When the “poach” is on…

Good movement at the net in doubles – both actual poaching and faking the poach – can have a dramatic effect on your opponent’s return of serve, and thus your holding serve. But when you know your net man is going to poach, how does that affect the server?

First question: where should you serve?

Many players feel in doubles (poach or no poach) the serves should go predominately down the middle on both courts. Serving there really reduces the angle the returner can get against you. But I feel, especially against a righty in the add court who has a weaker backhand (most of us), it is still smarter to serve to his weaker side and put added pressure on that already-tentative return.

The second issue is: how hard do you serve?  Human nature forces most of us into one of two camps:

  1. “OK, my partner is poaching; so I better just get the serve in.” And they serve softer than normal.
  2. The other reaction tends to be, “Oh, my partner is poaching; so I better serve real hard to make our chances of a weak return better.”

While neither reaction is ideal (better to get a serve with moderately good pace in a good place), I would rather have my partner follow philosophy #2.

In the soft-serve case, the returner has way too much time and too many options; and will more than likely win the point – which is somewhat demoralizing for the “aggressive” and poaching team.

In the serving-too-hard case, the serve may go in and you do get the weaker return – and you are rewarded for your aggressive play. And if the serve is a fault, you still get to play the point on the second serve.

So if you are going to be aggressive and have the net man poach, be aggressive on your serve too!