Art of Doubles – “Defensive Play”

Here are ten defensive tactics and strategies to get back into a match, reverse a losing score and offset an aggressive, offensive team.

  1. Keep the ball in play. The cornerstone of any defensive strategy is to keep the ball in play. Make your opponent hit one more shot. No mistakes are good but particularly try to avoid mistakes in the net and out wide of the doubles sidelines.
  2. Vary your starting position when receiving. Stay back with your partner at the baseline to start each return point (particularly if you are struggling to get into the point with the return) for the first serve (and second serve as necessary). Defend from the baseline and look to move in together with your partner if given the opportunity.  Have your partner crowd the middle of the court in a more aggressive position. Move inside the baseline to return serve. Move further back to return serve. Move left or right with the serve to favor your forehand or backhand. Give the serving teams different looks to take them out of rhythm. Do whatever you can (within the rules) to disrupt the server and serving team.
  3. Vary your starting position when serving. There are several options. Position your partner tight into the net or back off the net (more towards the service line). Serve from more of a singles starting position and have your partner straddle the center service line or stand on your side of the court (“Australian shift”). Have your partner fall back with you to the baseline or stand behind you in an “I formation”. In all cases, it’s important to quickly move and adjust from your starting positions (usually by signal or prior communication) to ensure full coverage of the court. The intent with any variation in positioning is to disrupt the receiving team and get them out of their comfort zone.
  4. Look to do different things with the serve. Vary your serve location (down the middle, at the body, angled out wide). Vary the pace and spin of your serve. Vary your movement pattern after putting the serve in play. Stay back, come in immediately with the serve or come in on a delayed response. The objective is to disrupt the return and not give the serve returner a set target.
  5. Look to do different things with the return. Do not be predictable. Return the ball cross court deep or angled. Return the ball down-the-line either with a drive or lob. Stay back after hitting the return or close into the net either immediately following the return or in a delayed response.
  6. Use the lob to get back into the point, slow things down, regain a more advantageous court position and get your opponents off the net.
  7. Sometimes the best defense is a good offence. Charge forward and beat your opponents to the net if your opponents are successfully attacking the net. Take chances and aggressively poach and use crossing patterns if your opponents are beating you with their return game.
  8. When losing or when momentum is adversely shifting, look to slow down the flow and tempo of the match by being more deliberate with your partner communications and pre-serve rituals and in retrieving the balls on your side of the court. Slow things down by taking more time to put your serve in play. Likewise, if slow play and tempo are hurting your play, look to speed up play by using signals and more direct and prompt communications with your partner and by taking less time to put your serve in play.
  9. Take advantage of the unique tennis scoring system. The nature of scoring in tennis facilitates comebacks and swings in momentum. Place scoreboard pressure on your opponents by continuing to hold serve even when down by one or more breaks of serve. Focus on winning the first two points of each game to apply pressure and make things uncomfortable and unsettling for your opponents. If things are going poorly, change serve rotations and/or return positions at the start of a new set. After losing a set, look to reverse or regain or momentum with an early break of serve at the start of the next set. Things can change quickly in tennis. Fortunately, no one can ride out the clock in tennis so keep doing whatever you can to change a losing score.
  10. In conclusion and as an important reminder, never give up. Stay in the match mentally and always give 100% even when things look bleak.

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