How to practice for doubles tennis

This is a guest post by our monthly contributor, Will Boucek, a former college tennis player from Austin, with over 20 years of experience playing and coaching. Will specializes in doubles and was 4.5 men’s and mixed doubles champion in Texas in 2017. Fascinated by the strategy of doubles, Will shares his valuable insights on his website The Tennis Tribe. In this month’s column, Will gives clear guidelines on how to improve our practice to boost our doubles tennis results.

When most people go out and practice tennis, they practice for singles. But doubles is a different sport. How can you design your practices if you’re a doubles player? What if you only have one partner to practice with? I’ll answer those two questions below to help you start improving your doubles game faster. If you’ve never thought about your practice routine, this can dramatically improve your doubles game.

How we usually practice in tennis

For most tennis players, a 1.5-hour practice might look something like this:

  • 2 minutes: mini-tennis
  • 10 minutes: hitting down the middle
  • 5 minutes: volleys
  • 10 minutes: crosscourt forehands
  • 10 minutes: crosscourt backhands
  • 3 minutes: water break
  • 5 minutes: of serves to warm up
  • 45 minutes: practice set (or worse, games off the ground to 11 with no serves or returns)

Total time: 90 minutes

This seems to be how most people I talk with like to practice. Unless you’re working with a private coach on a specific skill, you’re spending about 80% or more of your time on rallying from the baseline.

The problem with the usual practice format

ATP strategy coach, Craig O’Shannessy says to use the match court to design the practice court.

Serving and returning are the most common shots we hit in doubles matches. Around 30% of points in doubles will be 1-shot rallies, meaning the serve goes in, and the return is missed.

Let’s look at the time before the practice set in the format above.

We have 40 minutes to practice, and spend 5 minutes on practicing serves.

5/40 = 12.5%

We also practiced 0 minutes on returns.

This doesn’t add up. According to the match court, we should spend 30% of our time on serves and returns!

How to practice serves & returns for doubles

In your practice time, go through your usual warm-up to get loose.

This time, instead of hitting 20 minutes of crosscourt rallies, do it for 10 minutes. Then start your serves & returns. Spend 5-10 minutes on serves, and another 5-10 minutes on returns.

Serve to the deuce side for 5 minutes while the other person practices returns. Practice hitting your spots, starting with 2nd serves. Then, switch to the ad court for 5 minutes.

After that, your practice partner will serve, while you work on returns.

Why you should add more volleys to your practice

The goal in doubles matches is always to set up your net player. We hit more volleys in doubles than singles, but not everyone practices this way. If you’re like me, then you don’t play much singles. So why doesn’t your practice reflect that? To become a good doubles player, you simply must improve your volleys.

Check out these volley drills for ideas on how to practice your volleys. My favorite is the one up one back drill because it makes you practice the first volley from the service line. This is the volley many people have trouble with, which prevents them from approaching the net.

Replace sets & point play with this

The last part of practice to change is the practice set or point play. Try to replicate a doubles match as much as possible with your practice. The way I do this is to play crosscourt points against your partner.

Usually I’ll do 10-point tiebreakers, or just play points out serving and returning. You can also do practice sets switching sides, and servers like a normal match.

In this image, you’re playing in the deuce court. Everything inside the blue area is in and any down-the-line shot will be out.

Your new practice format for doubles

In summary, we need to spend more time practicing the shots that are more common in a match. It wouldn’t make sense to practice tweeners all day because they almost never happen… Here is a new practice format that adds more serves, returns, and volleys. This will help you improve your doubles game faster.

  • 2 minutes: mini-tennis
  • 5 minutes: hitting down the middle
  • 5 minutes: volleys
  • 5 minutes: crosscourt forehands & backhands
  • 3 minutes: water break
  • 10 minutes: volley drills
  • 15 minutes: serves & returns
  • 45 minutes: crosscourt practice set, or 10-point tiebreakers

Total time: 90 minutes

Here’s the new breakdown on how we’re using our practice.

15/40 minutes = 37% of time serving & returning
7.5/40 minutes = 19% of time volleying (half of the 15 volley minutes you might be at the baseline)

If you have questions or other ideas for doubles practice, comment below. I’d love to hear them.

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