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Doubles IQ, Part 1


By Christopher Hagman, President of Atlantic Recreation

In working with people just starting in the tennis industry, new coaches and established pros, it is important to learn how much they know about doubles tactics and strategies. After all, most recreational team coaching is about doubles. Players win and have more fun with a coach who truly knows what he or she is talking about.

Here are some questions to assess general doubles knowledge. Doubles IQ is a useful tool for a number of people connected to tennis, and there are objective answers grounded in sports science.

1.  When you return a serve, how far left or right should you stand? Stand in the line of good position, which bisects the angle of possible serves. If the server is in the middle of the doubles lane and serving to the deuce court, you will be near the baseline and about two feet left of the singles sideline. As the server moves right, shift right and vice versa.

2.  When your partner is serving, how far from the net should you stand? Stand about halfway between the net and the service line (offensive net) or two-thirds back in the service box (soft net). Moving closer to the net makes volleys easier and overheads more difficult. Choose your position based on your skills and the pattern of your opponent’s returns.

3. When your partner is returning a serve, where should you stand? Stand near the service line (one up and one back) or near the baseline (two back). Also, from the middle of the doubles lane, play one step toward your partner. One up and one back is for the receiving team to return and move to the net. Two back is to defend against a strong serving team, keeping more balls in play and moving together.

4. Your team is returning serve and playing one up one back. Your partner returns the ball past the net player. Where should you go? When the point begins, you temporarily stand near the service line to call the serve and defend against volleys from the server’s partner. Once the return passes the server’s partner, she is no longer a threat; move forward inside the service line.

5. Your team is at the net and your opponents at the baseline. You just volleyed the ball down the line. How far should you and your partner be from the net? You should be about halfway between the net and the service line, and your partner should be two-thirds back in the service box. This staggered net position gives your team the best bases to cut off shots down the middle, to have a safety for the middle and to cover lobs.

6. How would you rank one up and one back, two back and two up as effective positions? Generally, doubles is played and won at the net, so the best position is two up. Two back is the second best position with a team looking for opportunities to move together to the net. One up and one back is typically the worst position as the players are split with a huge diagonal gap. However, sometimes this can be a winning tactic for beginner and advanced levels.

7. What are three reasons you would play Australian doubles (serving team lined-up on the same side)? A) Manipulate the return down the line. This is a harder shot (higher net and changing the direction of the ball) even if he can hit it. B) Enhance a strength. For a right-handed server with a strong forehand, playing Australian on the ad side greatly increases the opportunities to hit forehands. C) Hide a weakness. For a right-handed server with a poor backhand, playing Australian doubles on the ad side can protect the weak backhand.


Hagman is a former AA1 city champion, GPTA doubles champion and USTA player development coach. Learn more about Atlantic Recreation by visiting atlrec.net.

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