Tennis Doubles Strategy
Though strategy is important in singles, it is even more important in doubles. The additional width of the alleys on the doubles court has a great effect on the angles possible in doubles play. Consequently, doubles is known as a game of angles.
There are three basic doubles strategies:
- both-up strategy (also called "two-up" strategy)
- up-and-back strategy (also called "one-up/one-back" or "I" strategy)
- both-back strategy (also called "two-back" strategy)
The ideal is both-up strategy, often called "Attacking Doubles" because the net is the "high ground", and the both-up strategy puts both players close to it, in a position to score because of their excellent vantage points and angles. A team in the both-up formation, however, is vulnerable to a good lob from either opponent at any time. To be successful with Attacking Doubles, teams must have effective serves and penetrating volleys to prevent good lobs and good overhead shots to put away poor returns.
Teams that play attacking doubles try to get into the both-up formation on every point. When serving, their server follows most first serves to the net and some second serves. As a result, attacking doubles is also called serve-and-volley doubles. When receiving, their receiver follows most second-service returns to the net.
At the professional level, attacking doubles is the standard strategy of choice.
At lower levels of the game, not all players have penetrating volleys and strong overhead shots. So, many use up-and-back strategy. The weakness in this formation is the large angular gap it creates between partners, a gap that an opposing net player can easily hit a clean winner through if they successfully poach a passing shot.
Nonetheless, up-and-back strategy is versatile, with elements of both offense and defense. In fact, since the server must begin each point at the baseline and the receiver must be far enough back to return the serve, virtually every point in doubles begins with both teams in this formation.
Teams without net games strong enough to play Attacking Doubles can still play both-up when they have their opponents on the defensive. To achieve this, a team would patiently play up-and-back for a chance to hit a forcing shot and bring their baseliner to the net.
Australian Doubles and the I-Formation are variations of up-and-back strategy. In Australian doubles, the server's partner at net lines up on the same side of the court, fronting the opposing net player, who serves as a poaching block and blind. The receiver then must return serve down the line and is liable to have that return poached. In the I-Formation, the server's net partner lines up in the center, between the server and receiver so he or she can poach in either direction. Both Australian Doubles and the I-Formation are poaching formations that can also be used to start the point for serve-and-volley doubles.
Both-back strategy is strictly defensive. It is normally seen only when the opposing team is both-up or when the returner is passing the net player on the return. This might be a good tactic when the opponent has a serve with a lot of pressure and an aggressive player at the net. From here the defenders can return the most forcing shots till they get a chance to hit a good lob or an offensive shot. If their opponents at net become impatient and try to angle the ball away when a baseliner can reach it, the defender can turn the tables and score outright. However this strategy leaves the volley court open to drop shots from the opposition.