• Failing to recognize the weaker player and attacking that person. This
may change within the match.
• Failing to identify the weaker service return of each player. This, too,
can change within the match.
• Failing to put pressure on second serves by moving in and hitting an
attacking return.
• Failure to attempt a “quality” return. This could be a lob or a chip, but
it has to have a plan. Don’t hit “wimpy” returns. Our team will accept
errors of ability but not fear. Go for it.
• Our server with the best win percentage serves first in every set. This
is not necessarily the player with the best serve.
• Not closing in on “floaters” at the net; if you fail at this, you sit in the
stands during the next match.
• Assuming one service break wins the pro set (8 games). I saw many
pro sets lost with the winners being down 7–3.


Good doubles players are aggressive with their returns. They know
their target, and they are immune to pressure. Big points are made under
The following drill is good for teams. It is especially good for developing
that “pressure-packed” bomb return that earns the “hallowed” serve break.
We ran this drill daily. I demanded the returner attack the ball. “Go ahead
and bust it. I’m the coach, you have my permission to go all out.” By daily
reinforcing aggressive returns, we were ready in that dramatic moment of
service break returns to “go for it.”
Here is the drill:
Each receiver gets to hit a determined number of returns (7–10). Play
a full point. After each point the serving side’s players rotate. The server
comes to the net. The server’s partner goes from the net to the back of the
serving line. The number 2 server steps up and plays the next point.
After 10 returns the add court player becomes the receiver. After both
receivers finish their 10 returns, they go to the server’s side. And the
servers become the receivers.
Receivers: “Green light—go get it!”


All players have been told to serve at their opponent’s weakness. It’s at
their backhand most of the time. Nine out of ten players are right-handed,
so the target remains the same for most serves.
Let’s make this clear: They are going to serve at your backhand. Often.
Again there are options. For me as a coach, option one is to develop a
dependable underspin, one-handed service return. Hit it low and at the
server and volleyer’s feet. Make him volley up to your partner: “Doubles
is a one-two game.” Defining the “short corner” as the intersection of the
service court back and side lines (see figure 6), we now have a “visual” for
where the return goes. One problem: if you hit for the short corner and
miss a little long you may hit into an error. (See figure, shot #2.) You
have more inbounds “green” to hit, even if you’re a little long. Try it!


One clinic I attended was on doubles. An astute observation centered on
doubles partners and the 25 seconds allowed before the next point:
• Beginners. They simply turned and went back to their next
designated spot.
• Club players. They would turn, acknowledge a good shot, high five,
and comment briefly.
• Pros (with no advanced “coaching”). It was noted that pros between
points would almost always turn to the center and talk strategy with
their partner, up the center line, back to the server or receiver’s


• The most important thing to remember in tennis is to “look at the
ball”: point of contact concentration. (There comes a time when in
order to win you must forget about how you’re hitting and
concentrate on where you’re hitting. Don’t work on strokes when
playing an important match. Concentrate on point of contact and
where to hit. You have to assume your strokes are right. “You can’t hit
well when thinking about how to hit.”
• Correct one error at a time. Don’t ball up your mind trying to do too
many things at once.
• Move in as far as you can on volleys. If you can get on top of the net,
be there. Don’t hit it up if you can take one quick step in and hit
it down.
• Volley low balls deep. Angle high volleys.
• When playing at the net and on the right-hand side use a continental
grip. Many good players volley on both sides with a continental grip.
• Use your left hand to adjust your grip from forehand to backhand. It
is good insurance.
• Don’t cut your shots too fine. Or, don’t try to hit within six inches of
the line when a ball inside three feet will do. Don’t make it any harder
than you have to. Many players do all the work to get the set-up shot
and then blow the shot by trying to hit a great shot. Finish the point.
Put the cap on it. “Good players don’t miss easy shots.” Short over
heads are the most common spot for this error.
• You can work on your weaknesses by forcing yourself to execute
them in play or practice situations. For example, if your second
serve is weak, play your practice matches with one serve only. Or, if
your patience and consistency is hurting, force yourself to practice
without coming to the net. For backhand problems, avoid running
around it in practice. Force yourself to execute your weakness.
• If a player is a weak volleyer yet strong baseliner, you can often draw
him in by hitting short balls. His backhand approach probably will be
weak. Hit a short ball to his backhand. His weak backhand approach
might give you an easy pass.
• Decide to play offensively or defensively. Many college players can
be beaten simply by keeping it back in, or “skyballing” them to death.
Develop a game suited to your ability. Don’t try to do things you
can’t do percentage-wise. Then add new wrinkles when you’ve
mastered your play.

• You can open the way to a weakness by hitting to a strength. For
example, a player with a weak backhand will often run around it. If
he overplays the forehand hit it sharply to his forehand for a
placement, or perhaps to move him wide to the forehand, thus
forcing him to hit a backhand on the second return.
• Often a player’s apparent strength is actually a weakness. For
example, many players have a weak looking but steady, deep
backhand; and, while their forehand is well paced and looks good, it
is actually a poor percentage shot because the player tries to do too
much with it.
• One strategy that works well, particularly against slow, lazy
opponents, is the “drop-shot and lob” strategy. Drop-shot them and
when they lope up to the net simply lob over their heads. Do over
and over again.
• “Never change a winning play—always change a losing plan.”
• Pressure pays off. Some players can’t stand it. It takes a lot of ability to
apply constant pressure, but it pays big dividends. Take the ball on
the rise to apply pressure. Move in and take the court away from him.
• Some players employ the “center theory” against certain players. If
you approach down the center you eliminate the passing angle.
This often works against weak but accurate angle hitters. Some slow
court players hit well on the run but can’t get anything on a ball hit
straight at them. Players with a great return of serve should often
be served at “down the center.”
• One of the most difficult shots to get any pace on is a high- or
medium-lofted backhand that is deep. Matches have been won in
this one strategy. The best place to return a high backhand is to a
high backhand. Some big hitters are completely frustrated by this
simple shot.
• Low chips with angle often frustrate net rushers. If you can chip it
low, they often have to volley up, and it opens them for an easy pass.
• High spin serves at the backhand are often effective (Roswell vs.
Roche, U.S. Open 1970).
• Welby Van Horn: “Balance is the clue to tennis.”
• It might be good to approach on your short forehands only. If your
backhand approach is weak, cross court it to eliminate angled shots
as you back up.
• Cross courts get you out of trouble.


I know I gave one player above 1,000 or more career points. It, too, had
a strange origin. I taught badminton in P.E. classes. Soon, thinking myself
a pretty good player, I encountered one Anand Jaggi, professor of
economics. Anand was ranked 13th in the badminton world, and he
was “state champion” in his native India.Rarely did I get a point. He won the singles,
doubles, and mixed doubles state badminton
championships held annually atDuke University.
And I soon noticed an uncanny ability he
had. He never played the shuttlecock when it
would land out of bounds. It was “dropped” or
let alone.
While my badminton ego suffered, I took
this logic to my tennis team. We need to learn the court, or like Dr. Jaggi, not hit out-of-
bounds points. We adopted this policy: In practice, if you have any doubt, let it go and
let’s see if you are right. In a match, with any doubt, go ahead and play it.
Soon I could see our players use better and better judgment. We would
occasionally let one drop in, but our percentage
grew drastically.
The player who benefited most was Chai Navawongse, a Thai lefthander
who came in on everything. Chai had played doubles with Paradorn
Schriciphan, so he came in “with game.” Soon, however, I noticed he was
playing anything close. There may be 10–20 points a match he played that
would have been out. Some, way out. I explained the “Jaggi” or “learn the
court” theory. A bright youngster, and fine player, you could see the light
click on in his head. Before long he was close to Jaggi in judgment, rarely
playing an out ball, simply pointing “out” with the left hand.


Here are some quotes on strategy from people I respect. These “rang
true” for my many players in many matches.
Find out what your opponent can’t do, or doesn’t like to do, and make
them do that.” –Jack Kramer (Think Nadal over Federer in 2007 French
Open. Target? Federer’s backhand.)
Don’t change the “line of the ball” unless you are sure you can make the
shot. Otherwise, cross courts “ad nausea.” Two-handed backhand down the
line shots will “slide wide” too often, believe me –T. Parham.
When asked what he would do differently, Ken Rosewall replied, “I would
hit a lot more balls cross court.”
Cross courts get you out of trouble. Jim Verdieck demanded the cross
court ball from his team.
Get yourself in a position to “volley away from the source” –Jim Verdieck.
Any ball hit extremely deep in either corner allows a good attacking
possibility –Jim Verdieck (“two and in”).
The simple strategy of tennis singles: “Attack the short ball” –Dennis Van
Der Meer.
Good approach shots make easy volleys –Jim Leighton.
No shots in “no man’s land” is a myth –T. Parham.
Rule 1: Find a good doubles partner. Rule 2: Get along with your
doubles partner.


Tom Morris and his character showed me a lot. Once a “new” opponent
in our district was certainly a challenge for perennial winner, Morris. All we
heard in “pre-tournament scuttle” was about this guy’s “WCT (tour level)
forehand.” Morris said nothing but at match time directed nearly every
ground stroke to an area about 5-feet square located at the service line on
his opponent’s backhand side. The guy hit his WCT forehand about three
times: 6–1, 6–0, Morris.
“The Andy Moll drill.” I taught this to the entire team. Andy asked me to
hit a solid ball to the middle of his court, then a second ball about midway
on his backhand side. Andy’s forehand was very good. He drilled his
legwork this way, turning three fourths of his shots into forehands.
(See figure 10 on page 95)


Andres Alvarez was “spot specific” on his volley.
He would serve and volley the return invariably deep
to one corner or the other—almost within a foot
every time. Then, the odds were in his favor. This is an
area in which American players and teachers could
get better. For example, we are “spot specific” on
passing shots, but on volleys many of our kids just
sort of “bang it over on the other side.”


Michael Leonard coachedElon’s men’s tennis team (2007) to its first Southern Conference tournament championship for any sport.The team finished 23–2 and played in the NCAA playoffs.
Michael gives me a lot of credit for his playing success. More than
I deserve. He gushes about how much I helped him, but I really only
taught him two major things: Hit it up enough on your serve and learn a
one-handed underspin ball. “Yeah coach,” says new coach Michael, “but
you don’t know how much those two changes helped. I was strictly
two-handed, but now my slice is my bread and butter.”