A few years back, I wrote a column entitled, The Singles Players Guide to Doubles, in which I laid out my basic strategies associated with playing doubles. This column was a direct result of watching the Woodies (Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde) compete at the 1996 ATP Doubles Championships. If there is one team, in my opinion, which is the archetypal doubles combination for the 1990s, it is the Woodies. So, it will come as no surprise that I spent some time watching this Australian team practice at the 1998 ATP Doubles.
I frequently find that I learn quite a bit by watching the pros practice and prepare for matches.
Jimmy Connors is intense in his one-hour practice sessions. Michael Chang is methodical and deliberate as he practices with brother, Carl. Well, if one watches the Woodies as they train together the words thorough, controlled and purposeful come to mind.
Todd Woodbridge (top) and Mark Woodforde at the 1998 ATP World Doubles Championship. Photo by Ron Waite.
On several occasions, I observed the Woodies as they prepared in advance of a match at this years ATP Championships. Usually, these warm-up sessions occurred about two to three hours before the match. The duration of these sessions ranged from 55 minutes to 75 minutes. In each of these sessions, there was a predetermined order and method to the Woodies' practice regimen.
What follows is a description of these training rituals. Clearly, one could employ these drills as part of a pre-match preparation process. Yet, I think that the methodology associated with these planned hitting patterns could actually be used as part of a doubles teams regular training program. I was so impressed with the Woodies approach to doubles practice that I intend to use the pattern described below as the mainstay of doubles preparation for the 1999 Albertus Magnus College Mens Tennis Team this spring
which I coach.
Before we get into the specifics of this regimen, it is important that the reader realize that there exists a very well thought out and integral order of events. It is critical that the participants follow the pattern of drills as presented. In so doing, the reader maximizes the potential benefits of the program.
Finally, you need to use at least 6 balls for this warm-up. This will minimize the amount of time spent picking up balls and maximize the flow and continuous nature of the program.
As is increasingly becoming the case in both professional and amateur sports, any workout must begin with pre-training aerobic and stretching exercises. Last month, I described what I believe are some of the best ways to ready oneself for a match or training session. Suffice it to say that the Woodies were very complete and thorough in their pre-training preparation. They began with some light jogging around the court, which lasted approximately 5 minutes. From there, they fully stretched all of the major muscle groups. What impressed me about their stretching routine is the amount of attention they gave to shoulder and back stretching. Given the number of back and shoulder injuries that players experience, I can well understand why the Woodies were so attentive to adequately stretching these muscles.
Not surprisingly, the Woodies began their pre-match warm-up by hitting medium paced groundstrokes. These groundstrokes initially cleared the net by at least 2 to 3 feet which made the balls land deep into each partners court. It should be noted that these groundstrokes were hit to the partner. Thus, neither player was forced to move more than a couple feet in either direction in returning the ball. This loose hitting lasted for about 3 minutes.
Next, the Woodies began to impart more spin to their groundstroke rallies. They were very deliberate in this regard. Off the forehand side, they imparted topspin. However, when hitting backhands they were careful to impart slice. Clearly, they realized the benefit of using both types of spin in a doubles match.
Now, a pattern of hitting appeared that was evident at times throughout the entire workout. The Woodies began to hit groundstrokes to each other in this pattern.
First, they would hit two groundstrokes to each others forehand
followed by two groundstrokes to each players backhand. This pattern continued for approximately four or five cycles. The pattern of hitting then changed to one groundstroke to each players forehand followed by one groundstroke to each players backhand. This alternating pattern created a rhythm in their hitting. Still, all the groundstrokes were hit at about 3/4 pace.
Eventually, the Woodies increased the pace in their groundstrokes hitting each shot flatter and with less net clearance. After four or five cycles at this more powerful pace, the Woodies began to hit their shots farther and farther away from each other. This forced each of them to move to get to the ball. As the distance increased, the amount of scrambling became more conspicuous.
The Woodies continued this more challenging pattern of hitting for about 2 minutes.
The total amount of time associated with this phase was approximately 12 to 15 minutes.
In this phase, the Woodies began to address volleys. One of the two would approach close to the net (approximately 2 to 3 feet). The other would remain about 4 to 5 feet behind his baseline. As you probably have guessed, the idea here is to hit groundstrokes at the net man. He, in turn, replies with volleys.
As was the case in phase 2, the Woodies began these exchanges at 3/4 pace. Balls (both groundstrokes and volleys) were hit to the partner. Initially, the baseline partner would hit his groundstrokes high to the net. The net player would attempt to hit his volleys as deep as possible within the court (thus, the partner hitting the groundstrokes was well behind the baseline).
As time passed, the net man began to move back toward the service line. As he moved back, the player at the baseline moved forward. Eventually, the player at the net was actually standing at on the service line and the player hitting groundstrokes was standing on the baseline. At this point, the groundstrokes were hit with much topspin and low to the net. The partner, who was volleying, had to hit volleys that were now landing near his feet. Still, he tried to keep his volleys landing deep in the others court.
After a few minutes, the pace of both volleys and groundstrokes increased dramatically. The pattern began with two groundstrokes hit to the forehand volley with the replies hit to the groundstrokers forehand. Next, two groundstrokes and volleys would be hit to the backhand wing. Eventually, the pattern changed to alternating forehand and volley shots from both players.
Finally, the players began to hit groundstrokes and volleys in such a way that both were forced to move. The movement was not only from side to side, but forward and backward as well. In some instances, each player was stretched to his maximum level. What amazed me is how mobile and adept each player was in this final pattern. They were actually able to hit rallies despite the fact that they were being pushed to their limit.
After about 6 to 7 minutes, the partners switched roles
repeating the entire pattern. The total amount of time spent in this phase was approximately 12 to 15 minutes.
Here the emphasis was upon lobs and overheads (both are critical shots in doubles). One of the two would stand about 4 to 5 feet behind the baseline. The other started about 3 to 4 feet from the net. The player at the baseline would hit lobs to the player at the net. Initially, these lobs were hit in such a manner as not to force the net player to move much, if at all. In time, the lobs became more difficult. Some of the lobs were hit with topspin
others with backspin. Some were hit high and deep
others were lower and more shallow. Some actually forced the net player to allow the ball to bounce before hitting the smash.
Eventually, the pattern was changed to include volleys. The backcourt player would hit a lob and then follow this lob with a groundstroke. This would force the partner to hit an overhead
followed by a volley. This pattern was repeated.
After about 4 to 5 minutes, the partners switched roles and began the pattern again. The total amount of time spent on this phase was around 10 minutes.
This phase focused on serves. Each player would hit loose, slow paced serves to the other using only the deuce side of the court. They did not return the serves
rather, they each caught the balls and used them for serving. First, the serves were hit crosscourt. After each player had hit approximately 20 serves, they switched to the ad court. Here again, these serves lacked pace. They were really spin serves that are more commonly used as second serves. Still, neither player returned the others serve.
After each player hit about 20 ad court serves, they returned to the deuce side. Now, each player hit full force serves
very flat and with much pace. The other returned the serves. The pattern of serve was again predetermined
two serves to the forehand
then, two serves to the backhand.
Eventually, the pattern changed to serves alternating from the forehand to backhand wings
one at a time.
After about 15 to 20 serves, the players switched to the ad court
again, serving at full pace with the previous returns of serve. The forehand/backhand pattern repeated itself.
Finally, the players began to play points out on the diagonals. The server served on deuce side and the return was hit crosscourt to the server as he moved in to volley. The entire point was played on the crosscourt diagonal of the court. Then, the server would move to the ad court.
The point would be played out as was previously played on the deuce side
on the diagonal.
In time, the return would "chip and charge" as the server "served and volleyed." This resulted in both players arriving at the net for crosscourt volley exchanges.
Eventually, the players switched roles (server becomes receiver and vice versa)
repeating the diagonal court serve rituals.
The entire phase took approximately 20 to 25 minutes.
In this final hitting phase, the emphasis was upon reactions. Each player stood about 4 to 5 feet from the net. They engaged in volley rallies, which are often referred to as "pepper volleys." At first the pace of each players volley was moderate and the volley was hit to the partner. As time progressed, the volleys increased in pace and forced the partners to move. At times, these exchanges were frighteningly furious
and exciting to watch!
These volleys allow no time for thought
the player must simply react as quickly and adeptly as he can.
This phase took approximately 5 minutes.
When the hitting had ceased, each player took a few minutes to stretch out. Again, particular attention seemed to be given to the shoulders and the back
but no muscle group was neglected.
As you can see, the Woodies approach to training and preparation leaves nothing out nor does it lack structure. Everything in this workout is designed for control. After all, control is really the basis for winning doubles.
In addition, the drills also promote a form of partnership between the players. To make these drills work, as they should, each player must work with the other
not against each other. The nature of these drills promotes cooperation
a necessary ingredient in any winning doubles team.
I strongly encourage you to print out this months article and take it with you the next time you practice with your doubles partner. It makes for a very complete and efficient training session.
Should you and your partner have a tournament match to play, I advise you to go through this workout routine as a form of warm-up, several hours before the match is scheduled to be played.
Applying this Woodies Workout/Warmup to your doubles training is bound to improve your teams performance
and in no time you and your partner will find yourselves becoming tennis overdogs!