Here is another insightful post by Joe Marshall that will improve your tennis doubles game. Look for more of these by typing his name in the search box above to the right. And contact Joe if you want personal lessons in winning doubles.

Anticipation is the key to success in so many areas of sports (or life, for that matter….not that I know much about success in life….). In the videos I posted there are some great examples of this….check Fabrice Santoro’s amazing point against Roger Federer, where he makes several impossible gets from way off court by simply figuring out where Roger will hit the ball before he hits it. In the Larry Bird video, he takes a shot from the top of the key, and while the ball is still up in the air, he tears off to the right base line, realizing that his shot was slightly off. The ball caroms off the rim, over the heads of several defenders ….right to the moving Larry, who Jumps, catches the ball off the ground, and before coming back to earth, arcs a perfect swish into the basket as his body falls out of bounds…..unbelievable! Andy Murray videos are an absolute lesson in anticipation.

How does one anticipate where the opponent will hit the ball?

One way is observation. Before the start of a match, when the opponent is warming up his overheads, where does he hit the first one? Does he put slice on the ball, or hit it flat? Does he employ an inside out, kick overhead? (those are tricky…and effective) During a match, where does he like to put away his volleys?

At the net man’s feet? Angled off with touch? Hard down the middle?

Which ever one he shows he can hit successfully, take that one away from him by moving to the spot just before he hits it. If you throw up a short lob, for instance, and your opponent is ready to slam the thing away, remember where he hit the last put away.

Let’s assume he hit it down the middle of the court. As your next lob goes up, immediately move out wide (into the doubles alley) as if you are going to try and cover wide shots. The opponent will see you move there, and be confident in going down the middle for his favorite shot. Just before he hits his overhead, when his eyes are on the ball, sprint back to the place where you think the ball is going, anticipating a shot that you can block back (like a volley, not a ground stroke) over his head if he is close to the net, or at his feet if he is back toward mid court. Hold the racquet firmly and try to catch the ball squarely in the middle of the strings for control, leaning in, not worrying about pace…use his pace….just like a poach volley… making sure you clear the net by several feet. If your ball hits the court, you have neutralized the point. You will find that if you guess right once or twice, the opponent will begin to take his eyes off the ball, worrying about where you are, and will probably miss an overhead or two…..Points like these change momentum, and can completely unhinge an opponent’s game. If he can’t finish points off, he loses confidence in his entire offense, and can begin to self-destruct.

I like to defend on my forehand more than my backhand. In my singles days, I had a very defensive style of play most of the time. If I hit a short lob, I would immediately sprint to a spot on the court well to the ad side of center, giving the opponent the deuce court into which to hit his winning overhead or volley. Knowing that he would see the open court, and most of the time hit his winner there, I commit myself to sprinting to that spot just before he hit it. Believe me, I was rewarded a good percentage of the time with a ball I could handle. If he was clever and hit behind me, I would applaud and tip my hat to him. Next similar situation, I would fake the sprint cross court with a sudden head and step movement (don’t over-fake with more than one step!) and anticipate the ball hit right at me.

These points then became cat and mouse points that I would sometimes win through hustle and anticipation, rather than sitters that my opponent would chalk up nine tenths of the time. I always like winning that kind of point….my game is not aggressive, but passive-aggressive.

To summarize…
Move even more before the opponent hits the ball than after.
Observe where he like to hit shots in certain situations, and move there in advance of him hitting it.
Bait him into hitting where you want him to hit the ball by “giving him” that side of the court immediately after you strike the ball, but sprint to the side you WANT him to hit to, just before his stroke.

Now get out there and play some Dee!

P.S. It’s no coincidence that the top three players in the tennis world at this time are the best three defensive players, and the fourth (Roger Federer) has declined because of erosion of his defensive (not offensive) skills. Many American coaches are very hard-headed about this….they see the game as a matter of power, power, power (which a large part of the pro game has become), but fail to see that the defensive skills are what separate the men from the boys at the highest levels.