Successful doubles teams play together like Siamese twins, but mediocre partnerships get together as aften as two ships that pass in the night. Usually the problem is one player has an aversion to playing the net, for fear of getting a hard one between the eyes.
The unfortunate result of this misguided attitude is often that one player stays at the baseline while the other is stranded at net -- making them both sitting ducks for the other team.
Even traditional baseliners should come to net in doubles. With only half as much court to cover in doubles, the mediocre volleyer can still handle his or her part of the job. This is the way to win.
You don't have to be Baryshnikov in tennis shoes to play net in doubles: Just be patient and be in the right place. Two players at net put enormous pressure on the opponent, who must somehow get the ball through or over this human wall.
Doubles matches are won by the team that holds serve more often. The surest way to hold serve is to rush the net behind it, even on weak second serves.
Always assume you will have to hit more than one volley. If the opponent does not throw up a lob off your first volley, move in right on top of the net to put away the second one.
You and your partner should play in tandem as though connected by a cord. If pushed back by a deep lob, both partners should retreat to the baseline. If one of you produces a good approach shot, both of you should rush back to the net together.
The other half of this equation is breaking serve. Even if you hold your own as easily as John McEnroe and Peter Fleming, the best doubles team in the world, you must score at least one break to win.
The defensive key in doubles is keeping your shots low, so the opposing team must volley up -- rather than down for a putaway. The key shot is return-of-serve. Rather than hitting out as in singles, you should chip and slice your returns to your opponents' onrushing feet.
If you don't have this shot, start working on it. It is like an attempted dropshot that goes a bit long. A short backswing with downward slice will keep the ball low. It is also the best way to come in and join your partner at net for a dizzying volley exchange like the pros have.
Whatever you do, don't leave your partner stranded alone at the net.
Q. In mixed doubles, I cannot bring myself to drill an overhead smash at my opponent's wife, and he always returns the ones I hit to him. What can I do ? A. Try drilling them up the middle.
Q. My opponent always seems to know when I am planning to poach at the net and so hits the return behind me. What should I do ? A. Fakery is just as legal in tennis as in football or basketball. Fake a poach, then cover the alley.
Q. Our opponents are good singles players who hit just as hard in doubles. How should we break up their game ? A. Go for sharp angles that will force them to move around and start chipping their shots. Remember, the doubles court is nine feet wider.