by Will Boucek

August 27, 2021   

In tennis, doubles is a very different and more complex game than singles. The court is bigger, there are more players on the court, you typically spend more time at the net, and points are generally shorter.

When creating a tennis doubles strategy for your team, there is a lot to consider. Below you’ll discover proven strategies, tips, and tactics so you can become a better doubles player, frustrate your opponent, and win more tennis matches.

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You should have a primary strategy that works well for you in most matches based on you and your partner’s strengths. You will also have to adjust the strategy based on how your opponents play.

For example, maybe you’re a serve and volley doubles player, but you may come up against a team that hits really low returns that give you a difficult volley. In this case you might want to stay back for the first shot after the serve before coming in.

6 Basic Tennis Doubles Strategies

Below are common strategies you can use in your tennis match for different situations.

1. Take Over the Net

This strategy is common among professional doubles tennis players like the Bryan Brothers. You often see points where both players end the point only a few feet away from the net.

If you can take over the net consistently in a doubles match, you will put pressure on your opponent. You can force them on their heels, and make them try to hit difficult low percentage shots. Volleys close to the net are usually easier shots as well, so you’ll win more points. You have better angles at the net, and you can smash the ball down into the court.

2. Move Side to Side at the Net

You should always be using this strategy at the net in doubles. Moving laterally at the net, especially when your opponent is about to hit a groundstroke, will put pressure on them. Tennis players are taught to not hit to the net player in doubles so they will likely try to change the direction of their shot, or hit a more difficult shot. This can cause countless unforced errors and frustrate the other team. If you are faking (see below) you may also get an easy volley to win the point.

3. Hit the Ball to the Net Player’s Feet

It is much more difficult to hit a good volley from down low by your feet or ankles than a volley up high at your chest or shoulders. Hitting the ball at their feet puts the opponent at a big disadvantage. They will usually miss the shot or pop the ball up since they have to lift a difficult volley back up over the net. This is usually a good time for you or your partner to poach and put the ball away.

You can get the ball to their feet by hitting heavy topspin on your groundstrokes to get the ball to dip at the opponent’s feet. Another tactic is to hit a soft volley that stays low over the net before dropping to the opponent’s feet.

4. Hit Groundstrokes Deep in the Court

When you’re returning or hitting groundstrokes, try driving the ball deep in the court to push the opponent back. This will allow you to charge forward for the next shot. Typically the opponent hits a weak shot because you’ve forced them on their heels behind the baseline. This also gives you time to attack from the net. I like to do this with my forehand, aiming for the deep corner near the doubles alley.

5. Attack the Middle of the Court

One of my college tennis teammates used to say “down the middle solves the riddle.” This is a great doubles strategy, especially if both opponents are at the net. There are several advantages you get from attacking the middle of the court in doubles.

  1. You are forcing the other team to communicate, and potentially causing confusion. Usually, the opponent with the forehand in the middle will take these shots. If one opponent is left-handed and the other is right-handed, then this can be even more effective.
  2. You are taking away the angles of their next shot. From the middle of the court, the opponent has smaller angles to use. This is a good time for you and your partner to pinch the middle since they’ll have trouble passing you wide.

6. Hit to the Weaker Player’s Backhand Volley

Almost every doubles player has a weaker backhand volley than forehand volley. If you can hit a hard, or low shot at the backhand volley of the weakest opponent, you will likely make them miss or get an easy next shot. When both players are at the net, this should be the default shot unless another obvious shot is better.

Tennis Doubles Positioning & Formation Strategies

In tennis, doubles positioning is highly underrated by recreational and competitive players. I see way too many people standing too close to the doubles alley or too far back from the net. In general, there are several guidelines you should follow when considering your doubles positioning on the tennis court.

Tennis Doubles Positions
  1. When your partner is serving or returning stay halfway between the center line and the doubles alley.
    Starting too far in the alley will take pressure off your opponents, making their return of serve (or groundstrokes) much easier since they have a larger court to hit to.
  2. While your partner is serving or hitting a groundstroke, stand halfway between the net and service line (or closer).
    If you stand too far back at the net, then you will make your volleys difficult because they will drop too low. You should always try to hit volleys at your waist or higher if you can.
  3. At the net, you should move forward and backward.
    While your partner is hitting you should be back closer to the service line. As you see the ball go across to the other side of the net, you should move forward closer to the net so you have an easier volley if they hit at you (Unless your partner gave them an overhead. In that case, bail!). You can use your positioning and movement to help with your volley technique.
  4. The returner and server should stand within 2-4 feet of the doubles alley.
    You’re responsible for covering half of the court so you should usually start close the middle of your half. The exception is for certain advanced doubles formations, covered below.

You’ll also see several different formations in doubles, especially from the serving team. Below, I will break down the advantages, disadvantages, and strategy of each of the most common doubles formations.

Standard Doubles Formation

The standard formation in doubles is one person at the net, and one person back for both teams. This is the most common, and is the best option in most cases. The net players are crosscourt from each other. This allows the baseliners to hit deep, more consistent groundstrokes crosscourt.

Advantages: Using this formation allows your team to have someone covering the lob, and someone ready to attack any weak shots from the net. It also allows the baseline player more room for error since they’re hitting a crosscourt shot.

Disadvantages: Timid net players will tend to not get involved with this formation. This is a bad thing since you always want your opponent to have to go through the net player. Also, if you’re playing a good team, they can get in a rhythm if you stick to the standard formation because you’re giving them the easy crosscourt shots.

When to use it: I recommend use the standard doubles formation 75-90% of the time, and add different looks below to keep the other team off balance. The exception is if you find a glaring weakness from the other team that makes a different formation consistently more effective.

Doubles Serving Strategy: The I Formation

Professional tennis doubles team using the I formation

The I formation is when the net player and the server form something close to an I. The net player will stand on, or close to the center service line. The server will stand close to the middle as well. The server and partner will communicate before the point to determine which direction each player will move after the serve. This is often done with hand signaling.

Advantages: The returner does not know where the net player will move. This puts pressure on the returner to hit a good return. You can force a lot of missed returns with this formation.

Disadvantages: If the returner hits a good down the line shot, it will likely be a winner or put your team off balance.

When to use it: If a returner is getting into a rhythm while you’re using the standard formation, try the I formation to give them a new look. I don’t recommend using this the whole time in a match, but feel free to try it in 3-5 times per set.

Doubles Serving Strategy: Australian Formation

The Australian doubles formation is when the server and the net player both stand on the same side of the court, leaving an entire half of the court open.

Advantages: If the returner has a weak down the line return, this can be used to force them into that low percentage shot causing a lot of errors.
If you use this on the ad side, the server will have forehand groundstrokes (assuming they are right-handed).

Disadvantages: You are leaving an entire half of the court open. A hard down the line return could be a winner unless the server is very fast.

When to use it: There are two good times to use this formation.
When one of your opponents is hitting really strong crosscourt returns, and you’re losing most of those points. The Australian formation will force them to go down the line which is a more difficult return. When the server feels much more comfortable hitting groundstrokes from one half of the court. I, for example, have a weaker backhand, so I could do this on the ad side to force the opponent to return the serve to my forehand side.

See more advanced strategies for doubles positioning on my youtube channel where I break down USTA doubles matches.

Developing a Serve Strategy for Doubles

When considering a serving strategy for doubles, you want to do your best to set up your net player with easy volleys. The best way to do this is to find the opponent’s weakness on their return.

Most people have a weaker backhand than forehand, so it’s typically best to serve up the T on the deuce side and wide on the ad side. Don’t worry about hitting aces, just get it to the backhands so your net player can get themselves involved.

As you progress through the match, stay aware of how the opponents are handling each serve. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.

  • Do they like their forehand or backhand better?
  • Are they more comfortable with fast pace or slower serves?
  • Can they hit the return down the line, or is every ball crosscourt?

Answering questions like these will help you develop a more effective strategy throughout the match. You can continue to make your opponent more and more uncomfortable by attacking their weaknesses while serving.

Return Team Strategy for Doubles

The ability to return in tennis matches and break serve can help you take your doubles game to the next level.

However, there is nothing more satisfying for your opponents than you missing a return. This is why it’s important to focus on making a high percentage of solid returns. Giving away free points on the return can let a match get away from you quickly.

Don’t go down the line (too much) or worry about the net player poaching. Trying to go for too much on the return is a huge mistake that many players make. By simply make returns consistently you will win return games because eventually the opponents will miss a few volleys or groundstrokes and lose a game.

Aim for the Middle Net Strap

Returning the tennis ball in doubles

It is the lowest part of the net, so you have more room for error. It also makes for a difficult volley for the net player and takes away their angles if they do poach.

Against a team that plays well at the net, you’ll want to keep the returns low. They will have a more difficult volley and likely pop the ball up. If the server stays back, and the net player is timid, then you can hit returns deep crosscourt. As discussed above, this makes for a tough groundstroke so your teammate can poach.

Three Net Strategies for Doubles

You will be at the net a lot in doubles, so it’s very important to have an effective net strategy.

A common misconception in doubles is that you have to either poach or cover the line at the net. Really, you should always be moving at the net.

If you’ve ever told your partner, “I’ll cover the alley,” then you’re doing it wrong.

There are three options you have as the net player… poach, fake, or pinch. I’ll show you how to execute each one below.

Poaching in Doubles

A poach in tennis is when the net player crosses towards the other side of the court to cut a ball off and hit a volley.

I typically recommend poaching early in the match. Most players never return down the line early in a match so you should be able to poach a few returns during the first few games. If your partner can serve to the backhand, the return should be fairly weak. Be sure to close towards the net, and hit the volley at its highest point when you poach.

Poaching can also be done during a rally. Anytime you see the opponent in an uncomfortable position, like on their heels behind the baseline, poaching can be an effective strategy.

The Fake

The fake is when you act like you’re going to poach, but you recover towards the alley in the service box.

One of the best ways to force missed returns or groundstrokes is to fake. If we’ve poached a few times in the match already, maybe they hit a few shots up the line, or tried a lob. This is a great time to counter with a fake.

Leave super early and get to the middle of the net as the serve crosses. Then just before the opponent makes contact with the ball, jump back to your side to put away the volley that’s sure to come down the line. A lot of times, they’ll just miss but other times you’ll get a pretty easy volley.

The Pinch

Pinching is when you move diagonally towards the center net strap. In this case you are giving up a little bit of the alley, but you’re also taking away some of the crosscourt shot.

Pinching is a great tactic to force the opponent to hit an uncomfortable into a smaller target. If they hit a weak return crosscourt, you’ll be there to put it away. To get it by you down the alley, their return or groundstroke has to be within a few feet of the sideline, especially on a serve is up the T. This will make them miss often, and will get you involved in the point as a net player. Anytime I’m not poaching or faking, I’m pinching.

The alley is open on two of these three options when my partner is serving (all but the fake). That’s intentional because I want the opponent to go for that lower percentage shot, and increase my odds of closing the point out at the net by getting more involved.

The Key To Effective Doubles Strategy

The key to all of these tennis doubles strategies is to stay active at the net and make your opponent hit uncomfortable shots. Between every shot, we should be creating some movement to force the opponent to think about where to hit. Never let them into a rhythm, and change up the looks you’re giving them. Test different strategies out, and work with your partner to see what works best for your team.

Will Boucek

About the author

Will Boucek is the Founder & CEO of The Tennis Tribe. He has played and coached tennis for over two decades. Will is a strategy analyst for ATP & WTA tour players and coaches. He also tests the latest tennis racquets, shoes, & other gear from Wilson, Babolat, Head, Prince, and other tennis brands. He currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas where he plays USTA leagues & tournaments.

  • Awesome tips! I’m a little confused about pinching, however. When does one start to move? Is the timing similar to poaching and you’re just not moving as far?

    • Thanks Dan!

      The purpose of the pinch is to make the returner feel the pressure to hit a good return. You’re taking away some of the crosscourt shot from them, and you should be ready to cross if they float an easy ball for you to get. You’re also giving up a little bit of the doubles alley since it’s a low percentage shot.

      The timing and aggressiveness of the pinch will vary depending on how good your partners serve is, where they hit their serve, and how good the returner is at hitting down the line.

      Generally, you want to start moving forward as the serve crosses the net, then move a little towards the center net strap as the returner swings.

      Does that make sense??

      This video should help too –>

  • Wow! Great tips and very clearly described and well structured approach. Excited to give this a go next dubs outing!

  • I have a big league match coming up so this is very helpful I have never done any of the above. I’m more of a singles player and I find myself timid at the net. I’m excited to try these tomorrow when we practice.

  • Hi Will,
    I’m just returning to tennis after years away. In regards to net play what do you consider ‘fair game ‘ area to play at the ball. So I don’t infringe on my partners zone. I’ve seen shots go past me and thought I should have had a go.
    Really appreciate your informative lessons.
    Thanks, Roge (Australia )

    • Hey Roge, great question…

      This is a tough topic because it depends on so many factors.

      Who’s the better player between you and your partner? Who has the forehand volley in the middle? How good is the other team? How high & fast is the ball coming over the net?

      I like to think about it by answering this question… which shot is the higher percentage shot for our team? Usually balls down the middle, for example, should be taken by the player with the forehand volley in the middle since forehand volleys are higher percentage shots. Or if I’m playing with a weaker partner, maybe I want to cover their side more.

      Also, keep in mind that it’s sometimes good to poach at the net simply to let the opponent know that you’re there. Lateral movement at the net can force a lot of misses from the opponent.

      Check out this lesson for more –>

      Hope that help 🙂

  • Thanks for the tips. My question has to do with determining duece or ad court preferences. My backhand is so much better than forehand. People keep asking if I want forehand or backhand? What are they asking?

    • Hi Damon!

      Backhand = Ad Court
      Forehand = Deuce Court

      People say this because typically you’ll hit more backhands in the ad court, and you’ll hit more forehands in the deuce court.

      Most people prefer their forehand so it sounds like you have a competitive advantage there, and should play the ad side, aka the backhand side 🙂

      Good luck!

  • The tips are simply explained and don’t over-verbalize as done in some lessons. Very practical and feasible to start using next time I play. Nicely done.

  • Really enjoyed reading these and will review with my partner as we try to hone our doubles play. Do you ever travel to northeast, we’ve got a bunch of doubles groups that would love to buy you a beer or three 😉

    • Hi George, this is a problem for a lot of doubles players.

      I recommend trying some I-formation. This will force you to stand in the middle and be in a position to take any volley around the center net strap area.
      You can also try poaching early and making the opponent change direction. This will force a lot of errors from the opponent.

      Good luck!

  • Fantastic tips on movement at the net.

    I usually pinch and need to practice the poaching more.

    Great tips on when to start moving.

  • You made no comment about encouraging each other. I sometimes play with a partner who has absolutely no emotion on good plays and and on errors stares gloomy. It’s a really energy suck and frankly not fun to play with. Any tips there?

  • Love your doubles strategy & ideas. Difficult getting lower level partners to do this without sounding like a boss or know it all.

  • Great tips, well presented, orderly, what-when-where and how with whys.
    Passing it along as a web site worth signing up for. Glen, Tampa, FL

  • You asked for a comment on Pinching/faking. I am a low grade player playing 3-4 times a week. I find that by me constantly moving, opponents change their shots and make errors.
    I jump up and down and pretend to move to the centre then come back to the side to cut off the pass. These two things get me 4-5 points per set. My friends “swear” at me in jest.

  • this really made me rethink how i play, ill practice these tips more often and see how we do in our matches, thank you for the tips.

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