As players age, the tactics of the game of tennis also change. The typical, albeit annoying, byproduct of getting older is the loss of mobility and power. Instead of remembering how fast and strong you were and trying to recapture this younger innate characteristic, it would be wise to accept the changes, and modify and adapt your game to suit your current abilities.
A good tactic in doubles to compensate for reduced foot speed is to shorten the court and play three feet inside the baseline, or even further forward to the service line as your new backcourt home base. Depending on the quality and speed of your opponent’s serve, this can be an ideal position to aggressively return the ball to start the point. By playing closer to return serve, you may now penetrate with a deep cross court return, drop a weak serve or drive down the line. While this position does limit the lob area to down-the-line, it will reduce your area to cover and allow you to get to the dreaded short ball.
After both the return and serve, experiment with playing in “No Man’s Land.” The old adage of playing all the way back or all the way up does not apply if you cannot get to the ball. You will however find yourself hitting some specialty shots in this zone that you should practice. More balls will be hit to your toes, requiring a half-volley. The half-volley is a shot that should be perfected as it occurs in all positions on the court. Stay low, shorten the backswing, and take the ball early for an effective return.
Taking deep balls out of the air from this position will save you from stepping backward while reducing reaction time for your opponent. Hit this shot as a positional shot and not an aggressive winner by setting your racket face on the proper angle to deliver a deep or short return. It is also easier to judge out balls from this position and let them go. When you are forced to move forward, you will be there in five steps instead of 10, allowing you to drop low balls and drive high balls. While this positioning idea is great for senior players, it can be equally effective for all ages and levels to accommodate reduced foot speed. Less running will save your energy and control the play.
Mike Puc has been the Director of Tennis at Gleneagles Country Club in Delray Beach, Fla. since 1998. A winner of 15 national titles and an ATP world ranking, Mike directs 25 teams with 350 players in nine leagues, while offering the most extensive Calendar of Events in South Florida that includes tournaments, lectures and social round-robins.