I watched an interview with the Bryan Brothers recently where they sat down with one of their old coaches, Edgar Giffenig. They talked about how doubles has changed over the past 20 years, how they’ve adjusted their own strategies, and how singles players have affected the doubles game.
As I listened, I was thinking of how to apply their evolving strategies to my own doubles game.
Below I’m going to analyze these questions so we can learn from the best in the world without throwing out our shoulder trying to serve 130 MPH.
Well, they’re better.
What are they actually better at though?
In my conversation with ATP coach Craig O’Shannessy, he mentioned two differences between the pros and us.
I think there are a few more.
Obviously, there are things we should be learning from the world’s best tennis players. Here were a few of my takeaways from the Bryans conversation with Edgar..
There were a few big changes they talked about that have happened in doubles over the last few decades.
Because of these changes, they’ve adjusted their own games.
This is something club level players should be doing as well. It may not be relevant to you on a 20-year timescale, but from match to match, and year to year, you should be changing your strategy based on the players around you.
This was the Bryans’ “secret sauce” in the early 2000’s. Now, more of the pros are doing it.
Club players should be crowding the net because it makes volleys a lot easier, and unfortunately, most of us weren’t taught how to volley. This also forces errors from the opponents since we’re taught to not hit at the net player.
The Bryans talked about adding the lob and dropshot to their games in recent years because more players are close to the net, and some teams are playing two back.
If you want to improve, say from a 3.5 to a 4.0 level, this is something you must do. The more tools we have to be able to work with, the more types of tennis players we’ll be able to beat.
Action Item: Go watch players who are slightly better than you and see which specific skills they have that you don’t. Even better, go play against those players and ask for honest feedback on what you need to get to their level.
The Bryans mentioned that a lot of singles players did it because they weren’t comfortable with the volley, and it was an easy way to force missed returns.
So, people who are more timid at the net should do this.
With the differences highlighted above, here are a few things we should NOT take the Bryans advice on.
The pros are taking big swings on the returns because string technology like Luxilon allows them to, and the serving teams have gotten so good that you can’t just get the ball in play anymore.
They also practice dozens of hours every week. We… don’t.
If we try taking big swings on returns, we’ll simply make a lot of errors and give away free games.
Also, we don’t need to take huge cuts. Our opponents just aren’t that good. We’re better off making a high percentage of solid, crosscourt returns.
I play against several 5.0 players here in Austin who get away with the slice returns that the Bryans say you “can’t do anymore.”
They also talked about how you can’t hit through players anymore. You have to hit winners by hitting the doubles alleys or through the middle.
This isn’t true at most levels of doubles. If you have a volley near the net, you can hit through the opposing net player. At the pro level, they may be able to react, but in your 4.0 league match, they can’t.
Mike said, “when Bob is serving, he doesn’t like to tell me where he’s going to serve.”
This works because they’ve played 43,453,842 matches together (I looked it up). You and your doubles partner have not.
This is not a good idea for most doubles players. In case you forgot, we’re not as fast as the pros, so to rely on “reading the serve” then reacting, isn’t going to work.
You don’t have to signal, but both players should know:
This allows the net player to know what to look for, move early, and get in the right position.
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Will Boucek is the Founder & CEO of The Tennis Tribe. He has played tennis for over two decades, including in college. Will has worked with ATP & WTA tour players and coaches. He currently lives in Austin TX where he plays USTA leagues & tournaments, writes about tennis, and teaches doubles workshops.