One of the quickest ways to elevate your club doubles game is through proper positioning, strategy and tactics. Club members are often out of position and struggling to get to balls and marvel how advanced players seem to know where the ball is going before it is struck by the opponent.
Anticipation is the word to describe this skill, and with a few astute observations of your opponent, you will quickly find yourself ahead of the play. Start with a proper ready position, with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight on your toes and turning your belly button or “squaring off” to your opponent who is striking the ball. This alignment will provide the best balance and opportunity for movement once the ball is stuck. Pros will often coach players to “follow the ball” on the other side of the court, sliding left, right and up and back on your side of the court, mirroring your opponent.
This is good advice. Watch your opponent’s body language and evaluate their potential shot responses based on their position on the court. If they are deep in the court and falling backward, you can safely assume you will not be receiving a drop-shot or power drive shot. You are more likely to receive a ball back on the trajectory it arrived, so eliminate the low responses and look for the obvious. It may be the ball that you yourself would hit from this position. When advancing to the net after a good lob from the baseline, move to the service line and get set. I prefer to call the service line the “look and see line,” since I want to stop at this neutral position to evaluate the opponent’s response.
Many players run too close to the net and get a winner lob hit over their heads. When you play at the net, reset yourself between the net and the service line or “IVP” (Ideal Volley Position) after every shot. Players often get too close to the net and are lobbed when not returning to the IVP. Shuffling backwards footwork to reset is often ignored, resulting in the ability to only move forward and not adapt. You must move back and reset to volley after each hit once achieving the IVP. The back-step shuffles occur on all areas of the court from returning back to a “home base” position on the baseline to the aforementioned volley area.
It can also save you from bodily injury when your opponent has an easy overhead close to the net. While many players do not adjust their position, this is a moment when you should definitely anticipate a hard overhead and square off and shuffle back as far as you can until your opponent strikes the ball when you must then be set and make your stand giving yourself a better chance to return the ball. Your court position and readiness is predicated by your opponent’s position on the court. Evaluate your opponent’s court position and shot selection at their disposal for better anticipation.
Mike Puc has been the Director of Tennis at Gleneagles Country Club in Delray Beach, Fla. since 1998. A winner of 15 national titles and an ATP world ranking, Mike directs 25 teams with 350 players in nine leagues, while offering the most extensive Calendar of Events in South Florida that includes tournaments, lectures and social round-robins.