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Why Can I Not Poach?

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John Mills, USPTA

Many of my students that play doubles come to me and ask "why can I not poach in doubles?" Here are several reasons.
What is a poach? A poach is a ball that your partner on the baseline could hit, but you think you can win the point at the net.

  • You are looking for the perfect ball. You are looking for a high, soft ball that is within an easy distance from you. Unfortunately, they seldom come like this. Solution: think about poaching on every ball. Commit your position, commit your racket, this will at least pressure your opponents.

  • You are standing too close to the net and/or too close to the alley. Either one of these position mistakes will prevent you from poaching successfully. By standing too close, anytime your opponent is under pressure, they will easily dump the ball over your head. By standing too close to the alley, you will be fighting the fact that 80%-90% of the balls go crosscourt.

  • You are waiting for the return to cross the net before you make a move or you might be committing your position too soon. The fix: Just before your opponent strikes the ball, start inching in forward. Once your energy is forward you can cut down on the angle of the return and once you get the exact direction of the ball, you will be falling forward - not sideways.

  • No discretion to the height and pace of the ball you are trying to poach. You finally commit to poach, but the ball you are going for is too low or too high and too much pace. What to do? Remember, the poach is a bonus, not your job. If you do not make the poach, your partner can easily control the point. Thus, pull off of (do not hit) the ball that is too low or too fast and adjust your position back to cut off the center of the court near the service line for the next shot.

Remember, poaching puts pressure on your opponents. It is a constant activity. You are "shopping" for the correct ball, not too low or not too fast. It is your bonus, not your primary job. Hit the poach to win the point. It is important to keep it away from the opponent's racket it just came from. The biggest mistake you can make in doubles is not poach. You will not put any pressure on your opponent's return or take pressure off your partner. Personally, I think the most fun part of doubles is poaching! Do not think of poaching just when your partner is serving, but all the time.
Good luck on the courts!

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This column is copyrighted by John Mills, all rights reserved.

John Mills currently teaches tennis at the University of Houston, Clear Lake campus. John Mills' experience includes four years as head pro at the Windemere Racquet & Swim Club, where he was responsible for organization of all tennis activities at the club. John also played college tennis at the University of Houston and has spent 20 years teaching tennis at the Memorial Park Tennis Center, the Pasadena Racquet Club, and as the head pro at the Bay Area Racquet Club.


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