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Doubles tactics for tennis

Game styles and specific doubles tactics
By: Rob Antoun

Establishing a clearly defined game style by using specific tactics is a key goal for every doubles team. As a coach, in order to help shape this game style, it is important to be familiar with the most commonly used tactics in doubles and how they apply to each of your players.


Every successful doubles team uses repeatable tactics that maximise their own strengths whenever possible. The best teams don’t necessarily use a wide range of tactics - they simply execute a few extremely well! Therefore, you must be able to ‘paint a picture’ of how your players play best - and focus your attention together on making this happen. Without a doubt, having a clear tactical focus will help each doubles team develop the confidence and competence required to achieve their goals in tennis.





A player’s game style represents everything they are on the court. In other words, it is their tactical ability, technical ability, physical ability, and personality all rolled into one. Often referred to as a player’s ‘signature’, a game style is not something that can be altered immediately. Instead, it is a constantly evolving tennis identity that each player ‘grows’ into over time.


Case Study: doubles players with strong volleys and smashes who attack mainly from the net possess ‘aggressive front court’ game styles. The Bryan brothers are a good example of this type of player. They are physically strong, their technique allows them to produce power and control, and they are prepared to take risks in order to dominate their opponents.



Each doubles team uses specific tactics within their own game style. Tactics are simply the decisions that players makes during every rally – i.e. why, where, and when to hit the ball (compared to technique which represents the ‘how’ to hit the ball). These decisions, when repeated often enough, culminate in a clear and successful method of play.


Case Study: the aggressive front court player uses tactics based around strong serves and volleys that are hit with the intention of dictating the play. For example, the Bryan brothers commonly uses the serve and volley tactic. They hit aggressive serves and look to follow this up with volleys and intercept volleys that dominate the opposition – particularly from the centre of the net.



Patterns of play represent the actual sequence of shots that are used to execute each tactic. These patterns can be altered between points and matches without the doubles team changing their tactics. These shot selection decisions will be based upon such factors as the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, match conditions, court surface, etc.


Case Study: Bob and Mike Bryan will often serve down the middle of the court when serve and volleying in order to reduce the angles available to the returning team. This allows them to dictate from the middle of the front court. They will vary this pattern by serving wide in order to create enough variety - while maintaining the same tactic.



We recommend that the best way to study doubles tactics is to break them down into the five playing situations in tennis – i.e. when serving, when returning, when both server and returner play from the baseline, when approaching and playing at the net as a team, and when facing an opposing team at the net. The key doubles tactics in each playing situation are studied in more detail below.

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