Every so often, my students surprise me with some rather simple yet challenging questions that I keep thinking of even after I consider I gave them the best answer…
One of such questions are: “Should I play singles or doubles?” Most of the players who ask this are beginners or intermediate level in search or their tennis identity: “am I a singles or doubles player?”
My answer is usually as follows:
“If you don’t mind running, then singles is for you. But if you enjoy the team sports and having an easy-going partner to work with, doubles is for you. The two are different in the sense that in singles you have more court to cover and you’ll have to be quite consistent with your ground-strokes while in doubles it is more about playing at the net, feeling comfortable with volleys and strategic placement of your shots. In my opinion the game of doubles is more complex and exciting than the singles one. Even if a player enjoys the one-on-one competition, he or she could benefit a lot from playing some doubles matches from time to time. If you ask me… I like the singles matches. Even though I enjoy a doubles match from time to time, the fact that when playing singles I am responsible for every shot and the effort I put in is mine 100% gives me the assurance that the match is totally up to me and the way I perform on that day.”
Recently I was asked to express my opinion about which doubles formation is the best to least and why: the two players at the net (both up), two players at the baseline (both back) or one at the net and the other at the baseline (one-up-one-back)?
While one of them is quite obvious to be the better of all three (in general), the other two are up for a debate….
Before I get into the details I want to point out that my analysis is made as a general guide and that’s because when you assess one team’s best tactics and strategies you must consider each player’s technical skills, experience and the team’s capability to work and communicate together.
Having said that, I am a strong believer that the best formation would be the… both-up.
If the two players manage to get to the net they will be in the best position to put pressure on their opponents, cover the court and finish the points in the quickest ways possible.
When two players are at the net and assuming they cover the court properly, the only way for them to be passed by their opponents is through the back court – lobs.
The both-up formation has the following advantages:
1. Puts pressure on the opposing team (defending) – the ball comes back sooner; they must watch for angle shots.
2. They can cover a lot more court and there is almost no opening for the opponents to pass (except when using the lob which if not executed properly can be an easy smash opportunity).
3. The ability to put the balls away (finish points) is greater at the net due to the many angle opportunities and the fact that you can take the ball above the net level.
Now, when the question of whether playing the one-up-one-back versus both-back formations is more a matter of players’ style (technique, experience, and capability to feel comfortable playing at the net or not).
The one-up-one-back formation is mostly played by players who are new to the doubles game. But some of the more advanced players apply it too sometimes…
Situations the one-up-one-back formation is being applied:
1. When the serving/receiving player is not comfortable moving up (transitioning and playing at the net).
2. When the serving/receiving player is stronger from the baseline.
Disadvantages of playing the one-up-one-back formation:
1. The player staying back opens up the court for short angles on his side; also because it takes longer for his shot to go back over the net it gives the opposing net player time to intercept it.
2. The gap between the two players (baseline and net) is wide enough for the opposing net player to have a winning shot.
3. The baseline player has fewer options for his shots to be aggressive – he must avoid the opposing net player and the only time he can attack is when the ball is shorter in his court.
In the case of both players staying back there are very strong reasons why some teams can do it:
1. Both players are not comfortable playing at the net but they have reliable ground-strokes.
2. The team is receiving against a strong server – it is wise to begin the point with both players on the baseline and advanced after the return is safely made.
3. The team’s serves are being aggressively attacked by the opposing team (ex. If the serve is not powerful or deep enough and the returner attacks the net player, it is a good idea for the server’s partner to begin the point further back, close to the baseline).
Disadvantages of playing both-back formation:
1. Many angle openings for the opposing team to put the ball away.
2. Hard to cover the forecourt (against drop-shots or short angles etc.)
3. Difficulty in finishing the points – they hope for the opposing team to make mistakes.
As a review, any committed doubles player should strive to improve the net skills (volleys and overheads) and most importantly transitioning to the net which for most part can set you up for a comfortable play at the net if executed properly.