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Hardscrabble Scramble
October 2000 Article

Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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Poaching Makes Perfect

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Mike Whittington

How many times have you let a return go by in doubles only to think, "hey I should have poached on that one!" I find that it happens to most 2.5-3.5 players several times during a match. One reason that this happens is that players have a tendency to let the ball come to them rather than go to the ball. It is much easier to let the ball and your opponent control the point especially if you are scared you are going to jump in and make an error. But more advanced players know that they want to do something to the ball and dictate play. The better you are, the more confidence you have in jumping in on that floating return. So how do you get that confidence?

The first thing to do is make sure your technique is good on your volley. If you can't put that high floater away it is doing no good to get in that situation. You don't want to be in an offensive position at the net and hitting defensive shots.

The next thing to do is make sure you have a practice time set aside where you can be very aggressive at the net and not worry so much about a few errors or letting down your partner. You never want to try a shot in a match that you haven't successfully executed in practice. Poaching during practice allows you to get that feel for moving across the court and helps you to see what balls you can comfortably reach.

A given with poaching is communicating with your partner. Letting your partner know what you will do will help him/her place the serve and the move accordingly. This allows you to concentrate on the return and hopefully sets you up for an easier shot. Too many times players try to poach when their partner has not given them a shot that sets it up. It takes the communication and strategy of both players to be a successful poacher.

After you feel like you can make some volleys off the poach, I would start using it slowly in match play. I like to see players try new shots and strategies whey they are up 40-0 or 40-15 in a game. This way there is a little bit of a comfort zone to allow for errors. You don't want to try new shots for the first time at the most critical time of the match. After a few successful attempts you will have gained the confidence needed to use poaching in a match.

Everyone makes errors and poaching requires quick movement and fast hands. You'll make a few mistakes but having the ability to poach and cover more court makes you a much more valuable doubles partner.

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Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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This column is copyrighted by Mike Whittington, all rights reserved.

At the time at which he wrote this column, Mike Whittington was a USPTA pro in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he served as director of tennis at the Hardscrabble Country Club.


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