Is anyone confused out there when playing doubles? Do you hear things like, "that was mine" or "stay on your side" or " this is my area" or " don't take my backhand"? When this happens, you are not sure how to react so you just keep playing, ultimately ending the game unsettled or even frustrated. These situations are unfortunate but happen too much in this great game. In this article, I am providing doubles players some things to consider to help work better together as partners that apply to recreational and competitive play.
Whomever you are playing as partners within any game, please be positive, understanding they are trying as hard or maybe even harder than you are even though their "skill level" in your opinion or in reality may be less or greater than yours. Once a player shows disappointment in their partner either verbally or by body language and gestures, there is little one can do to really erase the bad attitude rapidly. Doubles is a team sport and the better players play together, the more fun everyone will have and the better the results will be! Below are some things to consider when playing as partners that may help develop good "karma" or good "synchronization". Once players get more confident in each other, positive things happen, and achieving that feeling is so great as many of you know.
Starting with the Serve
The serving player can easily use their paddle as a shield and whisper to their partner where they intend to serve the ball. This will enable more communication and build confidence between the two players right from the start of any game. It also gives the server both a visual goal and a physical goal which develops focus and can be very helpful.
The Return of Serve: Move up to the NVZ Line
In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes I see in teaching and also playing is when the person hitting the ROS stays back near the baseline after hitting it. Staying back after hitting the ROS puts your partner in a confusing situation because he/she does not know what you are doing and now they have to think about what they should do. In addition, the person staying back will put their team at a disadvantage rather than put their team at a huge advantage prior to and after your opponent hits the third shot if they would have moved up to the NVZ.
Calling Who Hits the Third Shot
Everyone has been in the situation where the ROS is hit deep and in the center area of the court and undesired results happen. You know, both players stare at each other while losing the rally or both wait until the last second before one or both lunge and reach to try to hit the ball! Many times this results in not hitting the ball at all or hitting paddles together ultimately hitting a really bad third shot OR Worse!
My suggestion is to figure out prior to the first serve of each game who is going to call who hits the third shot. The same person will call each time either "me" or "you" immediately after the ROS is hit during the whole game. The caller's eyes should be focused on where the ball is going to hit the paddle of the ROS person so that call can be made quickly as the caller will be able to predict approximately where the ball is going to go as soon as possible. This gives both players mental stability and confidence and gives the person who is not going to hit the third shot time get out of the way so the person hitting the third shot has all the room and confidence needed. This will make it much easier for you and your partner to get in the best position to hit arguably the hardest shot in the game.
Movement as Partners at the NVZ
Most of us have been taught correctly that players should move up to the NVZ line together trying to seal up any large holes that will occur if one goes up and the other does not. Yes, this is great advice! The second type of movement that we may or may not have been taught is moving side-to-side by sliding when both players are playing at the NVZ. Although some super-fast players may be able to "cover" the majority of the court up at the NVZ by sliding slightly, the majority of players out there can't do that and I think great results will happen when players slide side-to-side during dink rallies. Learning to call "me" or "you" during dink rallies can really help improve communication to help reduce confusion and build partner confidence.
Defensive Positioning at the NVZ
Lastly, when playing at the NVZ, it is very important to play defense by where the ball is on your opponent's side of the court.
This may take some coordinated practice more than the above suggestions, but I believe it is worth the effort. The theory is based on the ball will be hit down the sidelines or in the center of the court the majority of the game. I cannot prove that theory is true but in analyzing both professional and amateur play, I believe that theory is very real. My suggestion is that we want to "take away" those areas every shot we can by positioning ourselves near the sideline opposite to where the ball is being hit from and always covering the center area of the court with the partner. Please see the pictures to illustrate defensive coverage in two different areas of the court. The side-to-side sliding movement described above also applies here. Please notice when the ball is being hit by your opponent at the center of the court the partners can "squeeze" the center area "taking away" those easy drives through the center and try to get the ball to be hit out to the sides giving them a harder shot and giving you and your partner more time to get to the ball.
By always covering the sideline and the center area of the court, it may give your opponent something different and harder to deal with especially if they are not used to seeing this type of coverage. Advantage goes to you and your partner now! This is typically effective against "bangers" who drive the ball no matter where they are on the court. Your opponent may still decide to bang the ball right to you but better players love to block those and you are at least making them think about what they are doing. If all four players are playing at the NVZ, you can use the combination of calling who hits the shot and sliding back and forth to "cover" the areas the ball is most likely to be hit. Done well, this can be extremely effective at all levels of play!!!
Of course, there is more to helping players play better as partners and many of you may have great ideas on this topic. I mentioned above some of the ones I believe are most important, and can help improve communication at important times in the game and have the most positive results for the long term. I would love to hear from you if you have other good suggestions as I might learn something from you and put those ideas to positive use in my own play or in my lesson plans.
By Marc Austin, GAMMA Brand Ambassador and PPR Pro Instructor