“INDECISION IS THE GRAVEYARD OF GOOD INTENTIONS”
Tennis, whether it’s singles or doubles requires of you the ability to anticipate and to recognize patterns. Anticipation is one of the priceless intangibles you need to develop and keep sharp to grow and evolve your tennis game. It’s essential.
And, in doubles, especially at the net, anticipation is huge. Imagine knowing ahead of time where your opponent is going to hit the ball: cross-court, down the alley, to your forehand or backhand, to you as a lob, slow or fast…wouldn’t it make playing tennis easier? The only time you experience knowing what’s coming is in a lesson when the teaching professional is letting you know what to expect -” okay, Susan, let’s work on your backhand, overhead, forehand volley.” Well, when you’re out there playing a match, you’re suppose to have a good idea, a solid hunch, of what to expect from your opponents.
Just think, with good anticipation, your court position will get better, your execution will reflect what you do in a lesson or a clinic, your game will improve and you’ll play with greater ease and efficiency much like a chess champion playing a routine game. And, it’s way more fun.
Indecision, and not knowing what to do, what to look for, creates angst and an uneasiness which is going to affect how you play the net in doubles. It’s like you at your favorite restaurant when you can’t decide what to order from the menu even though you’re a frequent diner there, while your friends are already on their second round of cocktails.
Tennis, and, in particular, doubles requires you to be bold. When you’re at the net, you can’t be lukewarm about your intentions. You’ve got to sense when your opponent is going to sneak a ball down your alley, when they’re hitting a cross-court with or without pace, when they’re struggling, when they’re chocking…You can’t be neutral at the net. Being neutral and noncommittal is like putting the gear shift in your car on neutral – you’re either coasting or you’re going nowhere. Not good.
Do you find yourself uttering these energy- draining self-recriminations? Or, hear your doubles partner spouting them?
- “Oh no! – that was my ball”
- “Oh shoot! – I knew she was going down the alley”
- “That was mine”
- “That was yours”
- “I’m too slow to get to that ball”
- “No way! – I’m not fast enough”
Declarations like these signal indecision. They will cause regret, which in turn will lead you to bad tactical decisions. What’s more, an indecisive mindset at the net is going to affect your partner, and not in a good way – they’re going to wonder why you’re not taking some of the crosscourt returns, which appear to be within your reach, or asking, how did you, once again, get beat down the alley by your opponent who seems to really enjoy going down the alleys?
To evolve as a net player in doubles, you’ve got to be hot about something. Are you hungry about picking off your opponent’s crosscourt returns? Are you ready for the down-the-alley shots? Do you see the lob coming? Look for patterns. All of you know that the majority of returns in doubles are crosscourt, but we stay fixated on covering the alleys. And, conversely, there are considerably lower number of returns which go down the alleys, but we don’t look for the crosscourt opportunities.
Okay, you’ve recognized the baseline player’s patterns, you’re eager and ready to make a difference. If you think your opponent is hitting a forehand crosscourt return from the deuce side of the court, lean inconspicuously towards the middle of the court. If your opponent is hitting a crosscourt backhand from the ad court, lean towards the middle of the court. Reverse the strategy for left-handed players. Keep in mind, the lean is to get you primed to reach balls that are within your reach. To venture farther out towards the middle of the court will start to look more like a poach, which I’ll cover in detail in future posts. Remember, just a lean. Baby steps.
If your opponent appears poised to hit a down-the-alley shot, then a a subtle lean towards the alley will get you ready to blunt the attempted attack. Remember, just a lean. If you see your opponent ready to lob, take a few steps back to be ready for an overhead.
Be more observant. Your opponents across the net are always giving you clues on what they’re likely to do. I’ll give you a brief example: the vast majority of recreational/club players in the 2.5-4.0 level of play have a difficult time hitting a backhand down the line from the ad court when they are receiving a first serve. Check it out.
Throughout our journey, I’ll spend lots of time presenting articles and videos on the art of anticipation. In the meantime, start the habit of anticipation by recognizing the patterns before you. Then act. Be bold. Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished tentatively. Nothing. And remember, it’s an evolving process.
Today is the day. Lean and deliver and take advantage of all the great opportunities that are before your very eyes. Make the net your kingdom.
Do you have a method for anticipating? What do you focus on to discover the patterns?
Let’s do this and have fun.