Originally published Spring 2013
Photos by JAG
If you could choose anyone to have as your doubles partner who would you choose? Take a minute before you pop that email over to Switzerland to see if Roger Federer is up for it. He might not be right for you!
You can’t just choose a partner because they are a good player, even if they are Roger Federer.
You need a partner who complements your qualities both as a tennis player and a person; a player who brings balance to your team.
For example, a doubles team with two attackers is useless, if neither player can defend. And two players with big serves aren’t effective if both are prone to double faults or have weak return games.
Body language is simply the non-verbal messages. Begin, by choosing a partner whose body language you “like.” You need to like the person you’re playing with for this to work (don’t forget you may be joined together in battle for maybe years to come). Stick with you initial gut feeling.
The second “level” of body language is somewhat linked to the first and is more relevant for the tennis court. And that is, you always need to convey your emotions to your partner with positive body language. Smiling at your partner and never showing disappointment are two effective ways to convey positive support.
Think about it, no one loses points on purpose. So if your partner misses a sitter at the net with you having played a great point to set him/her up, will it help things if you slump your shoulders? Or look up to the sky with your hands on your hips?
Will it be more beneficial if you tell your partner “don’t worry you’ll make the next one for sure”?
Just imagine someone doing it to you every time you made an error. What effect would that have on you over the course of a set or even a match?
Most people wrongly assume that in a two right-handed player team (the most common set up), you should have the player with the stronger forehand in the Deuce court (right) and the player with the stronger backhand in the Advantage court (left).
Instead, you should base your decision on the return and volley qualities of the players in your doubles team. For example, most serves in doubles go down the center of the court. You’ll want the player with the strongest forehand playing in the Advantage court (left) and the player with the stronger backhand to play in the Deuce court (right).
The Deuce player should have a:
• strong backhand volley
The Ad player should have a:
• strong forehand volley
• strong forehand return game
• consistent lob
Conventional wisdom dictates that the steadier, non risk-taker should play in the deuce court to allow the naturally more flamboyant partner make the attacking plays at the net. The high-risk player on the Ad side will be the one taking chances on all the game points as well, including 40/30, 30/40, 40/0 etc.
It works better to have the steadier player in the Ad court for exactly the reason I just outlined. The high number of break and game points that occur on the Ad side require you have the player who is most likely to get the ball back into play.
One of the most important traits I look for in any partner is their desire to win.
A desire to win can overcome many technical and tactical shortcomings a player might have. When I’m looking for a doubles partner I ask two questions:
• Do I enjoy being with this person?
• Do they play to win and are not the sort of person who plays AT winning? There is a BIG difference.
People who are so-called losers are actually pretty comfortable with losing. In fact, they expect to and get good at losing.
Winners on the other hand hate losing. Just like losers expect to lose and do lose, winners expect to win.
All the best doubles teams talk to each other all the time. Just watch any professional doubles match and you’ll see the players come together after every point.
Ignoring your partner means you won’t have a connection during those crucial moments when you need to stand strong together.
The more time you spend with someone, the more of a connection you end up having with each other. You begin to think along the same lines and even finish each other’s sentences when you’re speaking.
Every single point involves your team either serving or returning.
You should come together, at least briefly, to discuss where you want to serve and what your partner should do. The same goes for the return. Once you pick up on the serves of the opponents, you should discuss possible return strategy, even if it’s “just try and get a racquet on it.”
If you and your doubles partner follow one rule, this is it: There should never be any negative communication between the two of you on the court.
When you are on the court you have to be positive, whatever happens. Every potentially negative situation can be reframed to a positive. If you feel you can’t reframe most things in to a positive with your partner then you’re playing with the wrong person.
Wait until after the match to give constructive criticism or discuss how to improve your play.
I don’t need to tell you that the area of communication is huge.
Your success as a team is not just confined to what you do on the court. If you get together with your partner off the court, it’s much easier to prepare for an upcoming match.
Before the match:
• Talk about how you want to play;
• Try charting out your plans on a notepad and review them before the match;
• Travel to your match in the same car.
Good communication means talking about how to overcome hurdles, not just commiserating about them. You want a dialogue about what is happening in the match and what to do about it.
When people ask me how much they should talk to/communicate with their partner, I always fall on the side of over-communication.
During the match:
• Get into the habit of calling even the most obvious ball;
• Have the baseline (cross court) player calling most of the shots because they have the best view of what is happening over the whole court. As a result, they become responsible for calling lobs, staying and moving etc.;
• Walk onto and off the court together, come together at the changeovers and walk off the court to your bench/chair.
This will help your team building as well as present a unified front to your opponents, which can have a profound effect over the course of the match, especially if they don’t do it.
When putting your team together, you need to try and match up with someone that complements your energy output.
This doesn’t mean how hard you or partner tries. Energy output is more directly related to your playing tempo, which we all have.
There will be times during matches when the team will need to keep calm. Two high energy output partners will have difficulty adjusting and could lose the match.
Likewise, other situations will require a higher intensity and two slow “ploddy” players will likely struggle.
If you have a good balance of each type then the “UP” player can pull the other one up and the “DOWN” player can calm things down when necessary.
Article reproduced with permission. Paul Gold has a Masters degree in Sport Sciences and is an LTA Level 2 Coach. Paul has been coaching and training tennis players of all levels (beginner to Pro) since 1995. He is a founder and key contributor to tennisdoublesmastery.com and Tennis Tribe magazine and app.