Tennis Doubles Strategies For Seniors

tennis doubles strategy for seniors

For most of us, the tennis we watch on television is generally singles, but the bulk of the tennis we play tends to be doubles.

Even for enthusiastic senior singles players, many matches and practice sessions will be in a doubles format. Doubles is generally regarded as a more sociable form of the game, and it allows more players to be on court simultaneously, meaning that it is favoured at most tennis clubs for casual and organised play.

The reduced need for running and lunging allows older players to continue to play at a good standard beyond the time at which their singles game has started to deteriorate. It is important to understand, however, that doubles is in many ways a more complex game than singles.

In this article I will look at some of the best tennis doubles strategies for seniors, which will enable you to gain a crucial edge in club matches and tournaments.

10 Tennis Doubles Strategies for Seniors covers in this article

  1. Move to the net when you get a chance, especially on quick courts
  2. Start with both players back if your opponents are dominating the net
  3. Use the Australian formation to combat angled returns
  4. The I-formation will allow more winning volleys- if your knees can take it
  5. Make sure your partner always knows what you are planning
  6. Place your shots to make life difficult for the opposition
  7. Be active at the net to get more chances to intercept and unsettle your opponents
  8. Cover the easier shot to force the opposition into tougher ones
  9. Use the lob intelligently to move the opposition back from the net
  10. Return from the side that suits your game best

The Basics of tennis doubles

In doubles, each player has a specific role at the start of a rally. One player will be the server, and another will be the returner. The server’s partner and receiver’s partner also have their own roles, although as the rally develops the distinction reduces.

Tennis Doubles - Standard starting positions
Diagram 1: Standard starting positions

In Diagram 1 below, B is serving and C is receiving. The receiver’s partner, A, is in the service box opposite the one into which B is serving, and will be hoping that the ball is returned to an area where they can play a volley. C will be attempting to hit a good quality return which does not allow A to play a straightforward volley.

The returner’s partner, D, is waiting on the service line close to the centre of the court. They may choose to move forward, backward or sideways, depending upon how the rally develops. These positions are typical for the start of a point in a seniors doubles game, although there are many other possibilities. Once the rally commences, the players may move into a variety of other areas, possibly swapping sides with their partner.

Doubles rallies can be very short, as the serve may not be returned, or the return may offer an easy volley to the returner’s partner. Nonetheless, there are certain key ideas that determine how points typically develop. Number one among these is the theory that, particularly in men’s doubles, players at the net are in the dominant position. This is because the players at the baseline can be rushed by simple, blocked volleys which require little preparation. If a player at the back of the court hits a poor shot when both opponents are at the net, this is very likely to offer the net players a simple opportunity to win the point.

In the scenario above, if B hits a good serve they will attempt to move to the net alongside A in order to take up a dominant position. On the other hand, if C hits a strong return and A is unable to intercept it, both C and D may try to move forward so that they can take the net position.

There are certain qualifications to the suggestion that being at the net allows a doubles pair to dominate.

Firstly, the slower the court surface, the more time the team at the baseline have to prepare for their shots, and the more difficult the volleyers are likely to find it. Thus it makes more sense to press forward to the net on grass than it does on clay, for example.

Secondly, women’s doubles tends to be played differently, due to the fact that many players prefer to hit aggressively from the back of the court and are less confident at the net. Thus, if a women’s pair find themselves in the net position they may not consider this a positive. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that in any circumstances a pair who move to the net are setting a challenge to the opposition, and may force them into an error.

Strategy 1: Move to the net when you get a chance, especially on quick courts

More Advanced Tennis Doubles Tactics

Some club players will not go far beyond the simple tactics outlined above. They will know where they want to stand at the start of a point, and they will simply try to get to the net at the first opportunity. This is fine, but it is predictable and therefore fairly simple to combat. The best teams are flexible in their strategy, and can deal with whatever the opposition throw at them. In this section I will look at some of the areas where alternative or more subtle tactics may help.

Both Back

Both Players Back in Tennis Doubles Strategies
Diagram 2: Both Players Back At Both Ends

Here, B is serving, but their partner, A, has elected to stay back behind the baseline. In addition, D, the returner’s partner, has chosen to stay back.

In truth, it is very unusual for the server’s partner to stay back at the start of a rally, but it may be a useful variation if that player is being consistently lobbed. It is more common for both the receiver and their partner to start a rally behind the baseline.

In professional tennis this can be a positive strategy: few who saw it will forget the way big-hitting Chileans Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu blasted their way to Olympic doubles gold in 2004 almost exclusively from the back of the court.

In seniors tennis, most players lack the power to dominate a game of doubles from behind the baseline, so if both players stay back it tends to be as part of a defensive strategy where a team aim to use clever lobs and passing shots to frustrate their opponents. This can be tricky for a team who try to dominate from the net to deal with.

Strategy 2: Start with both players back if your opponents are dominating the net

Australian Formation

The Australian Formation in Tennis Doubles Strategies
Diagram 3: The Australian Formation

The above formation looks unusual at first glance.

As before, B is serving and C is returning, but the server’s partner, A, now starts on the same side of the court as B. The returner’s partner, D, is shown in a standard starting position, although others are possible.

The idea of A beginning a rally on the same side of the court as B is known as the Australian formation. It is normally used in seniors tennis as a variation, particularly where an angled return has been causing problems for the server.

The server will move to the side of the court vacated by their partner, encouraging the returner to hit down the line. The positioning of A now allows them to intercept the angled return.

Strategy 3: Use the Australian formation to combat angled returns

I-Formation

I-Formation Tennis Double Strategy
Diagram 4: The I-Formation

In Diagram 4, B is serving to C as usual, but this time A and B are using the I-formation. Thus, A is crouched close to the net, and will spring up and move to one side when the serve goes past them, hoping to volley the return. A and B will have discussed which way A will move, but C and D will not know.

Strategy 4: The I-formation will allow more winning volleys- if your knees can take it

Communication And Signalling

At lower levels, players are often surprised by the actions of their partner, for example in the placement of their serve or a decision to move across the net to intercept.

This lack of communication can lead to poor positioning and often results in a point being lost. Better players try to communicate their intentions through whispered discussions and hand-signals.

Thus, for example, the server will tell their partner where they plan to serve, and their partner will indicate whether they plan to make a move to intercept a cross-court return.

If the latter is going to happen, the server will need to move to their partner’s original position to avoid leaving a gap. The returner and their partner will also communicate, as the actions of the returner’s partner will need to be different according to whether the return is struck cross-court, down the line, or as a lob.

During rallies, partners need to clearly call ‘mine’, ‘yours’, ‘leave’ or ‘switch’. (The latter refers to a change of sides mid point). Prior to the point, the server’s partner can make hand-signals behind their back, which are invisible to the opposition, in order to tell their partner whether they intend to move across or stay when the return is struck.

Strategy 5: Make sure your partner always knows what you are planning

Effective Shot Placement

It makes a lot of sense in doubles, as in all forms of tennis, to hit the ball in such a way as to make life difficult for your opponents. For example, if you are good at hitting topspin, and your opponents are close to the net, dipping the ball at their feet with heavy spin will cause them problems.

In general, it is considered a good idea to attack down the middle of the court, both when serving and when the opposition are at the net. The reasoning behind this is the fact that it makes it more difficult to play angles, allowing your team to predict and deal with the types of shot that are likely to come back. A serve down the centre of the court can give the server’s partner a better chance of intercepting the return.

In a rally, hitting down the middle can also sow confusion as to which of your opponents should hit the ball, which causes hesitation and, in all likelihood, a poorer shot.

Strategy 6: Place your shots to make life difficult for the opposition

Be Active

The server’s partner should always appear to want the ball, partly so that they are ready when it comes to them at the net, and partly to distract the opposition.

This means that the volleyer should  be constantly making short, sharp movements, even if they do not plan to intercept a given shot. They are basically ensuring that the opposition do not know when they are going to intercept, forcing them to play shots to avoid the net player.

Strategy 7: Be active at the net to get more chances to intercept and unsettle your opponents

Cover The Easier Shot

It is human nature to want to avoid giving your opponent the chance to hit a winner, but it is often a good plan to leave them an opening to attempt something difficult.

The simplest example, which applies in both singles and doubles, is that, discussed briefly earlier on, of the opponent with a good wide serve. If you adopt a ‘standard’ returning position, the wide serve will probably be a winner, but you are covering the other options well.

If the server can only reliably execute a wide serve, this is a very poor position to take up. Instead, you should stand wider, in a position where you will be able to return their favourite serve. This will probably mean that if they hit a flat serve down the middle it will be an ace, but it may be that they find this difficult and will end up missing most of their first serves if they focus on this. Thus, by covering the easier shot (for them) you are forcing them to make errors trying something else.

In a rally, many players instinctively cover the tramline when they are at the net. There are times, against some opponents, when this can be important, but hitting down the line is tricky, especially on a fast court when faced with a wide serve or a cross-court drive.

Therefore, it is a good idea to cover the easier cross-court shot by moving towards the centre of the net. This leaves the tramline open but many players will be far more likely to miss if they attempt to hit this perceived gap.

Of course, a rethink is required if they manage to find this gap several times, but in general it will be beneficial to cover the easier shot in order to make them play something difficult.

Strategy 8: Cover the easier shot to force the opposition into tougher ones

Use The Lob

In seniors tennis, the athleticism of the net players may not be what it once was. It can certainly be a good plan to test this out with some well-executed lobs. The lob return can be particularly effective if your opponents are moving to the net. However, it needs to be accurate if the opposition are strong overhead or it is likely to cost you the point. If the lob is good, it may produce a missed overhead or allow your team the opportunity to take the net position.

Strategy 9: Use the lob intelligently to move the opposition back from the net

Find The Best Side To Play On

The side of the court on which you play best is largely determined by the type of return you like to hit. Because many good players like to serve down the middle of the court in doubles, to cut down the angles, it makes sense that your strongest return should be the one which you would use against a ‘T’ serve. Assuming that players favour their forehand return, this means that for many right-handers the best side to return from is the left.

Similarly, most left-handers should return from the right. If both players use the same hand, it is probably a case of who has the better backhand return, with that person returning from the right for a right-hander or the left for a left-hander.

At club level, one of the great frustrations is the left-handed player who says: ‘I’m left-handed so I need to play on the left’. This makes little sense, but it is sometimes hard to persuade them otherwise.

Strategy 10: Return from the side that suits your game best

Tennis Doubles Strategies for Seniors Recap

Doubles is a complex game, but if you follow these 10 tennis doubles strategies for seniors you should do well.

  1. Move to the net when you get a chance, especially on quick courts
  2. Start with both players back if your opponents are dominating the net
  3. Use the Australian formation to combat angled returns
  4. The I-formation will allow more winning volleys- if your knees can take it
  5. Make sure your partner always knows what you are planning
  6. Place your shots to make life difficult for the opposition
  7. Be active at the net to get more chances to intercept and unsettle your opponents
  8. Cover the easier shot to force the opposition into tougher ones
  9. Use the lob intelligently to move the opposition back from the net
  10. Return from the side that suits your game best

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