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Fox's Code (A doubles communications strategy)
by Leo S. Fox
Orlando Fitness and Racquet Club, Orlando, Florida

In all of history few things are really new or unique. Most innovations are warmed-over themes taken from someone else and you know you've seen that one before. With millions of words written about tennis, is there anything that hasn't been said about doubles strategy?

Yes, there is and I'm going to share this compelling revelation with you. What you'll learn is a quick concise method for communicating with your partner, leaving no doubt as to how a point is to be played. This concept may be just as evolutionary for the game as the "Tie Breaker" is today.

The following is a glimpse of what I've coined "Fox's Code:"

Imagine you're playing doubles against my team and as we're about to serve, you'd hear me call to my partner "Five,"' "Sixteen," "Four," "Thirteen X," or the dreaded "Foxy Zero." As opponents, you assume this to be a sophisticated form of signaling, or perhaps we're just talking gibberish to distract your play. You're right about one thing: this is a very serious communications code. In fact, so serious that I fully expect "Fox's Code" to forever change the way doubles teams communicate.

As the opposing team, you don't have the vaguest idea of what's going on and if playing skills are fairly equal, we'll win every time. After my team serves a few games, opponents tend to think we're crazy. Before the match is over, I guarantee the opposition will become so frustrated they'll begin calling out numbers and letters as we ready our serve. They've no idea what our coded communications means or if it means anything at all. So they remain hopelessly befuddled. Yes, mimicking "Fox's Code" is indeed flattery and better yet, we know we got "em."

My doubles partner and I have used "Fox's Code" for three years, totally dominating the psychology of the serving game. As you know, the team with the most effective serve usually wins because they establish offensive power. Now with a cryptic communications system, the serving teams becomes a greater threat.

Before sharing the secrets of a winning doubles code, let's review the most common communications methods used by today's doubles teams:

HAND SIGNALS:

When serving, the server looks at his partner's hand held behind his back. If the fist is closed he'll stay; an open hand means he'll poach. I don't know about you, but I usually remember this strategy for one point before my mind begins to wander. By the next point, I'm back in my own world, concentrating on my serve, getting to the net and whoops, forgetting to look for the hand signal. This being the case, I serve, he poaches and we crash into each other as the return passes us down the line.

After one such grievous error, my partner called for a huddle. "Didn't you see my hand signal that I was poaching?" I tell him "No, I forgot to look." He gives me a terse reply to get with it and pay attention. Now I'm nervous and ready to serve again. I look for my partner's hand signal. There it is--his hand is closed. Darn, I can't remember. Does a closed hand mean he stays or goes? Surely, I don't have the nerve to ask him, as I'm an accomplished doubles player and should remember, especially after just being scolded. So with all this confusion, I line up my serve, toss the ball, and worry! Is he going or not? I then hit a double fault. Too much pressure is too much pressure!! Has this ever happened to you?

Now, if you're responsible for the hand signal, By George, you know an open hand means you're going to poach, so you give the open hand signal to your partner. I'll bet my trophies this is what goes through your mind. "Will my partner see my hand signal? If not, will he rush the net and run into me? Will he remember that an open hand means I'm poaching? Gosh! is that what we agreed? I just can't remember, but I'm almost sure an open hand means poach."

After a few disasters, you're back to a disorganized game of poaching when you please. Of course, you readily absolve yourself as there's no doubt it's your partner's fault. He didn't read your hand signals, so for the rest of the match, you'll make him read your mind. This is classic, isn't it, and maybe, just maybe, your forgot to give that hand signal!!! Does this sound familiar?

As the server, you recall looking for the signal, but don't remember seeing one. So it's your partner's fault, as he inadvertently forgot to signal you. Due to these common errors, is it any wonder that few teams successfully master the use of hand signals. How about you?

VERBAL COMMUNICATION:

Next, traditional verbal communication works like this. When you're serving, you and your partner huddle to agree on two important things. First, where you're going to serve the ball and second, whether the net man will poach. The advantage to verbal communication is that you agree before the point as to what each of you will do. The problem is many teams get bogged down in a lengthy conversation which leaves too much to remember and a lot to forget.

Let's take a look at what's necessary to talk about: As mentioned, the first point is where the server will place the ball. If down the middle, then the net man can slough off his alley coverage. If serving into the body, you might expect a weak lofty return. Last, if you serve wide to the alley, your net man must cover it. The second point is simple: will your net man poach or not?

FOX'S CODE:

Remember I stated that few things are actually new. In fact, I've heard it said that no one has ever had an original thought. Be that as it may, in my forty years of playing doubles, I've never heard any team use the type of code that I've successfully developed. Perhaps you'll find the technique so easy you'll wonder "Why didn't I think of that?" Well, you didn't, but feel free to try my method and help make your team more dominating.

"Fox's Code" was designed to help your teamwork. If each of you knows quickly and decisively what is expected, there won't be mental errors on the part of the serving team. "Fox's Code" is a fast, effective communications system any team can master.

First please visualize a tennis court. You'll note the service line painted down the middle separating the even and ad service boxes. This is one line and one is an odd number. So if you plan on serving down the center line, use an odd number to convey this to your partner. "Fox's Code" demands if you use an odd number, your serve must go down the middle.

Next visualize how many lines enclose the doubles alley. Yes, two: the out-of-bounds doubles and singles lines. Presto, two lines, or for "Fox's Code," even numbers. If you wish to serve wide, the code demands you use an even number with your partner.

If the server calls "4" the net man knows the serve will be placed wide to the alley. He also knows he must guard his alley to cover a return down the line. To repeat, if the server calls out "8," '20," or any even number, the serve is going wide. If the server intends to place the ball down the middle, remember the middle service line is one line (therefore odd) so all odd numbers called by the server will go where? You guessed it down the middle. When your net man has no doubt that you're serving down the middle, he can relax and not be too concerned about his alley because he knows the likely return will be down the middle or cross court. He's ready to move in that direction to possibly poach the ball. An odd number means the serve's going where? Right again, down the middle.

Let's review. In real matches, my partner and I have never (I mean never) miscommunicated. Even new partners easily pick up "Fox's Code." When serving, we know we're in control and that our opponents are trying to decipher our strategy. With "Fox's Code," we give them a polite earful. (When the Code becomes widely accepted you'll just need to WHISPER to your partner.)

The game is on and we're serving. I call out to partner, "Play 10." We know the serve is going wide. What do the opponents know? They know nothing but the fact that "Play 10" is on. What in the world is "Play 10?" Tennis teams don't have certain plays for given situations? Do they? They think we're playing with their minds. (Now what respectable doubles team would do anything like that?) While they're still wondering, the serve whizzes wide to the alley. The returner returns the ball down the line and it's picked off by my net man for a clean winner. Easy, simple, and the beauty of it, it works.

Next, if the server wants to serve the ball into the body, the call is "Foxy Zero." Talk about your opponents reeling with confusion. What the heck is "Foxy Zero?" They've been eavesdropping on your code and have just about had enough of "Play 10, 3, 201," etc. and now "Foxy Zero!" Zero always means the ball will be served right into the body of the returner with the hope he'll be handcuffed into a weak return, setting up an easy winner. Even after the point, opponents won't have a clue as to what happened, but you'll know they've been done in by good team-work and your two best allies, confusion and "Foxy Zero."

For a successful poach "Fox's Code" uses the letters of the alphabet ABC----XYZ. The beginning letters are on the left and the last letters on the right. When you stand facing the net, visualize the alphabet going from the left side of the court to the right or A----Z.

The first point of a game is served to the even side of the court, so your net partner in traditional doubles formation is on the left side of the doubles court. If you want your partner to stay, you'd say to him any letter that is near the beginning of the alphabet. For this illustration, you might call out A, B, or C and he'd know to stay and not to cross or poach unless he has a sitter If you want him to cross over and poach you'd say X, Y, or Z. That is, you're commanding him to go for the ball because it's you intention to cross over behind him to assume his current position.

If you're serving to the ad court, your partner is at the right of the alphabet, so calling out X, Y, or Z would tell him to stay, If A, B, or C is called, you're commanding him to poach as you'll be crossing over to assume his position. Very simple and best of all no hand signals.

PLAYING THE GAME:

Now let's put it all together. The first point, the server calls out "Play 8-A." Do you know what this means? Right, the serve is going wide and the net man is to guard his line and not poach. Next point, the server calls "Play 7-A." You've got it. The server serves down the middle and the net man is required to poach and cross over.. The following point we're back to the even court and the net man turns to you, the server, and says "Play 5-Y." Yep, your net man is giving YOU a command and that's OK, too. It's the server's job to serve down the middle as your partner is going to poach and cross over, so you need to take his place on the even side of the court. Of course, you're ahead 40-love and your opponents think you're whacky and start mumbling things like "Play the Trumpet" or "Hey buddy, how about a J & B this time."

Yes, they're frustrated, and you turn to your partner firmly saying "Foxy-Zero-A." You then serve to your opponents body, he chokes and hits a floater cross court, and your net man is already there for a clean slam winner. Does it get any better than this? The opposition is left bewildered, believing they've never played such a lucky team. Lucky! I don't think so.

As you know, "Fox's Code," is simple, clever and sly. If you've ever heard of anyone using this communications technique please call and burst my bubble. If I don't hear from you I'll assume I've thought one of those rare original ideas. Share this with your friends, but if you want to keep them guessing, swear your partner to secrecy and begin to befuddle the opposition as only you know you can. Good luck!


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