Play better doubles: choose a better court position

Al Wagner, Don Neu and Bob Pivec; Photo by Mary Burke

Al Wagner, Don Neu and Bob Pivec; Photo by Mary Burke

Rod Hayward

Welcome to the first in a series of articles from the Cottonwood Tennis Club designed to help the community play better tennis. According to three instructors in the Cottonwood Tennis Club, nothing affects performance more than where we choose to play on the court.

For Don, finding the proper court position is helped by a good starting position. “If your partner is serving, place yourself one step in front of the service line halfway between the alley and the center line. This is the optimum position, allowing you to move forward to intercept soft returns.” For Bob and for Al, the optimum starting position is slightly more forward in the middle of the service box. “There is a reason that the service line is called ‘the senior line,’” says Al. It puts more of the court within reach of those with limited mobility, but it’s not the ideal place to be.

All agree that if your partner is receiving serve, you should adjust your starting position by moving back onto the service line. Then once you see that the return is a good one, you can move forward to the stronger optimum position.

Moving toward the net is not the only decision to be made. “The center of the court should be accessible by both players,” says Al. “It is important that the net player, who begins in a stronger position than his partner, not be too close to the alley. When he is, he compromises his access to the center, abandoning too much court to his weaker-positioned partner. As for the server and receiver, who both start from the baseline, their goal is to join their teammates by looking for an opportunity to move forward to the service line or closer.”

What are the common positioning errors that club players make?

For Don, beginning the point too close to the net and gradually moving back to no man’s land makes good shots unlikely. Moving through no man’s land is one thing; staying in it quite another.

Bob warns of the dangers of predictability. “If you’re in the habit of playing in the same court position, smart opponents quickly notice this. It’s reassuring to your opponents to always know where you are going to be even before they hit the ball.” Al concurs that this allows opponents to shape the point to their advantage. Varying your position on the court will make their life more difficult.

All three coaches affirm that baseline tennis is defensive tennis and therefore the most damaging habit among club players. When we choose to play doubles from the baseline, we are often relying on the other team to deliver the point with a convenient mistake. Although this might be effective with players who are more prone to making unforced errors, it will not help us to compete against stronger players in the future.

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