Win your serve playing doubles: Try the Australian formation!
Holding serve is one of the keys to winning in doubles. The ability to hold serve depends on many factors:
- A high percentage of first serves
- Smart serving – location and variety
- An active net person
While all of these elements are crucial, I am also a fan of using the Australian formation. The first diagram below shows the initial setup, with the server and the returner on the same side of the court.
When serving into the deuce court, the server should place the serve down the T or into the body (shaded area in first diagram), thereby giving the net person a potential play on the return.
Immediately after the serve the server moves to the left (as shown in the second diagram). To avoid the net player, the receiver will likely hit a groundstroke down the line with the server.
With the server and receiver exchanging groundstrokes, there are two potential holes in the court (#1 and #2 noted in second diagram).
1 – The lob that goes over the opposing net person. The problem with this is that if the lob is too short and given the position of the server’s partner, this may be a sure fire way of sending your partner to the hospital.
2 – This is my favorite spot in the situation. In order to get the much needed angle, the receiver’s partner would be pressed to hit the ball toward the same side alley, allowing a right-handed player to hit a backhand into the opening away from the baseliner.
Finding that opening presented in #2 accomplishes two things:
The receiver has very little court space to hit into as she is blocked by her partner from going crosscourt.
Hitting that spot screams for the server’s partner to leave her position and hunt for the reply, because she can safely cover all of the shaded area shown in the third diagram.
Serving to the ad court
In this situation, if the returner is right-handed, there are a number of correct serve locations. A successful backhand return down the line is one of the least tried and least successful of all returns from this position, but mixing up the serve location is still the best option. Whether facing a right-handed or left-handed player, I prefer serving to the T or the body.
Whether on the ad side or deuce side, with an Australian formation, the server stands close to the center slash mark (see diagram below). The server’s partner should be close to the net and close to the center line.
Having served to the ad side, the next diagram (below) reflects how the right-handed server is now free to hit forehands. (For some servers, this can be a particularly good strategy if they possess a weak backhand, and vice versa for a left-handed player serving from the deuce side.)
After serving from the ad position and moving to the right, the groundstroke openings are also shown (#1 and #2 shaded). A lob in this situation is even more dangerous – as it presents the opposing net player (R partner) with an overhead opportunity.
If the receiver pulls the server wide toward the alley, she can then hit to the shaded opening (shown below), allowing her partner to take control at the net.
Reasons to use the Australian formation
Serving team is struggling to hold serve.
Receiving team is too comfortable when returning serve.
The serving team is hiding a groundstroke weakness.
The serving team wants more groundstrokes hit to her strength.
The server’s partner needs to get more active.
If holding serve is a key to doubles success, then making your opponent uncomfortable is a factor in achieving this goal. Try it! But remember to be careful keeping score as you change positions!
Doubles is fun — be creative and do great things!