The Second Serve Poach

Most doubles players who do regularly poach when their partner is serving (which is still only about half of the population of players) are reluctant to do it on the usually weaker second serve. But they are missing an opportunity.

Sure, you could get drilled when you attempt this; but, in my opinion, it is usually better than the alternative of the opponent hitting a crushing return of serve at your partner. With the poach, at least you will be placing some doubt in the returner’s mind on the next soft second serve – and a fake may solicit an error.

And, most returners will anticipate and try to hit their favorite cross-court return on the soft second; so you have a pretty good idea where the return will be going.

It could be just an “ad lib” poach on your part at the net; or, if you are using signals, you let your partner know that you are going. And if you are using signals, that also helps to place some doubt in the returner’s mind as to what you may be doing at the net.

If your partner doesn’t have a strong second serve, you can help him out at the net with your movement. Holding/losing serve is not just the server’s responsibility/fault… the net man’s play can help or hurt your cause.

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3 thoughts on “The Second Serve Poach

  1. George I agree with poaching on the second serve when giving signals or at least let your partner know you are going. The bigger the point the better the idea and the bigger the surprise. One key is that it is at least a deep serve and the other key to success on this one is not leaving too early. Many veteran players will adapt quickly if they see you leaving and will lob over the poacher or just drill it down the line.
    C U soon!

    Phil – yes, the “waiting” can be very tough on that soft second serve! tks, geo

  2. One of the risks of using signals on a slow second serve, with the netman waiting for the return before crossing, is that the server will probably start moving to the netman’s side of the court before the netman moves. This is a give-away to an observant returner that the netman will poach. I prefer the no-signal poach on second serves.

    Jack – a very valid point… and one that my partner (Bob Wilkie) have been practicing this summer. tks, geo

  3. To me, the more interesting question is where does the returner hit the ball if he observes the net man moving to poach on a second serve (or anticipates it because he sees the server moving behind the net man too soon, as Jack observes). There are several choices: (1) up the line where the net man had been — risky because the net is higher and it is hard to thread the needle; (2) drill it right at where the net man was standing or maybe right up the middle — if hit hard enough, a possible flub by the net man and certainly hard to handle by the net rushing server if the net man poaches past the ball, but difficult to hit with enough pace to make it work; (3) hitting extreme angle cross court with heavy topspin to try to land the ball out of both the net man’s and the server’s reaches — really risky because this is a very difficult shot, the net is also higher over there, and if the angle is not severe enough the ball will be right on the poaching net man’s strings; or (4) lob, especially over the crosscourt side of the court, because that would be over the poacher’s head and the net rushing server is moving away from the lob. Overall, I favor the lob for the reasons noted. But I am curious what others would do in this situation. Anyway, the absence of a really easy return choice illustrates, I think, why having the net man poach now and then on a second serve is indeed a good strategy. Thanks for pointing this out, George.

    Marty – For me, the best return in most cases (from Emmo)is at the net strap. And it does not have to be hit hard; because most net poachers are overly aggressive on their movement, and will be beyond that spot. tks … geo

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