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Tennis Anyone
April 1999 Article

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How I See the Game

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John Mills, USPTA

Singles: Singles is a game of changing directions. Keep the ball high over the net and deep to the baseline, moving the player from left and right. Look for a short ball to come in on and attack, an unforced error from the opponent or a chance to hit behind him or her. Hit more ground strokes cross-court rather than down the line, using the lowest point of the net and longest part of the court, allowing for a quicker recovery. Hit most approach shots down the line in order to cover the down the line passing shot and force the hitting of a lower percentage cross court pass. Keep the opponent off balance by varying the speed, placement, height and spin of the ball. In general, the player who changes direction of the ball most makes the most errors. A good time to change direction is when the opponent is not in the middle of the court and/or you receive a weak ball and can move forward and attack. When serving, constantly move the first serve around and hit the majority of second serves to the backhand.

Take the opponents strengths away. For example:

  1. If your opponent is a great baseline player, draw them into the net with short balls and test their net game.

  2. If your opponent's second serve is short, attack and move to the net.

  3. If your opponent serves and volleys, return soft and low to their feet down the middle of the court forcing them to add pace to that ball and hit up on it taking away the angle.

  4. If you are both hitting hard and you find yourself losing the long rallies, try mixing in loops and underspins, taking the pace off of the ball. This irritates many players.


Doubles is a game of hitting over and under the opponents. The first team that forces the opponent to hit up on the ball usually wins the point. Think, "should I hit under their feet or lob over their heads?" The "80% rule" states that 80% of the balls should be hit down the middle crossing the lowest part of the net taking away their possibilities of angles. Compared to singles, the average height of the balls hit in doubles is lower to avoid the poacher. Go over and under the team as opposed to past them. The team that controls the net has the advantage. I encourage players to serve and volley and return serve and charge the net.

Doubles is more of a volley game whereas singles is more ground strokes. Crowd the center of the court forcing the opponent to use lower percentage shots to the outside of the court taking away the higher percentage down the middle where it would be difficult for you to add angles. When you hit under the opponent, move forward and attack the weak return. When you throw up a successful lob, move into the net to control the offense. If you hit a weak ball, hold your position or if you have time, move back to defend. In doubles, it is important to communicate with your partner and work as a team. Help set each other up for the winning shot, instead on constantly trying to hit winners.

Not understanding these basic differences between Singles and Doubles is why many singles players make poor doubles players and vice versa.

Good luck on the court!

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This column is copyrighted by John Mills, all rights reserved.

John Mills' experience includes four years as head pro at the Windemere Racquet & Swim Club, where he was responsible for organization of all tennis activities at the club. John also played college tennis at the University of Houston and has spent 20 years teaching tennis at the Memorial Park Tennis Center, the Pasadena Racquet Club, and as the head pro at the Bay Area Racquet Club.


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