Player A (The Server). The server’s main jobs are to hit the first serve in
and at the opponent’s backhand. Then to one-two-three, check with your
feet, and punch the first volley away from player D. Most any ball that is a put away should be handled by player B, becoming the “two” of your one-
two play. The server should follow the first, or transitional, volley to the net in tandem with player B. The next shot could be the put away.
Player B (The Server’s Partner). The theory of doubles holds that the
serve is stronger than the rest of the game and will cause an error or a
floater to the middle of the court. It is B’s job to think middle and to cash in
on the 6–1 ratio: Points won in the middle, compared to those lost down
the alley, set up by the serve. Many times this player will become a
“shrinking violet” after a few misses and simply freeze in his spot. This is a
cardinal error and B must learn to keep coming in spite of even bad
errors. I encourage my B players to watch A until mid-serve then turn and
go to the middle as soon as they hear the ball hit by their serving partner.
A more conservative thing to do would be, when they turn and see the
serve actually hit in the backhand corner, where it is most apt to create
the desired “floater.” An even safer time to move is when they see the
receiver tilt the racquet to the backhand side, thus committing himself to
his weaker shot. B may make the play much more aggressive by the use of
signals that commit him to the 100 percent poach. Doubles teams must
pre-ordain whether they will operate on signals or instinct, with equal
arguments for both schools of thought. It is wise policy for doubles teams
to understand that an instinct mover may back off an extremely good or
low return and allow the server to handle this ball from a deeper, more
solid position. Most often, however, the serving team is geared toward
the “boom-boom” or one-two set up by the serve.
Player C (The Receiver). The serving team has the odds in their favor in
terms of the one-two play. Yet many receiving teams fail to understand
that a good return can turn defense into offense, or a “boom-boom” for the
receivers. If 90 percent of serves in doubles are directed at the backhand,
it is incumbent on doubles aspirants to develop great backhand returns.
Perhaps this is the skill that most determines doubles success. While
topspin is the order of the day in singles, the underspin backhand return in
doubles is the fundamental shot. It should be aimed at the “short corner”
(or where the side service lines interact), and its function is to cause the
server to hit his first volley up. Well hit, this shot will create a one-two play
in which D of the receiving team moves in to volley in between A and B
(just as he does for the serving team). One of the secondary possibilities
C has is to lob great services. A deftly placed lob, aimed over B’s head, can
take the one-two away from the server. This shot is a fundamental shot in
doubles and can take the sting out of big serves and fickle momentum in
favor of the receivers. Of course, if there is a service weakness (particularly
on second serves) the receiver may effectively knock the blazes out of
this weak shot for a one-shot winner. These three options: Underspin
backhand, lob over B, or hammer the weak serve give player C his
assignment. Also, C must freeze B with some shots down the alley. While
the odds are against this risky shot, it must be employed to keep B honest.
A good rule for C is the more the net player (B) bothers you, the more you
hit at that player.
Player D (The Receiver’s Partner). Just as B is looking for a one-two
approach to end the point, D’s intentions are to use his partner’s return to set up his own “two” performance. He must, however, respect the power
of the service and establish himself at mid-court in contrast to B, who is
already at the net. From here, he must execute several unique techniques.
First, he becomes an on-court linesman who aids a receiver faced with a
tough return. Second, he assays the quality of his partner’s return. If the
underspin return is on target, he quickly moves in to create the desired
one-two off the server’s “up volley.” If, however, the serve causes the
predictable weak return from his partner, he must make another quick
decision. Perhaps he can avoid eating a yellow ball. Quite often he may
elect to stand his ground and anticipate B’s in-the-slot slam by placing his
racquet in front of that predictable shot. In any event he makes a quick up,
back, or stand-your-ground decision based on the quality of the service
return. The ability of the receiving team to combine the low cross-court
return with D’s movement possesses the combination needed to provide
the all-important service break in doubles.
The competent coach will continuously devise drills for players B and
D in an attempt to perfect the “closing in” action essential to one-two
success. Players must constantly be encouraged to move their feet to set
up the “boom-boom” effect when a tennis ball hangs momentarily just
a bit too high. That’s what you are trying to create; that’s what you are
waiting for—don’t have your finger in your ear and your mind in neutral
and miss the one-two of doubles.