This is the fourth and final installment in my mini series of podcasts called “Know Your Job in Tennis Doubles.” Throughout this series, I’ve been giving you some quick and easy tips to tell you what you should be doing when you’re on court in a doubles match, no matter what position you’re playing. In this fourth podcast in the series, I talk about what I think might be the most confusing job on the court – the returner’s partner.
You can listen to this episode by clicking on the gray media player above. And you can read through the edited version of the transcript below for notes or to get more information.
Okay, so what are the job duties of the returner’s partner?
1. Help your partner call the serves. Obvious, right? But I have played with partners who I sometimes wonder if they’re paying any attention at all to whether or not the serve is in. While I’m also watching the serves as the returner, I always feel more confident in my return game if I know I can relax a little because my partner is watching the service box and helping me make those really close calls.
2. Move in and poach when you can, especially if the server is hitting a weak return shot. Remember, you’re playing doubles. You’re part of a team. Good doubles does not look like a rally of baseline shots with two other uninvolved people standing at the net. So always look for your opportunity to move in and poach, especially if the server is trying to move in and is picking up low shots at their feet.
3. Do not move in until your partner’s return has gone past your net opponent. In other words, protect yourself. Keep on eye on that net opponent and make sure he or she is not about to poach and slam the ball at your feet. By waiting for the ball to go past the net opponent, you give yourself a little extra time and a little extra room in case the net opponent does decide to poach, meaning you might actually be able to get your racquet on the ball and prevent that shot from being a winner.
4. If your partner is having trouble with returning, move back to the baseline. It has taken me a very long time to accept that sometimes the two back formation is the right thing to do in doubles. This can be necessary when your team is facing a strong server or when you have an incredibly effective opponent at the net. Maybe your partner is hitting consistently weak returns. Maybe you are continually having that weak return poached and slammed right at you. Whatever it is, when you move back so that both you and your partner are returning from the baseline, you take some of those shots away from your opponent.
When you’re both back, you also give yourself an opportunity to become involved in the point, especially if your partner is getting picked on a lot.
And, as a bonus, you can sometimes get into the head of your opponents just by using the two back formation, since your opponents may not be sure just what to do or who to hit to when you are both back.
Finally, while the two back formation does mean you’re giving up the net, it can put you in a great position to lob your opponents, giving you a chance to re-take the net while they are in the weaker position of running down your lob.
5. Keep your partner confident and focused. And just how do you do this? As I’ve said throughout this series, you must communicate. And this is especially true if your team is facing an incredible server. You’ve got to keep your partner in the game and don’t let any bad returns he or she may be hitting, and may be hitting continually, bring your team down emotionally. This doesn’t help your team and will only serve to pump up your opponents.
So that’s it for the job description for the returner’s partner. If you want to go over all of the episodes in this series you can find them by going to tennisfixation.com and clicking on Podcast in the menu at the top of the site. That’s where you’ll find all four episodes in this “Know Your Job in Tennis Doubles” series as well as all of the other Tennis Quick Tips episodes.
Do you have more or different tips for the returner's partner in doubles? Let me know in the comments below.
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Thanks for listening and, as always, Happy Tennis!