There are many reasons doubles teams may want to stray from the traditional service formation to the “I” formation (also known as the Australian formation). Let’s go over some of them.
First and foremost is that one or both of the opponents are returning consistently well. By using the “I” formation you are taking them out of the comfort zone they were in and forcing them to think more, not to mention that they now have to adjust the return because they have to hit the ball over the higher part of the net, near the alleys. Another reason may be to use it as an element of surprise on a critical point, again causing the returner to think more and not be as comfortable. A third might be as simple as hiding a weakness of yours’ or your partner. One example maybe your backhand volley or ground stroke is weaker than your forehand, by playing the “I” formation when you are serving to the ad court (assuming you are right handed) you will serve and move to your right, keeping the weak backhand out of play.
The “I” formation is when the server will serve from the middle of the court and the partner will be at the net on the center service line (preferable) or right beside it. Make sure to talk to your partner so both know if the net player is going to move right, left or stay in the middle after the serve is struck. Whichever way the net player goes the server will move the opposite maintaining full court coverage.
You are in a doubles match and returning especially well and “voila” the opponents begin playing the “I” against you, now what? If the return begins to fail you for the reasons stated above or another, do not forget the lob. With the net player stationed in the center a cross court lob is not only safe due to a wide margin of error, but strategically sound. The server will have to cover the lob and not be able to generate a strong reply and the person at the net will have to back up to the service line, taking them out of the offensive position.
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