Here is another article by Joe Marshall. You can see all of them by typing his name into the search box above and to the right. His doubles tennis strategies are really worth applying to your game.

Poaching, I believe, originally referred to stealing game by hunting on someone else’s property. In tennis, poaching refers to the art, in doubles tennis, of a person leaving the side of the court he is protecting, to slant in to his partner’s side, and steal a point by putting a volley away.

Most of the time, the partner of the server stands on the alternate side of the court from the server, near the net, covering the opposite side of their half of the court, hoping for a weak, or poorly placed, return of serve, that he can easily put away. In club doubles, the net man rarely poaches unless he has an easy floater. He is so concerned about “covering his side of the court” that he rarely ventures off his real estate, for fear of the embarrassment of the returner hitting the ball right where he HAD been, for an easy winner.

Let me say something before we go any further……Winning tennis, at all levels, is about playing the percentages……if you ain’t poaching, you ain’t helping. In many cases, you’d be better off back at the baseline with your partner, trying to win the game with ground strokes and lobs, rather than just sitting there and never poaching. The whole purpose of the net position is to play aggressively. To “boldly go where no man has gone before,” picking off what the returner thought were good returns, making them take their eye off the ball with dramatic, but subtle fakes, putting away overheads, and, in general, making their returning lives miserable.

In a tournament match, I like to poach on my partner’s first serve of the match. And I mean POACH. Set up in the middle of the service box (middle from side to side, AND from front to back), and SLANT IN QUICKLY, performing a split step as the ball bounces (moving forward and sideways), with your racquet raised high, anticipating a return halfway between the net strap and the sideline.

Now the big question…..where do you hit the sitter?

Many volleys are missed because the volleyer hasn’t anticipated what he would do with the volley before he got there. Don’t beat your self up if you miss a few because of this….it comes with experience…..but the best place to anticipate hitting the aggressive poach volley is at the opponent’s feet, assuming they are playing in the one up, one back position like most teams. You won’t hit the ball wide this way, you won’t hit it long, and even if your opponent makes a great get, they are hitting the ball off the floor with a weak return, and you maintain the advantage. You don’t always have to slam it…the threat of you hitting it hard is often just as effective as hitting it hard.

Poaching on the first point of the match, successfully or not, sends a message to the opponent….” I POACH, and I poach AGGRESSIVELY….If I GUESS RIGHT, I GOTCHA!”……

Follow up the next two points with fakes, and watch them take their eye off the ball, or hit a return right at you that you can move toward and hit into the seam (the area between your opponents) or drop shot into the alley (a more advanced shot). The rest of the match, that first poach you made will be always in your opponents’ minds, and they will make all kinds of errors because of it. Even if you are losing half the points when you are poaching, keep mixing the poaches in, because you are winning points invisibly by coaxing unforced errors out of your opponents as they worry about your movement.

When you are serving, encourage your partner to poach. If he misses one, don’t let him get down on himself. Just say, “Good poach, you had ‘em….just watch the ball.” Then go over to him and have a private conversation that the opponents see. Inevitably, they will think that you are going to tell your partner to poach, but in reality, tell him to FAKE, and watch the opponents hit it right to him.

Any time your opponent outguesses you (hitting it where you just moved from), applaud his good shot, but show no disappointment. In the long run, this helps, because you now know they are trying to outguess you, so your fakes will really be effective. Usually, you will win at least three points on their mistakes for every point that they outguess you.

One last point: Poaching to your forehand side is easier than poaching to your backhand, for most people. Your reach is longer, and it’s easier to see the ball this way. So poach more on your forehand, and fake more on your backhand, but do a lot of both on either side, always trying to outfox your opponent, making them lose concentration.

Read their faces, think with them, like you see Roger Federer doing. Everybody gives themselves away to some extent. I will have more to say about poaching at a later date, especially poaching off the return of serve….in the meantime, pick a few off and get in their heads…there’s nothing like it!

P.S. If your opponents poach a lot, you should mix in a lot of lob returns of serve. This will neutralize what they are doing, frustrate them, or at least makes them change their positions. You will get more returns in play this way…..make sure you practice that lob return between matches!