How the top doubles players in the world start the point

Hello from Melbourne! The Aussie Open for 2017 is well under way and the doubles event has started. How do these top players look to gain the advantage at the start of each point….?

This morning at the AO I was lucky enough to be courtside to watch the reigning London O2 champions Henri Kontinen and John Peers go to work in the first round of this years doubles event.

There are 4 main starting positions in doubles, when players are set up in a 1 up and 1 back formation. Each position has a specific role to carry out at the beginning of the point. The 4 positions are:

  • Server
  • Server’s net partner
  • Returner
  • Returner’s net partner

Server

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The serving player’s job is to hit the serve to the agreed target zone with as much accuracy and power as possible. Hitting a quality serve to the agreed target will help the server’ partner move to the correct position for a volley which will help the serving team take control or win the point. After the serve, the server must move straight into the net (assuming the team is using the serve and volley tactic) and cover the specific part of the court that their net partner cannot cover. From the photo above Henri Kontinen is about to hit a serve and move forward into the net to apply net pressure to his opponents. Unlike in singles where you will follow the direction of the ball when you move into the net, Kontinen will move forward from his start positon in a straight line and sometimes even a little bit towards the singles tram line. This will allow him and his partner John Peers the best chance to cover the most likely returns from their opponents.

Tip – When serve and volleying in doubles, practice running in on a straight line and make sure you can cover any returns that are hit on your outside shot (shot that is closer to the side-lines)

Server’s Net Partner

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The server’s net partner should take up a start position that allows them to cover all the inside returns (everything going through the middle, so the server doesn’t need to play their inside shot). Once the return has been hit, they will then move towards the direction of the serve. For example, from the photo above Kontinen is hitting a serve on the ad side. If the serve is hit down the tee Peers will take one step diagonally to his left and conversely if the serve is hit wide by Kontinen, Peers will take one step diagonally to his right. This step will allow Peers to cover the angles of the most likely returns. If we look again at the photo above Peers has set himself in strong start positon in the middle of the service box.

Tip – It is very common for junior players and social players to feel like they need to cover the line, but in fact the middle corridor is where most returns come back. The next time you are in this position in the doubles court, take a big cross over step towards the side line and then reach as far as you can with your racket hand without taking any further steps. If your racket goes outside the doubles line you are in fact covering dead space. Move yourself towards the middle of the court and repeat this exercise until your racket covers up to halfway between the tramlines.

Returner

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The returner’s job is quite simple; make the return! Maybe it’s not so simple when you are dealing with world class servers. However, the more pressure the returning team can put on the serving team by making returns and not allowing too many free points for their serving opponents, the more chances they will create to get break points and eventually breaks of serve. If the returner can not only make the return but also hit it low at the feet of the incoming net player (the server), hit with aggressive power or in any way make their opponent stretch, they will cause even more problems to the serving team. The server, who has served and volleyed, will have to play a tough volley which will have to be hit upward or without much power. In the photo above, Kontinen is returning and he will be looking to either hit a return crosscourt cross to the singles line or straight down the line to surprise the net player. These returns can create an error or an opportunity for Peers to make a move.

Tip – next time you are practicing your returns put out 2 targets; one on the corner of the service line and singles line crosscourt from you and another in the middle of the tramlines directly down the line for where you are at about 3/4 court length. Ask your partner to hit serves at you and practicing hitting at those targets.

Returner’s Net Partner

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This is probably the toughest position on the court to play. When in this position the player will always be the last person to get involved in the point (not necessarily the last to hit). If their partner hits back a weak return, this player will have to be ready for the serving team to attack at them with a strong powerful shot. In this situation it is very important that the returner‘s net partner remains focused on the movement of the serving team in particular the server’s net partner.  If the returner’s net partner sees the server’s net partner making a move to cross or attack the return, they will have to be ready to react to a strong volley. Alternatively, if the return puts the serving team under pressure the returner’s net partner can look to move forward and/or across to intercept the 2nd shot from the serving team to take the initiative and capitalise on the good return. Peers in the above photo, is keeping a close watch of his opposing net player and is also positioned much closer to the service line than when his partner is serving. From this position he is ready to decide to move back and neutralise or move forward and attack.

Tip – Position yourself next to the service line just inside your side of the court and watch your opposing net player. Avoid watching the flight of the ball back to your partner who is returning as this will put you at a disadvantage when needing to react to what happens during the point.

Bye for now from down under!

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