“Squeeze the middle!”
“Nobody gets beat with a cross court passing shot in doubles!”
“If you aren’t beaten down-the-line in your alley at least once a set, you aren’t doing a good job covering your alley. You are doing a bad job of not covering the middle!”
These are coaching nuggets I’ve been repeating for years. The most underrated and important piece of doubles coaching advice I can give is this: When you are at the net in doubles, the chance of getting beat crosscourt in your alley is so incredibly small you can practically stand near the middle line and ignore your alley.
While most of my students over time start improving in this concept, I have always questioned and truthfully been astounded, why it takes so much time for players to adapt to it. It was almost like people didn’t believe me or were just reluctant to do it—and then I realized why.
As a player, you may not consciously put it in these words, but when you get passed in your alley it is embarrassing! It is your fault! Your opponents know it, your partner knows it and you knew the ball went by you on your side of the court. You were the reason that your team lost the point!
When the ball goes between you and your partner for a winner, what subconsciously goes through your head? That ball could have been my partner’s shot as well! I’m watching my side here! That’s a good, smart shot they hit. We need to communicate better!
I have news for you: It’s better for your team to lose one point by getting passed in your alley than it is by losing six points up-the-middle because you are busy watching your alley. And I honestly believe this is the ratio at which people get passed at the net. That night, you may recall that point you got beat in the alley while you don’t remember the ones your team got beat up the middle, but it barely ever happens!
I have multiple doubles groups each week, and they know I preach this concept. Over the hour-and-a-half session, some players, when at the baseline, will try and beat the volleyer cross-court to prove me wrong. And on occasion the baseliner will hit the winner and laugh at me until I playfully remind them he or she missed the same shot four times already and the one good shot doesn’t make up for the four errors. Or somebody will get passed crosscourt, they will turn around and say, “See Ricky!” And I’ll have to remind the player that he or she already hit four winners from the middle of the court and are beating two players that they may not have defeated before. As they say, it’s ok to lose the battle to win the war.
Along these lines, I used to have a running joke with an old friend of mine, Janine Sadaka, who played high school tennis at Great Neck South, that everybody hit the ball higher over the net at Great Neck South because nobody wanted to hit in the net. The reason we would joke is because Great Neck South used to have small fences in the place of nets. Every time someone hit the ball in the net, there would be a loud, obnoxious “CLANK”. Not only did you get the loud annoying negative reinforcement every time you hit into the net, but everyone around knew you hit the ball in the net. Just because it was more noticeable when you hit the ball in the fence, should the “shame” of hitting the ball into the fence prevent you from trying to win?
Of course not. But neither should the “shame” of getting passed in your alley!
Ricky Becker is the Director of Tennis at the prestigious Pine Hollow Country Club for his ninth year, coaches high-performance juniors throughout the year and has been the Director of Tennis at three of Long Island’s biggest junior programs. As a player, Becker was the Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis team and ranked in the top-five nationally as a junior. He can be reached at email@example.com, 516-359-4843 or via juniortennisconsulting.com.