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Doubles serves

General doubles tips

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Serving in doubles is tricky, because the opponent you serve to has to cover very little territory. You can try all of the serves for singles, but focus on serves that are really hard to cut off early, like the the nick lob, Jason Mannino half lob, Super cool soft Z, etc.

Assume that you're on the the right, serving to a right-handed opponent on the right for most of these serves unless otherwise specified. (By the way, this is excellent training for serving to a lefty in singles.) Don't serve to your cross court opponent because your partner will be in that opponent's way. Click here to see the few exceptions to serving cross court in doubles.

Three threat overhead

Make sure that all of these three serves below start off with the exact same position and ball toss. This prevents your opponent from anticipating which serve is coming.

Stand just to the left of center, throw the ball down hard in the exact middle of the court, so that it comes up at a height above your head for an overhead shot. From this position, you have three serves that require your opponent to take court positions that are opposite and distant from each other. Hit all of these serves as hard as you can because that makes it more difficult for your opponent to hit an accurate offensive return or ceiling lob.

Overhead Z

First overhead threat: Hit an overhead Z. Ball hits front wall, left side wall, passes in front of you (not behind you), hits the floor, hits right side wall very close to back wall, and travels very close to, and parallel to back wall where opponent can't get his racquet behind it because its so close to the back wall. The beauty of this is that the ball is too high to be in your opponent's power zone, so if he hits it hard, it's likely to come off the back wall too high.

I chose to have it pass in front of you so you can watch the opponent the whole time, and your cross court opponent can't sneak up behind you and take the ball early.

Drop the ball in the exact center, don't stand in the exact center or else the Z will come back at you and you will hit yourself with the ball.

Overhead drive

Second overhead threat: Having seen the efficacy of the overhead Z, your opponent camps out right along the right side wall to catch the ball early, before it hits the right side wall. This is okay though, because the next serve you hit, should be an overhead, low (well, low as an overhead will allow) drive, and go almost parallel to the right side wall, but it should barely nick the right side wall about 4 feet from the back wall. If the ball does nick the right side wall, it wraps around the opponent who has camped too close to the right side wall. But, you hit it so low, that the ball appears that it might die, so the opponent doesn't move to the left to get to the wrap around. Another problem is that the ball is now so close to the right side wall, that it's difficult to have any swing room for the opponent's racquet, so it's very hard to get to this serve early, before it hits the back wall. Finally, to make matters worse for your opponent, the ball, even though it may nick the right side wall, may often not get affected by it and caroms straight out towards the front wall like a rocket, far out of reach of your opponent who has prepared for the ball to die close to the back wall. Because you hit an overhead drive, its not clear to anyone whether the ball will catch in the right corner or shoot out too far for your opponent to chase down. Opponents get used to this after a while, so it's mainly useful in discouraging them from standing too close to the back right side, in a position to cut off your best serve, the overhead Z above.

Overhead jam

Third overhead threat: Your opponent now decides to move extremely close to the very far right and somehow try to get the ball early, before it hits the back wall for the two serves above. No problem: when you serve, hit the ball hard as you can right at your opponent's body, or a bit to the left of him. The ball does not touch any side wall. Make sure you get out of his way. Hit the ball as high as you can, without it hitting the back wall on the fly. The opponent usually hits the ball from his side, so when its coming right at him, he has to move to the side. But here, the right wall is in his way, and he has to waste a lot of time dodging the ball (lunging to the left or right) before he can even start running forward after it. This is fun for the server, and tends to keep the opponent from camping too far to the right. Now you've gotten him to position himself further to the left, and opened up room for your best serve, the overhead Z, described above. Hitting the ball directly at the center of your opponent's body works especially well if the opponent is big (tall or otherwise) or slow.

Bottom line: these three overhead serve threats create a chaotic environment for your receiving opponent. If he doesn't take the ball early, then simply always use the Z since once it hits the side wall, all offensive opportunity is gone. If he never ever takes the ball early, try a soft overhead Z serve (ball thrown at head level, contacts front wall at about head level) since this dies against the back wall more consistently than a hard Z.

If I'm serving from the left side of the court, the ball has to pass behind me to execute a Z serve (unless I hit it backhand), at which point I immediately cross over to the right to give my opponent on the left, an alley down the left side to shoot through.

One other overhead serve from the left side is a drive down the center of the court exactly between both opponents. The goal of this strategy is to catch opponents off guard and have them lose time trying to decide which one of them will hit it. Doesn't work when it's used too many times in a row.

 

Regular Z then Jam serve combination

Regular Z serve

Stand just to the right of center and drop the ball to your right.

If you're drive serving from the right, to the opponent on the right, you have a couple of options.

Although low, sidearm, Z drive serves are easy to cut off, they're sometimes difficult to control perfectly, so I always try a couple to see if my opponents hit them too hard so that the ball comes off the back wall for an easy setup for me. Actually, the higher the better in this case.

A regular drive Z hits the front wall, near the front wall/left side wall corner, the left side wall, passes behind you (whereupon you have to quickly move to the left to give your opponent on the right a clear shot in front of him). The ball then hits the right side wall close to the back wall, and travels parallel and close to the back wall. The goal is for the ball to stay so close to the back wall that your opponent can't get his racquet to fit between the ball and the back wall (can't get his racquet behind the ball), so he's stuck trying to swat the ball against the back wall just to get it to reach the front wall on the fly. The only place that opponents can hit the ball early, is just before it hits the right side wall. So now your opponent is ready for a forehand.

Jam serve

Once you see that your opponent is positioning himself far to the right to catch the Z early with his forehand, try a drive jam which can be disguised as a Z, with slightly less angle than the Z, so that it hits the front wall slightly further to the right than the first Z does. Your aiming for this to go closer to the middle of the court, towards your right side opponent's backhand. If he's not ready for this, it may invoke a weak return. The ball travels to the front wall, hits the left side wall way before it gets to your cross court opponent, and hits the middle of the back court, then heads for the right side wall, but hopefully dies just before it gets there. If you hit it perfect, it cracks out on the left side wall. Hit the ball very hard and low, so that it doesn't pop off of the right side wall for an easy setup for your opponent.

A problem with both of these is that your cross court opponent can take the ball early and then you're caught off guard. As soon as he starts doing this, I move on to other serves.

Serving to the middle of the court

Severing to the middle of the court in doubles can sow confusion amongst your oppononents, because they can't decide who who will take it. If you're playing against a righty/lefty combination a ball in center falls to both of the opponents' backhands.

Straight, high lob to center of court. I don't like this because it can be short-hopped to easily, but it may work for some opponents.

Once in a while, I'll serve an overhead drive right down the middle. If your opponents have never seen this before, they just sit there expecting the other partner to chase the ball, which by this time, is already out of reach. The serve starts off looking like the overhead Z serve described above.

Nick lob to center court. This is a serve I saw Andy Roberts use in one of his pro doubles finals win. Stand a couple of feet right of center, lob the ball very high, have it nick the left side wall very high just past the point where your doubles partner is standing, ball lands on floor a foot in front of the center of the back wall, hits back wall and pops out a few feet from the center of the back wall. It is very easy to hit a return for this serve, but because it lands in back court, between you and your partner who are in front court, it's very hard for the reciever to know where to hit the ball. Unless he hits a perfect roll out, both you and your parnter can cover any kill shot attempts.

Exceptions to serving cross court in doubles.

Normally it's taboo to serve to your cross court opponent in doubles, mainly because your partner doesn't have time to get out of the way and would invoke an avoidable hinder. There's a few exceptions:

  • When the cross court opponent is "cheating" on your Z serve to the opponent on your side. He moves over toward the center of the court instead of staying on the left to cut off your Z before it gets to his partner (if you're serving from the right to the right). In this case, if you're capable of hitting a good ace drive serve to the far left, that doesn't come off the back wall, he will not be in a position to reach it.
  • There's an extremely advanced serve from the right that cracks out on the left side wall/floor just behind the short line. If the ball comes out, it bounces towards the center of the court and doesn't go near your partner.

Sure you can hit Zs, lobs, and drives right to your cross court opponent to catch him off guard on the last point of a tiebreaker. And you may have given your partner and advanced signal to expect such a serve and to get out of the way, but often these points are the beneficiaries of the opponent hitting a weak return because he is afraid to hit your partner, not because the serve was so good.


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