This advice has helped my game enormously. I have about 5-6 different serves I use in a game that keeps my opponents guessing. And playing with Joe is a constant reminder to poach and fake. It works! This is Joe’s sixth article. Check them all out by typing Joe’s name into the search box at the right above. Then make some adjustments to your game and enjoy your improved performance…

The most important thing in a doubles serve is to get the first serve in. Sounds simple, but we all forget it. You can’t serve a double fault if you get the first serve in.

Opponents are less likely to attack a first serve, because they are expecting something big….they are more likely to hit an aggressive shot on a second serve, when they are expecting something slower and closer to the middle of the box. In addition, your net opponent will usually feel more confident poaching on your return to his partner’s first serve as well.

Assuming you are getting a decent percentage of first serves in, what different kinds of strategies can you try in order to make your serve more effective? The answer requires some thought.

What SHOULD you be trying to do with your serve, especially your first serve? The answer is not “trying to knock the racquet out of my opponent’s hand.” It should be, “Serving in such a way that my opponent will be likely to hit a return that my partner or I can hit aggressively (or put away).” In other words, “Set up the net man” as much as possible.

Tell your partner you want him/her to be aggressive. Poach a good percentage of the time (30% sounds about right, depending on the opponents). When he is not poaching, he is faking a poach, or moving forward, or anticipating a lob. Any movement at the net is distracting to the returner, especially when it occasionally leads to a put away. If they beat you down the line once in a while, don’t be upset. Tell your partner, “Good poach,” and encourage them to continue to be aggressive. The next time you serve to that opponent, have your partner fake a poach. See if they don’t get the ball hit right to them or into the net.

To add to the returner’s misery, mix up your first serves with different placements, spins, and PACES OF SHOT (in other words, change speeds…just a little is often enough.) This summer I got to play a set of doubles against a gal in her 20′s. She was on the pro tour at one time, and had top 20 potential, until her career was derailed by injury. Now she is a full time pro teacher. I had a good partner, and her partner was no better than I.
Every time I served and volleyed to her partner in the doubles court, I won the point. Every time I served to her, she took my serve early and wailed it for a winner (at my feet, into the doubles alley, handcuffing my partner). I served it to her backhand, she pounded it. I spun it on the mid line to her forehand, she creamed it. But I was able to stay in the game by winning the points against her partner. I just didn’t have enough pace on my serve to phase her, even on a fast indoor court.

After the third or fourth deuce, at our 4th game point, I tried an old trick. I wound up like I was going to swat a flat serve right at her as fast as I could (a perfect speed for her to tee off on), but instead of wailing it, I just tapped it about a half to three quarters as fast as normal, and rushed in behind it. She saw what I had done, and knew the ball was coming slower, but still, it’s hard to judge the exact speed of a ball when it’s coming right at you, and since it was going slower, it gave me more time to get much closer to the net. She could have lobbed the ball or gently angled it cross court, but instead she did what most people do the first time they see that trick and don’t anticipate it….she hesitated and hit the ball into the bottom of the net, then let out a yell of frustration. Game Us. Believe me, if it worked against her, it will work against your weekend warrior friends more times than not……use it when you’re ahead more than when you are behind…..although love-40 is a good time to try it as well.

To work on a variety of serves, try this. Practice serving with three different grips: eastern forehand, continental, eastern backhand….or whatever grip you want to make up. Learn to hit each flat, or with slice, or kick. Learn to place each out wide, down the middle, or right at the server. Learn to hit each serve from the service T, way out wide by the doubles line, or halfway in between. If some feel uncomfortable, abandon them. Three different grips, three different positions, three different spins….3x3x3…that’s 27 serves to choose from….Throw in a change up for each one, and you have 3x3x3x3=81 different serves….pick the best 5 or 6 and hit them most of the time, but be creative, and invent tricks of your own…..Always try something, and observe the result.

When serving from the deuce court, it is difficult to get the ball to the returner’s backhand sometimes. If this becomes a liability, serve from the middle of the court, but quickly move to your right out wide after you serve to cover the empty space. If you serve from out wide, you can really pull the opponent completely off the court with a wide slice serve. Remember you are farther from the net when you serve from way out there, so make sure you clear the net. Aim for the far corner on a flat serve, then aim in the same place, when hitting a slice shot, and watch it run out wide off the court.