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Australian Doubles Strategy
by Kathleen Krajco

Most people think the purpose of Australian Doubles is to draw a service-return error. They use the formation like a football team uses a trick play, at crucial moments. Yet, while the element of the unexpected is in it, the element of surprise is not, for the receiving team gets time to adjust. And, while there is some likelihood of drawing a service-return error, it is small. In fact, if you play Australian Doubles unstrategically, it lowers your chances of winning the point. But if you play it strategically, you get the tremendous mathematical advantage of a weapon that works more than one way. That is, it doesn't just add to your odds, it multiplies them.

Australian Doubles is a poaching formation. Think of it as switching before the point. Switching puts your net player opposite the receiving team's net player (instead of kitty-cornered). This situation is a license to poach the next shot. Fortunately for the serving team, the serve can't be poached. But the service return can. And, if the serving team does not poach the service return, they become the team running the risk of having their next shot poached.

So, the goal of Australian Doubles is to win the point in two shots or less--on the serve or a poached service return.

Tactics

Tactics are means of achieving strategic objectives. So, your tactics in Australian Doubles should be aimed at (a) increasing the likelihood of a service-return error and (b) increasing the likelihood of successfully poaching the service return.

Australian Doubles forces the receiver, who is used to returning crosscourt, to return down-the-line instead. Just as familiarity breeds confidence, this change from the familiar draws service-return errors. But the geometry of the situation is even more important, because the net is higher and the court is shorter down the line. In fact, returning a crosscourt shot down the line is the most error-ridden shot in tennis.

So, since you're playing for a service-return error, poopy serving is obviously counterproductive. In fact, though power serving is generally not a big help in doubles, power serving goes hand-in-glove with Australian Doubles. It not only forces errors and weak, poachable returns, it keeps the receiver from lobbing the service return so you can't poach it.

This is why Australian Doubles is most effective on first serves. Though you can use Australian Doubles frequently, you win more points on your team's first shot by using it rarely and on pressure points.

Poachable returns are returns without much angle on them, returns down the center within your poacher's reach. They are the returns of "centered" feeder shots, serves to the "T." If you use Australian Doubles frequently, your server must vary placement enough to keep the receiver guessing. But just enough to keep the receiver guessing, no more. Have your net player watch to make sure the receiver isn't getting a jump on the serve. Then, if necessary, mix in some serves to the body. Though slower, they are often as good as serves to the "T." Load some serves with spin, too, for variety. But serves wide are dangerous, because they allow returns down the alley that your poacher cannot reach.

Serve-and-Volley Style Australian Doubles

In Australian Doubles, your server stands near the center mark to hit forcing serves to the "T." What better time to rush the net? In fact, the greatest risk in serve-and-volley doubles is a return at the net-rushing server's feet, but in this situation, the poacher cuts off that shot.

So, Australian Doubles is not only the ideal poaching formation, it is also the ideal serve-and-volley formation. In fact, you may use Australian Doubles more as a way to attack the net than as a way to score outright. That's because the serve-and-volley threat makes the poaching maneuver more effective, and the poaching threat makes the serve-and-volley maneuver more effective.

To see how, imagine you're the receiver. Your partner blocks a crosscourt shot, so you must return down the line. But you know the server's partner is apt to poach the shot. Plus, you know that the server is apt to rush the net behind serve. And you must return serve differently if s/he rushes than if s/he stays back. So, you've got one eye on the server, one eye on the server's partner, and one eye on the ball. Then, just as you're hitting your return, the server's partner streaks across the court in front of you. The opposition is doing no less than three things at once: serve-and-volleying, switching, and poaching. It's enough to yank your eyeballs out of their sockets.

Worse, you were set to put the ball at the server's feet--where you expected them to be--on the other side of the court.

So, though you needn't serve-and-volley in Australian Doubles, if you can, try it from the Australian Doubles formation (or its variant, the "I" formation). To keep the opposition guessing, vary the play:

  • Plan A: Your server comes straight in while your net player crosses. This plan gives the server the shortest route to net. Also, its crossing poach distracts the receiver.

  • Plan B: Your server crosses while rushing the net, but your net player reaches out over the center line to cut off any poachable service return that would land at the incoming server's feet. Doing this improves the server's chances of advancing into the forecourt safely. It also keeps the receiver guessing whether your net player will cross.

  • Plan C: Your server stays back and crosses while your net player crosses to poach. This keeps the receiver guessing whether your server will rush.

The Defense Against Australian Doubles

To defeat Australian Doubles the receiver's partner must get out of the way so s/he does not block a crosscourt return of serve. To do this, s/he simply steps back and toward the alley till the service return is past. In fact, the closer to net and center the receiver's partner stands, the safer poaching is and the more effective Australian Doubles is.


Kathy Krajco runs the website Operation Doubles: Tennis Doubles Strategy & Tactics.

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