As played by Earl Buchholz and Chuck McKinley of the U.S. Davis Cup team (left), who demonstrate the basic moves on this and the following pages, doubles is an extremely fast game requiring the ultimate in skill, ingenuity, reflexes and power. Almost anyone who plays tennis at all assumes he can play doubles; to play it well, however, one must master its surprisingly complicated strategy.
Successful doubles, like successful warfare, is based on position, and the winning position in doubles is at the net, where an offense can be maintained. A player should retreat to the baseline only when he is forced back. Once driven there, he must wage a vigorous campaign to return to the net in an attacking position.
The players' exact distance from the net should be determined by their heights, the speed of their reactions and their ability to anticipate the return. As enemy shots are angled left or right, both players should shift (see below), the proper distance for each shift depending upon the angle from which the return is about to be made. After each volley, the partners should return to within two racket lengths of each other (bottom picture).
A number of circumstances might force a modification of the basic net position. A lob, for instance, should make the net team drop back a step or so. A weak shot should move the net team closer to volley for placement. On the following pages you will learn how best to utilize the attacking position and how, as a result, to win.
Serving, player is better off with a consistent, well-placed service than with an erratic cannonball. His aim should be to force the receiver into a weak or defensive return. Partner stands eight to 10 feet from the net and slightly toward the outside. Server, in this case McKinley, moves in rapidly after hitting ball, in order to gain proper position for volleying. He should try to reach a point inside service line so he can punch ball for a placement or force opponents into a weak return.
Volleying, server should play his first return deep down the middle if the receiver hangs back. However, if the receiver advances to the middle of the court, the return should be at his feet, where he will have no alternative but a shot from below top of net. Ultimately, server should advance to a position even with his partner and in the middle of his own side of the court. From these stations both players should be able to reach most returns—including angled shots, lobs or dinks over net.
Offensive position at the net should be practiced until it becomes second nature. Two men stationed approximately 12 feet apart can—as illustrated in these drawings—cover almost the complete width of the net. When the opponents are stroking the ball from a wide angle, or from close in, the net players must shift relative positions to maintain best court coverage. For instance, player at left above is moving to his left with his partner as the latter prepares to return sharply angled shot.
Covering center (above), partners concentrate on protecting low part of the net, over which most shots will come. Net play depends to some degree on anticipating shots and moving quickly to the ideal position. But experienced partners know each other's playing habits and often have a prearranged understanding about certain types of shots. However, when this is the case the player not handling the shot must move swiftly to cover any section of court exposed by his partner's action.
Defending against the service
The tactics of defense are directed toward the same end as those of offense—that is, to attack at the net as early as possible. If the receiver can make an effective return of service and get well in to the net, he switches the odds on winning the point from 2 to 1 against him to 2 to 1 in his favor. A low, cross-court return, preferably not too fast, gives the receiving team the time it needs to reach the attacking position at the net. Another advantage of this kind of service return, which might better be named an approach shot, is that it cannot be volleyed down or through the receiver's partner. To keep the server and the netman guessing, an occasional flat drive cross-court or down the line should be played by the receiver—or occasionally a lob might be tried. However, the receiver may not always be able to exercise an option of this sort—and a weak return over the net is much better than a spectacular error into it.