Posts Tagged tennis doubles strategies

How To Hit A Drop Shot By Joe Marshall

I told my friend John, a marvelous player who passed away recently, that I thought the most important thing in hitting a drop shot was “Weight”….in other words, get your weight into the shot, so your soft hands are concentrating on taking power off, and directing, the ball. John nodded, seeing my point. But then he topped me.

”I think the most important factor in hitting the dropper is HEIGHT,” he said. And as usual, he was right.

A lot of people miss drop shots, because they think the most important aspect of the shot is to skim the net with the ball, figuring that the lower the height at which the ball peaks, the more difficult it will be for the opponent to get to it before the second bounce. But think about it. If you hit the ball at a low trajectory (initially dangerous because you may catch the net), the opponent will see that the ball will be short, and will hustle in immediately. Also, the trajectory of the ball will make it bounce low, but forward, perhaps reaching almost to mid court.

On the other hand, if you concentrate on lifting the ball higher, peaking maybe THREE OR FOUR FEET ABOVE, BUT WELL IN FRONT OF, the net, the opponent, not realizing that you took the pace off the ball, will initially read a deep shot, and will not immediately rush the net. This trajectory will also allow the ball to drop much closer to the net, which is the most difficult factor for the opponent, since he has to apply the brakes quickly for fear of running into the net, and must still hit a difficult, controlled return into a safe spot. Spin, of course is the killer.

The best droppers seem to have a mix of side and back spin.

If you incorporate a slice shot as part of your game, the dropper should look like it was going to be a hard slice. Even after it comes off the racquet, your follow-through combined with the appropriate height above the net will give the impression that it is a deep slice or an approach shot. Drop shots should catch the opponent by surprise.

They are usually best when struck from inside, or just at, the baseline. They are a great way to break up a long rally, when the opponent is already a little winded or in a groove. Hit them to the opposite side of the court from where the opponent is…..although the inside-out forehand drop is deadly (for those who have the Jim Courier-type, inside-out forehand weapon). Follow the dropper in toward the net (in case he drops it back!), stopping just on the net side of the service line, anticipating a ball you can lob-volley (or even lob half-volley) over the charging opponent.

Drop shots are like body blows. They have a way (especially when combined with lobs) of breaking the opponents spirit, and wearing him out. They earn you invisible points, because they can cause an opponent to lean in every time he hits a short ball, worried about your potential dropper, and mess up his next ground stroke due to poor footwork.

To summarize, think WEIGHT as you approach a shot you want to drop (GET your weight into the shot, use quick short steps, like you are preparing to hit a drive), think HEIGHT as you stroke the shot, making sure to follow through high and clear the net. Follow the lob in past the service line and anticipate a lob-volley. You can win a point on a poorly executed dropper that clears the net and goes too deep, You lose the point every time if your stroke hits the net and bounces back.

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She Did It Again! By Joe Marshall

My friend Sally is a wonderful player. She and I were able to win a mixed doubles tournament a few years ago. She was the number one singles player in her high school, and went on to coach high school tennis for many years.

Sally’s game is worthy of analysis. She has a marvelous two-handed backhand that she says she developed by copying her baseball swing. She hits the ball kinda flat, sometimes with a little backspin, sometimes a little top, sometimes a pure knuckle ball. Her forehand is usually a slice shot, which she strikes by getting down low and punching the ball with heavy backspin, like a volley. She can also slap the forehand with a wristy flick that can turn into a topspin pass or a flat drive. Her serve is an inside-out twist, which stays low, and skips or stops. She places it well and varies the pace. She also lobs very well off both sides. But she is maddeningly consistent, takes the ball early, recognizes the patterns of her opponents, and disguises her shots until the last second…able to hit cross court or down the line without giving it away.

And now, she has developed the BLOOP!

Recently, I played Sally and her partner Ted a couple of times. The first time, they beat us in straight sets. The second time, we were wary of what she was doing, and we squeaked out a close first set, lost the second, and gave up a 2 break, 5-2 lead in the third set ( we had to leave the court at 5-5).

Sally has mastered the BLOOP, and it has taken her already formidable game to a new level. The Bloop is a derivative of the lob volley, the advanced shot that is so handy when all four players are at the net. Read the rest of this entry »

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Who Should Play Forehand? By Joe Marshall

When I read Joe Marshall’s insights about doubles tennis, I realize how little I know and think about this team game. Here is yet another example of why Joe wins so consistently when he plays. Of course it helps enormously that he is good enough to execute what his brain thinks of doing. Much of the time, I am just trying to get the damn ball back over the net and in the court. But maybe someday…

If anyone saw the movie “Moneyball,” with Brad Pitt, you heard the name of Bill James, a man who was working as a security guard in the 1970′s, when he started writing very clever analyses of baseball statistics. He was part of a grass roots movement of stat-head baseball fans, known as SABRmetricians (SABR stands for Society of American Baseball Research), who began to realize that all kinds of “set-in-stone” notions about baseball productivity and statistical analysis were just plain wrong. Bill was probably the most engaging writer of the group, and got published, so his ideas began to spread. George Will spoke of them in his baseball book, MEN AT WORK in the early 90′s.

It took almost 30 years before Bill was hired by a club (the Red Sox), to help decide who were the most productive players available in winter trades, and how the team could be best configured to maximize success on the field. He was instrumental in helping the Sox kill the Curse of the Bambino, and win its first World Championship since 1918 in the middle of the first decade of this century.

Bill wrote early on that in all areas of life, sloppy thinking can get ingrained, and truisms which are not true can proliferate. I think there are some of these things going on in tennis, and I will mention one today that may interest the tennis fan, or the fan of clear thinking.

The first came up in our match yesterday……IN doubles, if all else is equal, on which court should the stronger player play defense, the AD or the DEUCE?

Conventional wisdom has it that the stronger player should play the AD court because this is where all the “Important points” are played (the game points and the break points they mean, I guess). I strongly disagree. The more consistent, stronger player, especially the one with the more consistent return of serve, should play the deuce court.

The underlying assumption of the conventional wisdom is wrong…. Read the rest of this entry »

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Movement Without The Ball by Joe Marshall

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Poaching Off The Return of Serve By Joe Marshall

Here is the most recent 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.

Hopefully you understand the idea of poaching at the net when your partner serves. Poaching off the return is a lesser used, but equally important, tactic. To poach off the return, start by taking the normal defensive, one up, one back position.

When you, as the short man (the one closer to the net), take your position around the service line, the first thing you are looking to do is to defend, if the opponent’s net man poaches or volleys a ball hit to him. It’s not easy from the mid-court position, but if you take a split step and move in a little as your partner returns, you have a chance. Block the ball into the open part of the court toward the server, keeping it low, or lob-volley (another advanced shot) over the short man’s head.

Most of the time, your partner’s returns will not be successfully intercepted by the net man (if they are being intercepted too often, go back to the baseline and play two back), and will return to the server. Once the ball passes the opponent’s net man, quickly move straight ahead and take a split step as the ball bounces, then slant across court and in toward poaching position, with racquet raised and wrist slightly cocked, anticipating a high volley that you can hit at the short man’s feet. If the server has stayed back, a deep return by your opponent is the best to poach on. If the server has moved in toward the net, a low return at his feet by your partner will be the easiest one to poach on. Treat your return poach just like you did the poach off the serve, hitting it at your opponent’s short man’s feet.

This summer, in the round robin tournament my partner and I won, there was a key point. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thoughts About Serving In Doubles (Including The 27 Different Serves) By Joe Marshall

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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