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Hardscrabble Scramble
November 2002 Article

Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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Play Percentage Doubles For Better Results

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Mike Whittington

It is 30-30 and 4-4 in the 3rd set. The server's partner has poached and you see it. The server has hit a big serve deep to your backhand. The alley is wide open. What do you do? For most of us I think the answer would be going down the line for the winner since we have the open court. Unfortunately I don't think this is the correct choice for most players. I would suggest lobbing in this situation, especially since the server's partner has moved more to the middle of the court.

Why not pass down the line? For most players to hit an aggressive winner down the line they need two things. The first thing is that you need some open court. When the opponent leaves the alley open it gives you more confidence and you can hopefully see your target. But the second and most important thing that you need is to have a ball that you can control. If you are pushed off balance then that may not be the shot for you to attempt. Now if your opponent poaches and you get a nice easy serve that you feel like you can control then going down the line might be an option.

Remember on big points it is a good idea for the server's partner to poach and fake poaching. If the serving team can make you indecisive about your return, chances are you will miss more returns.

I think being able to play percentage tennis under pressure is one of the key elements in improving. Remember that it is not always the number of winners you hit that show if you are winning or losing but how many errors you have reduced in your play. Sometimes playing safer is a smarter game plan than going for the winner although the alley looks wide open.

Let me give you another scenario. Suppose you've hit the big flat serve for the first two sets and you have four aces. Since you have those aces it would seem logical that you would hit the big flat serve at a big point. What if I also told you that you had 6 double faults and a very low first serve percentage attempting that flat serve? Would you still feel comfortable hitting it on pressure points? If you have been getting in 75% first serves when you attempt topspin or slice serves, wouldn't that be a better decision at this point in the match?

Obviously if you watch any professional tennis you see that they do just the opposite of what I suggest. However, we have to remember that many of these players are capable of hitting a second serve well over 100 miles per hour and they are also able to control their shots while being off balance.

I would suggest that you play more percentage tennis in your next match but it is important to know what percentage is in relation to your game. You can have a match charted or just analyze a match yourself. Understand where your winners and errors are and what shots do you feel comfortable with under pressure. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses will allow you to play smarter tennis.

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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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