One Up, One Back?

one upYou watch the professional doubles matches (both men and women) and you see most frequently, they are playing one up and one back. Why are they doing that?

Weak Formation

At my lower level of play, if we come across a team that serves and stays back – or one player camps on the baseline, with their partner at the net – we smile and say “We will win this match.”

It seems to me that a receiving team that takes the net in that situation will invariably have the advantage and be able to win many more points at the net than they lose.

So, Why?

Why do the pros so often play that formation? I think they are relying on the baseliners groundstrokes and the net players ability to pick off a groundstroke. If both teams keep that formation, there is no real advantage; but if one team has both players come forward, it appears the aggressors gain a distinct advantage.

So why do it? I do not know. Anyone?

Know someone who should read this? Send them a link and if you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at

My Book: and if you’d like to get a copy of “Senior Tennis”, just click on the link on the upper right of this web page.

9 thoughts on “One Up, One Back?

  1. The Pros hit so hard in both singles and doubles ; that it is hard to get to net. But they do try to get in, usually.

    Bob, yes, the men do crush the ball; but how about the women, who do the same thing? george

  2. Simple answer is great ground strokes, speed, court coverage and a wonderful topspin lob.

    Bill, yes, that topspinner can be a killer! george

  3. I have always been told that the team that takes the net will win about 2/3 of the points, so that’s what we try to do. Could it be that the Pros are thinking that they get so close to the net to put away volleys and poach so aggressively that one player will cover the net area and the other will cover any lobs by staying back? We, on the other hand, are usually responsible for our own lobs so we don’t get as close to the net.

    Jim, I am a believer in having both players at the net, and the one who is on the side of the ball is closer to the net and the other one is a couple steps back to cover the lobs. George

  4. Watching professional tennis doubles (mens and womens), it Is hard to see on television how hard the groundstrokes really are compared to seeing them live. I have noticed more and more the baseliner in professional doubles just crushing the ground stoke right at the net man. Even the Bryan brothers type doubles specialist often hit an error or a neutral/weak volley . I decided to try this in a practice match recently stepping in on an ad court return of serve and “crushing” the forehand as hard as I could at the net man in front of me.
    He volleyed a winner up the middle. Moral of the story, we cannot play the same tactics as the pros because we do not have their shots.

    Winder, I agree + maybe it is not a good tactic to begin with. Thanks, George

  5. Lots of reasons why this formation is seen more prominently among the pros:

    • Fewer tournaments on faster courts (e.g., grass, indoor) and more on slower surfaces (e.g., clay) means less players comfortable at net means more players would rather stay on the baseline, even in doubles. They have even managed to slow down grass and traditional hard courts in recent years, by using more durable grass seed and putting sand into hard court surfaces to increase the grit.

    • More emphasis on physical strength and size of players, plus new racquet technology (e.g., so-called “spin” technology racquets) and newer string materials (e.g., poly), allow for harder hitting from the baseline with greater likelihood the ball will stay in due to increased RPMs; therefore, more players comfortable on the baseline generally means less players who have high level volleys (or even know how to properly volley at all).

    • Conversely, much faster baseline balls hit with much more topspin at or by a net player means a greater likelihood even a player with good volley skills will be passed or the topspin will cause the ball to “dip” at the net player’s feet, this producing a pop up volley / sitter for the opposing team. Staying back at least increases the odds of keeping the ball in play and allows the doubles point to go on.

    • Doubles as a discipline plays second fiddle to singles at just about every tournament world wide. Less doubles players overall means more lower level singles players who cannot cut it on the tour as singles players (i.e., in the 50 to 150 level in ranking) migrate to doubles as their primary source of income just to stay on the tour. Since these players are not naturally doubles players to begin with, they bring a singles mind set (i.e., play from the baseline, not at the net) to doubles too.

    • The singles is first mindset also psychologically promotes more players who do not even understand the concept that doubles is a team sport, whereas singles is an individual sport. These players do not realize that the better way to win a match is not for each of the two players on a doubles team, individually, to try to see how many winners or forced errors against the opposing team he/ she can make but, rather, for the two doubles players to work together as a well oiled machine so the one player sets up the other player and vice versa. It is a bit like the contrast between a basketball team (take Oklahoma, for example) with several individually great players but less overall team work against another team (like Villanova, for example) that does not have as many individually gifted players but that is better coached and works together better as a team. The individually more talented team will win — a lot — against other teams that similarly rely on their players’ individual skills and talent, but they generally will not/ cannot prevail over the better and more coordinated “team.” I believe this has been the secret to the Bryan Brothers’ success over the years. Individually, they are not as gifted as many of the players they are up against. But there has been no one better as an integrated “team” over the last decade or so.

    The above being said, none of us old people can hit the ball from the baseline anywhere near as hard or as accurately as the pros can, male or female. So we should all stick to old fashioned, well coordinated, let’s-get-to-the-net-whenever-we-can-as-a-team style doubles. Aside from our winning more if we do so, it is just more fun.

    Marty, I agree especially with your singles player mentality. Thanks, George

  6. George, Two up front or two back, always seems to be a winning strategy, depending on what is working. Being flexible is key, always be open to adjustment.Most important is a great partner, you can work with, to bring out the best in a team.

    Anthony, yes, dubs is a Team Sport! George

  7. George,

    – In one of the tennis blogs that comes my way, they cited that a statistician tracked both men and women’s doubles in the 2015 Australian Open.
    – They found that about 2/3 of all points were won inside the service line, and about 1/3 from the baseline.

    Wendall Walker, Ed.S, MBA.

  8. I still remember ( a feat in itself the way things are going nowadays) joining some of our TF friends in Barcelona for the Davis Cup Final in 2000. The Aussies were outplayed by the Spanish guys who both stayed back when the Aussies served – it worked well, they won in straight sets, admittedly on a clay court. Watch out for more of the same in Paris, but rather less at Wimbledon !

    Howard, yes, two back is a reasonable strategy vs hard servers. thanks, george

  9. I played a doubles match over the weekend, which illustrated the wisdom of NOT having one player up and one back but, instead, trying to finish as many points as possible with both players at the net. The scenario: My partner was a big guy (6′ 3″ – about 240 pounds) with a big serve (~ 105 mph on his first serve); I was the smaller, steady eddy player on our team. The opposing team had an even bigger big guy (6’5″ – about 270 pounds) with a huge serve (~ 115 – 120 mph on his first serve); there was also a smaller, steady eddy player on the opposing team. Both teams were pretty evenly matched from the start.

    In the first set, my partner played mainly serve and volley tennis (as did I) and we won easily 6-2. We also both made an effort to get to the net together on returns as much as possible, and we pressed to get to the net, also together, in the middle of points as well. We won probably 80% of the points when we were both at the net.

    However, for some reason that my partner did not reveal (but I think he just got tired), he started staying back a lot on his serve in the second set. Before we could even blink, he had been broken twice and we were down 2-5 (after getting one break back from the weaker server on the opposing team). I encouraged my partner to get off the baseline and join me at the net as often as he could and, amazingly, we crawled back and got the second set into a tie breaker. However, we lost the TB on a lucky miss from one of our opponents 5-7.

    We decided to play a 10 point TB in lieu of a third set. We started out well and got an early mini break, but then my partner started breathing heavily and I could see that he was pretty much out of energy for moving forward. He stayed on the baseline for the rest of the match and we lost a few critical points that we would have won if we had not been split one up and one back. I tried staying back with him on a few points, but that only opened the forecourt up to angle volley winners from our opponents. The TB score was 7-10. The opposing team made the effort to both be at net as much as possible and that was clearly the measure of the match.

    The match could not have been a better illustrator of the point of this post.

    Marty, you knew the answer, but your partner couldn’t execute it. thanks, george

Comments are closed.