Last month we talked about the "mortal" tennis player's approach to singles. I outlined the percentage plays (cross-court during the rallies, down the line on approach shots) as well as the mortal tennis players cardinal rule: when in trouble----lob!
Now, I'd like to take a look at what is arguably the most popular form of tennis at the recreational level today, doubles. Though, on the professional circuit, doubles is often looked upon as singles' ugly step-sister, to millions of players around the globe, it is their overwhelming game of choice.
Why is doubles so popular? First, there's the camaraderie of a team that the game offers. There's always someone on the same side of the net to share the highs and the lows with, and as a result, friendships and relationships develop that might not occur during the one on one confrontation that singles presents.
If you're having a bad day on the court playing singles, you're pretty much up the creek without a paddle, while in doubles, during a rough day, your partner may very well be able to pick you up, and vice-versa.
Also, I think that as people get older and suffer some of the onsets of aging, doubles is a way for them to still enjoy the sport after they are no longer able, or willing, to chase the ball around a singles court.
Whatever the reasons, and there are many more, the game of doubles today is huge. USTA teams around the country are enjoying tremendous popularity, with some cities, such as Atlanta, boasting well over 75,000 participants. Also popular are the less competitive, club leagues as well as the traditional weekly social doubles games.
With this in mind, I'd like to dedicate a few columns to my thoughts on approaching doubles in a way which will not only make you more knowledgeable about the game, but will allow you to play a more enjoyable, "mortal," brand of tennis.
Doubles is a game where the geometry of the court dictates that the team that controls the net controls the point. "In singles, one player has to cover the entire width of the court, which is twenty-seven feet," explains Allan Fox, author of "Think To Win." "In doubles, there is an additional player however; the court is only widened by nine feet, leaving each player responsible for only eighteen feet. The major fallout from this fact is that attacking the net becomes more profitable in doubles than singles."
In other words, your team has a much better chance of winning the point when both you and your partner are at the net. In addition to the mathematics of court size, this is true for a number of reasons. First, it is much easier to put the ball away when you are at the net, either by volleying down at the opposing players feet, hitting down the middle, or by angling the ball off to the side.
Second, when you and your partner are both at the net, you put a tremendous amount of pressure on your opponents, leaving them with only two options. They must execute either a very low ground stroke or a very good lob.
Of course, they can try a low percentage, angled passing shot, but contrary to popular opinion that is NOT a high percentage shot for most players.
So, the ultimate goal for your team is to control the net. However, there is a catch. To be effective at the net, you and your partner must be able to volley well, cover the net adequately and anticipate lobs from your opponent. These are skills that take a while to develop and your current level of play will pretty much dictate how successful your forays to the net will be.
If you are a beginner player up to a 3.0 level player, you will probably be more successful, if success is defined by winning, by staying at the baseline. This is true because players at this level generally do not yet have solid volleys and overheads and as a result make a tremendous amount of errors when at the net.
So, if you are at this level and you are playing to win (God, I hate that term), you're probably better off playing the one up and one back formation, lobbing when your opponents come in, and wait for them to make the errors. If, however, you're more interested in learning than winning, get your butt up to the net, bring your partner along for the ride and be prepared to suffer through the growing pains of learning how to play up where the air is thinner and the pace is quicker.
Next month: When to come in.