Tennis Doubles Strategy and Tactics
Doubles in tennis are more complex to play than singles.
The court is larger, and clearly there are now 4 players (rather than 2). Typically, players spend more time at the net, while points are shorter.
Moreover, it is a strategic and a finesse-oriented game, which isn’t always the case with a singles game.
If you have been struggling with strategizing for your doubles game or want to improve your play, read on for our top 15 doubles strategy tips.
These are proven strategies and tactics that can help you win matches, become a better player, and beat your opponent.
15 Tennis Doubles Strategies and Tactics to Win Each Match
1. Getting the First Serve In Straightaway
It is crucial to understand the significance of the first serve in a doubles game. Here are some key points to keep in mind when using the first serve strategy.
- The first serve percentage has to be way higher in doubles than singles. Ideally, it should be at least 70 to 75% in doubles, and with singles, you can get away with 50% of the first serves.
- Remember that their weakest shot is the second serve for most club players.
- You can up your first serve percentage by taking some pace off the ball and using more spin.
- In doubles, placement is your best friend. Therefore, to hit a well-placed serve, use more spin and less power. It increases your likelihood of making the first serve.
- You may serve, poach, volley, or attack off a weak return. But if you miss the first serve, these options won’t be available to you.
Check out this video to understand how to serve and volley in a doubles game.
2. Own the Net and Avoid No Man's Land
This is a common strategy among pro doubles players like Bryan Brothers. You will often observe that both players end the point just a few feet away from the net. So, how can you own the net? It is simple!
Try to avoid lingering in what they call the no man’s land on the tennis court. In a doubles game, this term refers to the four-foot space from the baseline up to around ten feet from the net.
Here is why you need to take over the net in a doubles match:
- If you can consistently take over, there will be immense pressure on your opponent as you will be able to force them to hit difficult low percentage shots or keep them on their heels.
- Volleys closer to the net are usually the easier shots, which is why you can win more points. This is because you will have better angles at the net, and you’ll be able to smash the ball down in the court more often.
- If you get caught in no man’s land, get back up to the net or at the baseline. You need to hustle to safety since the no man’s land is a dangerous area to be in. It will force you to field harder shot right off the ground or long volleys.
- Moreover, you will give your opponent more angles to hit by staying away from the net. They can hit with less pressure and make it more challenging for you to respond quickly.
Here’s how you can avoid getting caught in a no-man’s land on the court.
3. Move Side-to-Side at the Net
In doubles, moving side-to-side should be your chosen strategy at the net. When defending, players choose to move into a side-to-side positioning to aim the shuttle down at the midcourt if the other team is attacking.
There are several key reasons to do this, especially if you want to win the match.
- Moving laterally at the net is crucial if your opponent is about to hit the groundstroke.
- Moving from side-to-side will put pressure on them.
- It is usually one of tennis players’ first training lessons to avoid hitting the net player in doubles. Therefore, they will try to change their shot’s direction or hit a difficult shot, forcing them to make unforced errors and frustrate them.
Watch how positioning can help you win a doubles match.
4. Hit Groundstrokes a Bit Deeper in the Court
When returning or hitting groundstrokes, you should drive the ball deeper in the court. This is crucial for the following reasons:
- It allows you to push the opponent back. The opponent will most likely hit a weak shot since you have forced them to stay on their heels behind the baseline.
- You can charge forward for the next shot.
- You will have sufficient time to attack from the net.
- When your partner is hitting or serving a groundstroke, try standing halfway between the service line and the net, or even closer.
- Avoid standing too far back at the net, as this will make your volleys a lot more complex, and they will drop too low.
- Ideally, you should hit volleys at your waist or even higher if possible.
5. Attacking the Middle of the Court
You may have heard the phrase: ‘Down the Middle solves the Riddle’. This is a tried-and-tested doubles strategy that can do wonders for your team if your opponents are at the net. Here are some of the main advantages you may get from attacking the middle of the court.
- You can force the opponents to communicate as they will get confused.
- Generally, the opponent with their forehand will opt for these shots in the middle. If one of the opponents is left-handed and the other is right-handed, this strategy will help you get a definite edge.
- You will be able to take away the angles for their next shot.
- Your opponent will have smaller angles to use from the middle of the court. Meanwhile, your team can pinch the middle as they will find it difficult passing you wide.
Watch how to attack the middle of the court like a pro.
6. Target the Weaker Player's Backhand Volley
Almost every player’s backhand volley is weaker than their forehand volley. If you hit a low or hard shot at your weaker opponent’s backhand volley, this may help them get an easy next shot or miss it altogether.
But, when both the players are at the net, it should be your chosen default shot unless there is an opportunity for a different shot. Check out the three ideal times/situations to hit at the backhand volley.
- When both opponents have crowded the net
You may think that lobbing would be a better strategy in this situation. However, lobs are effective only up to a certain level. You may keep lobbing if you are a 3.5 player and want to stay so. But, if you want to upgrade to 4.0, 4.5, or even 5.0, lobbing won’thelp you get there.
When both opponents are crowding the net, you should identify the weaker player and hit at their backhand.
- Against Serve & Volley
Players who serve and volley prefer to hit the half volley on their forehand side. You should hit a return to their backhand side, change up the pace, and spin.
You must stay low, so they pop the ball up to allow your partner at the net to come forward.
- When Stuck in a Crosscourt Rally
If you are not great at rallying crosscourt for over three shots, try to get to the net. However, if you already are in a crosscourt rally against a better player, take the first opportunity to hit the net player.
7. Approach Off Second Serves
You can easily make your opponents uncomfortable by opting for second serves early and attacking at the net either with topspin or slice.
This can be especially helpful with weak servers as you can pressurize them almost immediately after they serve.
What does it mean to approach off second serves?
It means that you should try to attack a large target and come in quickly to force the opponent to rush and come up with a pass or lob.
It can be a great tactic when the game score as a returner is in your favor. That’s when the server feels the most pressure, and you are most likely to draw an easy volley or an error.
This strategy is all about making the server uncomfortable, and you should have it in your toolbox. This video will help you understand how to approach off second serves better.
8. Never Let the Lob Bounce
Every tennis player is familiar with moon ball doubles play and how frustrating it can be if you don’t know how to deal with the lob or have a definite plan of action. So, here are some helpful tips for dealing with the lob.
- When facing a serial lobber, the first thing you need to do is experiment with adjusting your net position.
- Net players must position themselves in the centre of the service box to put pressure on groundstrokes going crosscourt.
- If you find yourself in a complicated battle against a lobber, you should switch up your positioning. Always slide back to the service line to ensure that the lob gets more complicated.
- Do start taking balls out of the air rather than letting them bounce either as an overhead, a volley, or drive/swinging volley. These volleys or overheads come from deeper in the court and are usually behind the service line, which makes them more challenging. If you keep practising, you can use them as the perfect weapon against the lobber.
- If you take balls out of the air, the lobber will have no other choice but to rush. Naturally, they will be more uncomfortable. But do remember to close the net for weaker groundstrokes or lobs.
Watch this video to learn how to beat the lobbers at the court.
9. Attack at the Net Players Feet
Net players receiving high volleys usually miss them because they are attacking small targets.
So, if there’s a net player on the other side of the court, you should target their feet. This will be fair play as well as the highest winning percentage for any shot in doubles. Why? Here are the reasons:
- The net player will not be able to dig out an aggressive volley from their shoelaces. Hence, you can use this target area often
- It can be easier to attack the opponents’ feet if you are closer to the net. Therefore, you should close down the net on easy volleys
- It is generally challenging to hit a good volley by your feet or ankles down low compared to a volley up high at your shoulders or chest. That’s why hitting the ball at their feet will put the opponent at a more significant disadvantage. They will most likely miss the shot or pop up the ball.
- It’s a good time for your partner or you to poach to put the ball away.
How to Get the Ball to Opponent’s Feet
You can attack at the player’s feet simply by hitting heavy topspin on your groundstrokes.
This will allow you to get the ball dip at their feet. Alternately, you can hit a soft volley, which stays low over the net before dropping at their feet.
10. Serving the "T"
For most doubles players, there’s a clear distinction over which return is weaker and stronger.
Suppose you feel that your opponent cannot hit their backhand return, pepper that return. On the other hand, if your opponent is solid on both sides, the ideal strategy would be to serve up the T to minimise the return angle and determine the next target.
However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind before serving the T.
- Ensure that you and your doubles partner are on the same page regarding the serving location.
- When you hit the ball down the middle of the court, it will most likely come back down the middle. If your partner knows where you intend to locate the server, they will anticipate the return. Also, they will put the volley away on the next ball.
- Using the body jam serve will make the returner uncomfortable.
- Serving the T is the primary tactic on the first serve. Hence, you need to practice it as much as possible.
Check out how to direct your serve in a doubles match here.
11. Fake It!
There will be two options available during a crosscourt baseline rally when you are the net player in a typical one-up-one-back formation on both sides.
The first one is to poach while the other is to fake.
At the club level, many players either poach or remain still.
There’s no doubt that poaching is very effective in doubles, but conditioning your opponent to anticipate a poach whenever they see movement at the net will not be in your favour.
Eventually, they will catch on and send balls down your alley. That’s where faking comes in handy.
Here’s why faking may be more effective than poaching:
- Throwing a good fake often will keep your opponent thinking. They will feel confused about what to expect.
- It will lead to many easy volleys down your alley.
- It is a great strategy when you are the stronger one at the net and cannot get involved in crosscourt exchanges.
How to fake it
This is very simple. Creep forward and use one big side step toward the middle line just when the ball bounces on the opponent’s side of the net and push back to cover your alley.
Learn how to fake poach from this video.
12. Two Back on Return
This is a prevalent strategy in today’s doubles tennis. Two back on return tactic comes in handy when servers are bigger or net players are much more athletic than your expectations.
If you often struggle to keep your returns away from the opponents’ net player. Never bring both back for the first ball as it will take away the volley target and force your opponent to launch angle volley winners instead of hitting with more power.
Two back on return formation is most effective with the lob return strategy.
Not only does it change the court visually, but you can defend the overhead with both back if the lob is short. On the other hand, if the lob is good, one of you will be able to stealth to the net to look for a volley.
Check out the comparative analysis between two back and two up on return to understand why it is a good strategy.
13. Know When You Should Switch and Cover
This is one of the most effective strategies for doubles. In doubles, one player will cover the ad side while the other will have the deuce side.
There might be occasions when players need to switch sides to cover for the other player, especially during poaches, shots, and lobs that your partner finds challenging to retrieve. In such a situation, here’s what you should do.
- When someone crosses the midline or fully commits to the court’s other side, the other player should switch automatically. Nothing is as stressful as seeing your partner standing at the back when you are about to poach!
- Allow your partner to be on the other side of the court. Most players make the mistake of not moving quickly enough, maybe due to lack of attention, foresightedness, or simple laziness.
Covering should be on your partner’s mind all the time, especially when facing situations like these.
- If you are too fast and your partner cannot hit the ball and you are covering their side, switch as soon as your partner observes you committing to their side. It may take some time for you to get acquainted with this strategy.
In simple terms: whenever your partner is on your side, switch quickly without thinking twice.
This video will help you learn how to become a great doubles partner with your quick-paced switch and cover.
14. Go Australian if You Want to Protect a Weak Backhand
In doubles, the term “Australian” means both players should line up on the same side of the court while serving. For instance, if a right-hander has a bad backhand and is serving, it can be protected on the weaker ad side.
Supposing your partner is right-handed and has to serve from the ad side, rather than standing on the deuce side, as generally happens, position yourself at the ad side.
This will allow your partner to serve from directly in your back. Once the service is done, they can move over to their right to cover the deuce side.
Almost all the shots they receive on the deuce side will be from the forehand instead of the weak backhand.
While it can be a workable strategy to protect weak backhands of left-handed players, if a left-hander has to serve on the deuce side, the partner should cover the deuce side to protect the backhand.
Why Australian Format is Good?
If you are in a tight game with many deuces going by, going Australian will help you give a different outlook on that point. It can also win points for you.
This format basically forces the returner to go down the line apart from taking away the crosscourt return.
15. Communication Is Key
Whether you are an experienced doubles player or a beginner, communication remains the foremost strategy to win matches.
Have you noticed that some partners communicate a lot and some remain too reclusive and silent? That could be the difference between wins and losses.
If communication isn’t strong enough within a team, they won’t win when playing against better competitors. Here are some tips for improving communication as a team.
- When both of you are serving, use hand signals to point out plays. The net man should signal about staying with a closed fist and open hand when poaching.
- Yell out ‘switch’ to instruct your partner to switch sides.
- In case the ball is in the middle of both the players, which mostly happens at the baseline, call out ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ to let your partner know who will take it.
If you are lobbed and at the net, yell ‘yours’, ‘switch’ to your opponent to inform your partner that they need to cover the lob on your side and you want to switch sides.