This month I'd like to take a look at a small area of the doubles court that can cause big problems for recreational players: the alleys. Though a small target visually (54 inches wide) a drive down the alley can be as tempting to the club player as an extra scoop of ice cream.
One of the things I notice, as I work with doubles players, is that many do not have a true understanding of when to and when not to attempt a shot down their opponent's alley. Point after point, game after game, they'll attempt to drill the ball down their opponent's alley, only to be frustrated by their own errors or an easily put away volley by an alert net player.
In doubles there are three scenarios in which you would try to hit the ball down your opponent's alley: if they fail to cover it, if they're actively poaching, or if they volley poorly. Let's take a look at each.
While these are all excellent times to rip one down your opponent's alley, you must keep in mind that that, in high level doubles, the first two of those three largely disappear.
- If they leave the alley open: Your opponent has served, or during the rally, hit out wide to you. As you move to the ball, you sneak a glance and notice that the opposing net player hasn't shifted (as he or she should) to cover his alley. As the straight, down the line shot is the fastest way to get the ball past your opponent, a hard drive down the alley can most definitely win you the point and deflate your opponent at the same time.
- Your opponents volley poorly: This one's a no-brainer. If the opposing net players are afraid of the net or don't volley well, simply keep hitting to their alley (or right to them) until they miss enough shots to win you the match.
- Your opponent is actively poaching: The opposing net player is driving you crazy each time you prepare to strike the ball (as he or she should). He or she is moving, poaching, faking and basically has you so nervous you can barely take your racket back. Then, a hard drive down the alley can be a useful tactic to quiet him or her down.
In the first scenario, players at the 4.0 level and above will move as they're supposed to which means that if your opponent hits out wide to you, the opposing net player, ninety-nine percent of the time, will shift to cover his alley. If you then try to drive the ball down their alley they'll have a huge smile on their face as they easily put away the volley down the middle of your court, between you and your partner.
In the second scenario, strong players usually like the net and volley well which means that if you hit down their alley they will, again, be quite happy to put your shot away either between you and your opponent or right at your partner's feet.
That leaves you with only one true scenario in which you should be attempting to drive the ball down your opponent's alley: if he or she is actively poaching. At the 4.0 level you will more often than not be faced with a net player who is skilled and aggressive in their movements.
As you prepare to receive serve, they'll be bouncing up and down, feinting left and right and, on occasion, shooting across the court in an attempt to pick off your return. They'll be doing anything they can to distract you as you prepare to hit your shot and guess what? That's exactly what they're supposed to do. That's tennis at the upper levels.
Your response to their active (and usually quite annoying) movement is to drive the occasional shot down their alley. When I play, I almost always attempt an alley shot in the first game of the match for no other reason than to show my opponents that I can, and will, hit there. Even if I give away an early point, the message I've sent to my opponent's makes them think twice before they poach.
So there you have it, if you're playing the game at the 4.0 level and above, your trips down the alley should be far and few between. Remember, in good doubles the vast majority of your points will be won by hitting the ball down the middle of the court, at your opponent's feet or over their heads. Stay away from the alleys and you'll see your errors decrease and your number of doubles wins increase.
How great was this year's U.S. Open? Agassi's final matches, Martina's Grand Slam winning farewell and the return of Jimmy Connors to the game. In addition to helping Andy Roddick reach the finals, Connors was out at the Open each day signing copies of his new six set DVD series titled Jimmy Connors Presents: Tennis Fundamentals."
A fun watch, Connors gathers a star-studded lineup that includes Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, James Blake and Justine Henin-Hardenne to take recreational players through the fundamentals of the game. One of my all-time favorites, I must say that it's great to see Connors (looking very fit after hip replacement surgery) back in the game.