Which is the Best Doubles Formation in Tennis?

doubles tennis

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 backcourt – 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, 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 their side; also, it takes longer for their shot to go back over the net, giving 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 their shots to be aggressive – they must avoid the opposing net player and the only time they can attack is when the ball is shorter in their court.

In the case of both players staying back, there are 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 advance 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. There are 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 the opposing team makes mistakes.

As a review, any committed doubles player should strive to improve the net skills (volleys and overheads), and most importantly transition to the net, which for the most part can set you up for a comfortable play at the net if executed properly.

In the end, there is not one formation that works for everyone – it is the one that suits your style of play and your personality.

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Coach

Check out my work at WebTennis24 where I share with you my best video tennis lessons, drills and tips for players, coaches and tennis parents.

When and How to Approach the Net

approaching the net in tennis

Recently, as I was watching a local tennis tournament, I noticed that many players did not know how and when to attack or move up to the net.

Many kids grow up over-practicing serve and groundstroke techniques but unfortunately get little instruction on how to recognize opportunities for attacking their tennis opponents.

Therefore, below, I have listed some of the situations that should allow you to move up to the net and what kind of shots to use to put yourself in advantage for the next shot:

1. When your opponent’s serve return is slow and high over the net.
Even if you don’t like to serve and volley you should step inside the baseline and attack your opponent’s weak wing. Don’t be passive when facing a weak return!

2. When you have a powerful serve and know the returner will have trouble with it.
In this case, you should serve and volley. Hit your first volley to the open court and get your opponent stretching to hit the ball.

3. When you hit a good drop shot and see your opponent will barely get to the ball.
You must move forward (or at least step inside the baseline) to close the angles and defend against an eventual drop shot return.

4. When your deep groundstroke makes your opponent stretch to get it back (or you get them off the court).
Most of the time, the ball will sail high and slow back to you. A drive or high volley will make the job of finishing the point easy for you.

5. When you receive a mid-court “sitter” and possess an aggressive attacking forehand.
Do not return to the baseline! Rarely your opponent will be able to reply with an aggressive shot back if you attack from the mid-court.

Technically, you should consider the following:
– If your approach shot is a slice (low), you will get a better chance for a high first volley. The problem with the topspin approach shot is that it can bounce high for your opponent to hit down at your feet.
– There is a good reason why the slice approach is the choice for most experienced players: the low bounce and backspin force the opponent to hit up on the ball and make the passing shot difficult.
– If you do decide to approach the net behind a topspin ground-stroke, make sure your opponent struggles to reply: either force them to hit the ball on the run (send it to the open court) or aim right at your opponent (in this case they hit the ball off-balance and do not have many angles to pass you).

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Coach

Check out my work at WebTennis24 where I share with you my best video tennis lessons, drills and tips for players, coaches and tennis parents.