Which is the Best Doubles Formation in Tennis?

best tennis doubles formationRecently 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. 

Winning tactics and strategies when playing the Both-Up formation

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. 

(See “Playing from the baseline in the one-up-one-back formation” – detailed tactics to win in this situation)

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.

How to play in the Both-Back formation and win against the other formations – tactics and strategies

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. 

Transitioning to the Net in Doubles

But 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

If you want to find out more about the best tennis doubles formation check out the Doubles Tennis Tactics section at WebTennis24.

When and How to Approach the Net

tennis net playRecently, 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 ground-stroke technique but unfortunately they get little instruction on how to recognise opportunities for attacking their tennis opponent.
Court Coverage Strategies

Therefore, below, I am listing 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 you know the returner will have troubles 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 (at least step inside the baseline) to close the angles and defend against an eventual drop shot return.

4. When your deep ground-stroke makes the opponent stretch to get it back (or you get him/her 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 you posses an aggressive attacking forehand – do not retrieve back to the baseline! Rarely your opponent will be able to reply with an aggressive shot back when you attack from the mid court.

Technically, you should consider the following:
– If your approach shot is a slice (low) it will give you better chances for a high first volley. The problem with the topspin approach shots is that they can bounce high for your opponent to hit down at your feet.
– There is a good reason why slice approach is the choice for most experienced players: the low bounce and back-spin forces the opponent to hit up on the ball and makes 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 him/her to hit the ball on the run (send it to the open court) or aim right at your opponent (in this case he/she hits the ball off balance and does not have too many angles to pass you).

Cosmin Miholca