11 Best Tennis Doubles Strategies

To be successful in doubles, a lot of strategy is involved. It might seem like a relatively simple game of tennis, but the best pairs will play off of each other and use smart tactics to give them the edge. It is not always about pure talent with doubles. Strategy plays a huge role.

Not all of the strategies listed will be used by a doubles team. Only a few might end up working for the team. Everyone has their own style of play, and the most important thing is figuring out a way to play to specific strengths.

The Basics

1. Fight For Net Control

A lot of doubles matches comes down to which team is capable of controlling the net. It is a battle to move up and take control of the point, and that matters at any level. Putting pressure on the opponent puts them in a tough situation right away. They are forced to either hit low percentage shots, or to tap back some easy balls to return.

At the pro level, doubles players are very good at getting to the net with different approaches. When serving, they will follow in the serve and join their partner close to the net. On returns, a lob or chip deep into the court can sway a point into another team’s direction.

Of course, to be dominant once at the net, solid volley are a must. Remember that in doubles, power matters to a certain degree, but it also pays off to hit sharp angles that make it impossible for returns.

2. Stay On The Move

One of the worst things a pair of doubles partners can do is stay stagnant on the court. Players should always be on their toes to move at a moments notice. This is how to ultimately win a match. Even if it is not a constant move up towards the net, moving laterally can provide plenty of benefits as well.

By showing the opposition that a team of doubles players can move side to side, it puts a bit of fear into their mind. It makes opponents wonder whether or not a poach is coming, or if both players will stay home. Just that little bit of uncertainty can help sway a match towards one player or the other.

3. Hit Balls Deep Into The Court When Possible

If both doubles players are not up near the net, it makes sense to hit deep, penetrating balls as returns so they do not have the opportunity to move forward. The last thing a double team wants to do is allow someone to move up and take control of the point. It all starts with the return of serve, or serving the ball in the beginning.

As the serving team, it is always quite a bit easier to pull this off. They are already standing back, so a strong serve can keep a team in control of the point.

Return is a bit more of a challenge. Sometimes it takes being creative with a shot to keep one of the players back. If possible, ripping a groundstroke return deep into the court makes the most sense. There is also the opportunity to chip the ball back deep in the court, or lob the ball over the net guy.

4. Aim Towards The Feet Of The Net Player

Every doubles team will inevitably have to hit the bar towards the net guy from time to time. When doing this, think about what makes a player very uncomfortable at the net. Generally speaking, most players are much more comfortable hitting volleys on balls that are above the waist. That is why aiming low is the way to go.

Of course, pulling this off is easier said than done. One way to hit the ball towards the feet of a player from the baseline is to hit with topspin. The ball will dip once it crosses the net, and it will make it very difficult to return. Aiming the ball directly at them is also beneficial in a sense, because they either have to hit something weak back, or they must move out of the way to take a cut at the ball.

5. No Sharp Angle? Attack The Middle

This is one double strategy that some people aren’t quite sure about in the beginning. Compared to singles, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the game is a bit different. It is perfectly fine in doubles to attack the middle of the court over and over again.

Attacking the middle of the court does a few things to help change the way the point goes. For starters, it forces opponents to communicate with each other so that they know who is taking the ball. Most seasoned double teams will be able to handle this, but it is a challenge for others if the shot is good. Even a little bit of hesitation can significantly alter a point.

Another thing to keep in mind is that hitting the ball towards the middle of the court does not allow for created angles. This turns defense into offense in some cases. If a team is in a vulnerable position and they try to go for an angle, it makes it a lot easier for the other team to hit and angled off winner without much effort.

Keep in mind that different doubles teams strategize in different ways. If the middle is covered by two players with their forehands on that side, hitting up the middle might not make as much sense. On the other hand, if the opponents are using their strong sides to cover the angles, hitting up the middle and attacking in that way can drive them crazy.

6. Go After The Weaker Player

This might seem pretty obvious, but attacking the weaker player is always a sound strategy in doubles. Even at the highest levels, there is going to be one player better than the other, and when in doubt, they have a higher percentage when it comes to possibly making an unforced error.

Attacking the weaker player certainly has its advantages, as long as a team knows when to do it and avoid being too predictable. There is a chance that the opponent who is good can jump in for a poach. The last thing any doubles team wants to become is predictable, so don’t always hit towards the weaker player. 

Aiming towards the weaker player can also cause players to hit shots that they might not normally go for. This increases the chance of unforced errors, and can just lead to a very frustrating experience overall. Don’t fall into that trap, and everything should be good.

Serving Strategies

Once a doubles team has the basic strategy points down, the next step is to try some more creative options. This is one way to step up the game and take it to another level.

Since there is so much variation in doubles and player skill level, not all these serve strategies are going to work the same way. Some people will have to pick and choose which ones to use. They all provide some benefits, and can help teams really start to play as one.

7. The I formation

Watch a professional doubles match, and there will be a decent amount of I formation used. This is when the net player is close to the middle of the court, almost creating a straight line with the server.

The goal with the I formation is to confuse the opposing team. Since both players are lining up in the middle of the court, they don’t know which way that guy will go. This could potentially set up an easy return if the returner does not pick the right shot.

The disadvantage is that doubles teams need to really understand how to communicate with each other. Most will use a combination of hand signals and light talk in between points. If a doubles team doesn’t communicate well, There is a chance that they both break in the same direction, opening up a big part of the court.

Double teams usually don’t use the I formation every single time, but it helps to break up the rhythm if the return team is having success. Most will try to make sure that the server hits the ball up the T, because that does not allow for an extreme angle off of a return.

8. Australian Doubles Formation

With Australian Doubles, the net player lines up on the same side of the court as the server. This formation looks pretty weird at first, but it works a lot of the same ways as a regular lineup. The difference is, the server then needs to move over right away to cover that open area.

By lining up this way, it forces the returner to hit the ball down the line to avoid the player. It’s tough for some players hit the ball down the line, as they have less margin of error. This can increase the number of unforced errors, and just make the return team a bit more uncomfortable.

Another reason why a team will use this is that it takes away a big forehand. Maybe a player likes to return the ball crosscourt with a huge forehand, and all the sudden, they aren’t able to do that anymore. 

The challenge with the set up is that in most cases, the more advanced the doubles team is, the more they can really exploit things. It is a huge ask for a server to cover the other side of the court, including the doubles alley. They must hit an excellent serve to not have to deal with a down the line return. Professionals rarely use the set up, other than to maybe mess with an opponent for a point or two.

Net Strategies

Every net player has three different options when they are playing the ball. There is no need to over complicate play at the net, because that is where a player gets themselves in trouble. Following a few of the simple rules can go a long way towards having success in doubles.

9. Poaching

Any time a player crosses a bit to the other side of the court to cut a ball off is considered a poach. Players need to be strategic about this, because it is a bit of a risk putting the team at a disadvantage position wise. Some players will poach because they are really good at reading where the return ball is going. Others will do it simply as a guess, with the drawback being that if the guess is wrong, the opposition could have an open court.

Poaching works best early in the match, as players are still trying to find their rhythm overall. Returners tend to hit the ball towards the side of the court occupied by the player back near the baseline. If one of those returns is a bit weak, the net player should use that opportunity to poach.

Poaching takes time to master completely, so don’t be discouraged if it is a challenge at first. Some people who are good with their volleys will have a knack for hitting some good shots, while others could possibly struggle.

10. Faking

A fake can sometimes be just as beneficial as poaching if done properly. Simply put, a fake is when the net player acts like they are going to poach, but they return to the normal position to get ready for the next ball.

The opposition is likely going to see this fake as they are preparing to hit, and that is going to make them second-guess what they are planning to do with the ball. A fake is usually good for at least a few unforced errors, and that could be the difference in the match.

Just make sure that during a fake, there is enough time to get back into normal position. If the fake happens too late, it could work against the opponent.

It is also important to make sure that the teammate knows the fake before pulling it off. The last thing a person at net wants to do is pull off a fake that fools their partner instead of the opponent. It is not going to be much of a sound strategy if that ends up happening.

A mix of fakes and poaches can certainly be very beneficial. Vary up the looks, and opponents won’t know what is coming. The only thing they will know is that they will need to be careful about the placement of their shots.

11. Pinching

When a net player ends up pinching, they are essentially forcing the opposition to hit a ball in a tight window to win the point. Otherwise, they are going to hit a weak return that the net player can take advantage of. Pinching usually involves as the point goes on, and is a sound strategy for teams to use.

Pinching involves the net player moving closer and closer to the middle of the court, and while that opens up the alley, it starts to put more pressure on the opponent. If they can’t find a way to pinpoint their shot down the line, it is going to make it very easy for the net player to take control of everything else. The key is to try to cut the ball off and end the point quickly with doubles, and this is one way to do it.

Players should just go ahead and expect to get passed a few times in a match when pinching too much. Good teams are going to find ways to hit a few good shots, but this is all about playing the percentages. More often than not, it is going to work in favor of the team that is effectively pinching.

If the opposition is exploiting that open space, try not to pinch nearly as much. Dialing it back a little and only using it during strategic times is a good way to switch things up. Pinching does allow for more opportunities at the net, and it just makes sense to take advantage of those balls if possible.

Final Tip: Practice Consistent Communication

All of these tips above really come down to communication with a partner. It is difficult for a doubles team to really have success if both players are not on the same page. It takes time and effort to work on some of the strategies, but they can pay huge dividends in the end.

Find time to do some drills and work on a few things even in matches against weaker opponents. This will make it easier to implement when it is needed. Doubles comes down to feeling how the other player plays. The best doubles teams will know exactly what their partner plans on doing.

There’s bound to be a few miscommunications here and there, but practice makes perfect with a new partner. There is a reason why many doubles players will have a favorite partner to turn to in order to have success. The more a team plays together, the better off they will be when trying basic and advanced strategies.

Here is the full list of the best tennis doubles strategies

Basic Strategies

  • Fight For Net Control
  • Stay On The Move
  • Hit Balls Deep When Possible
  • Aim Towards The Feet Of The Net Player
  • Attack The Middle
  • Go After The Weaker Player

Serving Strategies

  • The I Formation
  • Australian Doubles Formation

Net Strategies

  • Poaching
  • Faking
  • Pinching

Fred Simonsson

I'm Fred, the guy behind TennisPredict. Apart from writing here, I play tennis on a semi-professional level and coaches upcoming talents.

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