Tennis Doubles Rules: How To Play Doubles

When it comes to media attention, it seems like singles in tennis receive most of the love. The top players indeed earn a lot more prize money, and it’s predominately shown on television over doubles. However, there are still millions of players who enjoy playing doubles at all skill levels, and it will continue to be a popular way to play the game at any age.

When there are two players on each side, the rules do change slightly. It’s important to know the differences, and the rules help dictate some strategies as well. If you aren’t familiar with the rules in singles either, check out this post first. Here’s a look at some of the tennis doubles rules that are different from singles, and how they impact the game.

The Basics

As the name implies, doubles is a type of tennis where two players are on each side of the court. Scoring is the same as singles, and so are the details like having a win by two in games and sets, alternating service games, and switching sides after each odd number of games.

The rest of the game stays virtually the same, but there are some important differences to keep in mind. Knowing the rules now can make the game run a lot more smoothly when on the court.

Court Dimensions & Set Up

The first thing people notice about doubles rules is the fact that the court widens a decent amount. The court remains 39 feet long on each side of the net. Service boxes stay the same as well, with dimensions of 21 feet long, and 13.5 feet wide.

On both sides of the court, there are 4.5 feet added, expanding the width of the court from 27 feet to 36 feet. These two lanes are commonly called doubles alleys. It opens up the court a bit more and allows for more angles on different types of shots. If doubles used the same singles lines only, it would feel a little cramped.

Another change isn’t quite as common at lower levels, but the net post locations change slightly between singles and doubles at the college and pro levels. The height of the net is the exact same, but in doubles, there is just a little bit more clearance since it offers a more gradual decline to the center. The net posts lineup beyond the double alleys, whereas the post for singles is between the singles and doubles lines.

If a tournament is not capable of changing the net location, another solution is to put up temporary singles sticks where it would be. The only disadvantage to this is that a player can’t take sneak a ball around the net post in those rare instances.

Serving Rules

Service games alternate between both sides, but a double team has to stay in the same sequence for an entire set. That means a player starts the set off serving, and they will not serve again until game number five in the set. The only opportunity to switch the sequence is if there is a start to a new set.

Serving orders in doubles are as follows:

  • Team 1 Player A
  • Team 2 Player A
  • Team 1 Player B
  • Team 2 Player B

From time to time, serving in doubles results in a player getting hit inadvertently. If a server hits their partner, it is a fault. If a server hits the receiver’s partner, it is an automatic point for the serving team. This is why it’s important as the non-receiver on the opposite team to still be aware of the serve.

Receiving Rules

At the beginning of each set, the first receiving game dictates where players lineup when receiving. A common strategy is to put a player on their strongest side if possible. If one player is outstanding on the deuce side of the court, they can focus solely on that side. 

There’s also the strategy of putting a right-hander and a left-hander together on a team for an advantage. Some teams like to have both forehands at the center of the court, while others want the forehands to cover the lines.

The only time a specific player has to hit the ball on the receiving team is off the serve. After that, players can hit as many shots in a row as they want. No rule forces players to alternate shots.

Positioning Rules

It is very common to see doubles players lineup in relatively the same spot all the time. One player is usually back, either as the receiver or the server. The other two players are on the opposite side of the court, and they are closer to the net ready to cut anything off.

While that is the standard lineup, there are no rules against different types of positions on the court. The player on the receiving team not taking the serve can actually stand in the service box if they want. With that said, many views it as bad etiquette, and there is also the risk of getting hit or being in a terrible position for the point as it plays out.

On the serving side, teams will do different formations to attempt to give themselves an advantage. Lining up in the  I-formation, where the non-server is crouched near than that, is one option to consider. With more court to cover, double strategy can get pretty crazy at times, and there are no rules against people switching things up.

Making Calls

With two extra players on the court, making close line calls should be a bit easier in doubles. With that said, there are times in which shots are hit so fast that it could be tough making calls.

Players are generally responsible for making the calls on their side of the court. If there is an argument, they have the final say. However, there are times in which a team will leave it up to the opposition to make a call, especially if they were in the best position.

The same rules apply for calling lets on service. It can sometimes be challenging to judge whether or not a ball makes contact with the net and falls in, so the two net players need to speak up if they notice something. With everyone working together on the court, it can make calling balls in and out much more manageable. If you want to read more about the rules and strategies involved in doubles, check out this post.

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