“Without a doubt, if a serving team wishes to be dominant the net player must be aggressive. Former Davis Cup Coach and ATP player, Tom Gullikson (he and twin-brother Tim were one of the best doubles teams in the 1970’s and early 1980’s) had one specific goal when his partner was serving – Try to earn two points every time his brother was serving.
Specifically, he had two distinct moves that enabled his teammate to hold serve: Poach or fake-poach. Great net players poach, the net person moves from his side of the court to the other and win the point with a volley. Now, when a net person is active, it often confuses the opposition. Moreover, when the serving team constantly moves, the opponents usually look up and not at the ball, creating total havoc. When the net player is an effective poacher, he is able to fake his intent to ‘go’ and this cleaver move affects the opposing team.
The reason a fake-poach is such a great play is that the foes on the other side of the net simply do not know what is going to happen next. So, when the serving team implements two strategies, the receivers are befuddled and are unable to hit quality strokes. Unfortunately, recreational tennis players fail to grasp the importance of the server’s partner’s active role.
In other words, there are far too many players who move ‘off’ the net when their partner is serving, thus allowing the receiving team to hold the edge. When the server’s teammate moves back to the baseline, (instead of being at the net) the receiving team feels no pressure to hit the ball to a designated spot. Whereas, when the serving team is aggressive and in sync, the receivers must be precise with their returns.
Another fatal mistake is for the serving team to place the net person at the service line. (The perfect place to stand is halfway between the net and the service line near the middle of the X) When the receiving team spots that their opponent is standing too far away, they should become automatic targets. As a coach, I instruct my receiving team to hit the return right at the net person because they are too far away to be effective.
Also, when the net person stands as far away as the service line, they are usually timid and afraid. With the person standing far away from the action, they are not in good position to help the server. Clearly, there are exceptions to every situation; if the receiving team lobs every return, moving back makes sense. But, it is rare when any team only lobs their strokes – it may be wise to stand back on a particular cleaver lobber b u t not necessarily for both players.
Now, the key to holding serve is to get in as many first serves as possible and to place the ball in position to assist your teammate. Therefore, serving at the receiver or serving down the middle of the box will benefit your team. When servers hit the ball near the alleys, the net player must shift and cover the line – fatal mistake unless you can hit cannonballs for winners. Since it is rare to hit an ace on most clay courts, stay away from the alley-line serves.
When the server effectively places the ball down the middle (near the T) the net person is bound to be involved. When the pressure is thick, there is no better feeling then to have your net player win the point. Therefore, every serving team should have the same goals: First serve at the receiver or down the middle near the T and then have the net player poach to win the point. In summary, all great partnerships take two people in complete harmony to accomplish their goals. Good luck.
Doug Browne is the Hideaway Beach Tennis Director and the new Collier County USPTA Pro of the Year. Doug has been writing his tennis column for the past fifteen years and welcomes your feedback.