongly called no man's land, but you should just be behind the service line and no further back. Too far back and you risk opening up the angle.
For more tips on positioning, check out my short online workshop, where I will show you the most influential positions to play on the net.
Where to Look
The net player should constantly be assessing two things, opportunity and danger.
The opportunity should be trying to take control of the centre window, and you must multitask a little to do this effectively. Your primary focus should switch between the opposition baseliner and the net player. Then the ball is in front of you; watch the baseliner, looking for opportunities to poach or intercept.
When the ball goes past you, you should move into a defensive position and switch your focus onto the opposition net player, and this is now the highest amount of risk here in doubles tennis.
Forget the Lines
Most players have worked with ‘defend the tramlines or doubles alley and position themselves outside towards the inside tramline. The issue with ‘protecting’ the line, you are taking yourself out of the action zone. Think like a striker in football/soccer. You won't score many goals if you don’t get into the penalty box.
As I mentioned above, the down-the-line shot is a difficult shot, with the highest part of the net, the smallest angle, and the smaller court space. It's an extremely high risk, and it's only made more accessible by your partner giving away short balls or hitting too wide.
The line is a safe area of the tennis court if you work as a team and your partner does not give away short balls or hits too wide. If anything, you want to tease and show the opposition the line. If they attempt ten and hit three in, you win seven! Just positioning yourself towards the centre window creates a false opportunity for your opponent.
Don’t Follow the Ball
Watch the ball; it is the biggest lie in doubles as the net player! Never listen to a coach who tells you to follow the ball during the point. The issue if you watch the ball is it takes time, it takes time to turn your head back for forward. As the net player, you have no time to remember and are in an advanced position; therefore, you need to watch your opposition players.
Tennis is a game of positioning, teamwork and taking risks. It is not as easy or straightforward as most players believe. The great news is that most club players have no idea how to play doubles; hopefully, with this blog and my online course, you have the upper hand and can win more tennis matches by dominating the middle of the court.
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