“When the ancients said that a work well begun was half done, they meant that we ought to take the
utmost pains in every undertaking to make a good beginning.” — Polybius
Okay, the four of you have had a proper warmup and now you’re ready to begin your doubles match. Server is bouncing the tennis ball several times and is now going into the service motion. Do each of you know your job, your responsibilities, as soon as the ball lands in the service box?
At the beginning of a doubles point in tennis, each of the players on the court has specific duties and the first team on the court to successfully carry out those responsibilities is likely to control the outcome of the point. Since I am talking here about the beginning of a point, allow me to digress for a moment to explain the anatomy of a tennis point.
A tennis point has three parts:
- The beginning; which comprises the serve and the return of serve
- The middle; which are the exchanges, (the rallies, volleys) after the return of serve and,
- The end; which is the conclusion, when you have good reason to high-five your partner for the winning shot or you have the hang-dog look that comes, uninvited, after losing a point
The beginning, the middle, and the end, each of these parts of a tennis doubles point comes with specific job descriptions for both doubles teams on the court. The responsibilities depend on where the tennis ball is on the court. In this post, we’ll be focusing specifically on the beginning of a point.
Begin the point ineffectively against strong opponents and your doubles team is likely to lose control of the middle and the end of the point. Weak beginnings, like a poor second serve, or a non-committed return of serve, show up as losing the point or, as working extra hard to win the point. Some of you are adept at hiding bad beginnings; speed, agility, athleticism, poor opponents(wonderers), an extraordinary skill like a killer forehand will usually bail you out of trouble. But, to rely on that type of strategy is to play inefficiently. It will catch up with you one way or another. And what’s more, you and your doubles partner are not learning how to play together in a way that develops the point methodically and effectively.
WHAT’S YOUR JOB IN DOUBLES?
Server, Server’s Partner, Receiver, and Receiver’s Partner — each of you has two primary responsibilities at the inception of a doubles point. Regardless of the level, whether you’re a 2.5 or a 5.0, it’s still two. But keep in mind that the higher the level of doubles play, the more sophisticated your responsibilities become. Your game and your job descriptions evolve as you improve, as you age…I can’t imagine being in a job that never changes — the same mindless routine day in and day out. That is the beauty of tennis — it allows us to grow, adapt, evolve. It’s constantly refreshing.
SERVER: Your two responsibilities are:
- Get the serve in play, get the point started and,
- Serve with strategically good placement to get your partner a good setup or to set yourself for an opportunity to control the point.
SERVER’S PARTNER: Two for you too:
- To concentrate your efforts on picking off as many crosscourt returns from your opponents(wisely) and,
- To cover the alleys whenever the threat appears; it shouldn’t be that often if your partner is doing their job.
Focus on intercepting the crosscourt returns first, and alleys second.
RECEIVER: The two responsibilities for you are:
- Successfully return the serve crosscourt. Keep it away from the net player, at any cost and,
- Direct an effective crosscourt return or lob over the net player’s head to give your partner at the net or you the opportunity to force your opponents into an error or for you to hit a winner. In properly played doubles, there is no such thing as constant exchanges of twenty shot rallies.
RECEIVER’S PARTNER: And you also have two responsibilities:
- To help your partner make the call on whether the serve is in our out and,
- To keep an eye on your opponent(the server’s partner) who is diagonally across the net from you. This player is the first line of attack against your team. Your job is defend the balls directed at you and the balls which go between you and your partner. In Doubles, this position is commonly known as “The Hot Seat.” There is another significant point to this responsibility – being the “Gate Keeper,” covering the middle for the balls which go between you and your partner.
From years of teaching and watching the recreational/club player, I have observed that The RECEIVER’S PARTNER is the most misunderstood and misplayed position in doubles, regardless of the level of play. It’s a common problem all along the rating scale from the 2.5 player through to the 5.0 level player. Here is where I see numerous “wonderers.” Wow! Our opponent has a blistering first serve which my partner is having trouble returning. Hmm… Where should I stand? what should I do?”
Knowing what you’re suppose to do at the beginning of a point, understanding your job clearly, making good strategic decisions, and executing effectively become pleasingly obvious as you develop the point to a favorable conclusion. Remember, a good beginning means a nice middle and a fantastic ending. Wash, rinse, and repeat. That should be the positive tenor of your doubles match.
Be consistently assertive and purposeful at the beginning of the point and your doubles game will evolve. You will see improvement.
In part two of “2 by 4” I’ll go into more detail with each of the four doubles positions to guide you on how to get off to a good start.
What do you consider a good beginning in doubles? Do you have a strategic plan for a good beginning?
” CHANGE STARTS WHEN YOU SEE THE NEXT STEP” – Anon
Let the first step be in the right direction.
Let’s do this!