Which Side in Doubles?

With Hank Irvine

When you are pairing up with a doubles partner, the decision as to who plays the deuce and who plays the ad side is critical to your success (or lack of it).  So, I am looking for input as to which way is better.

“Movin’ on up”

Next year, I will move UP to the 75s and for the first three tournaments, team with very solid senior lefty Matt Davie.  We agree that for our pairing, “forehands in” (lefty in the deuce court and righty in the ad) is our strongest formation.

But for two tournaments in February, I will again have the pleasure of teaming with the very, very solid Hank Irvine.  This last season, we also teamed up for the same two events, with Hank in the deuce court and me in the ad.  We did that because Hank wanted me to be “comfortable” playing where I usually play – feeling that he could more easily adapt to the deuce side.

Where to put the Superior Player?

While we did fine (winning one of the two events), at Longboat Key, I watched Hank and Evert Jonsson win a semi-final match vs. the solid team of Tommie George and John Fournier.  Hank played his usual ad court side and was so far superior to how I played that side that I question how we should team up in February.

While the great Roy Emerson feels the stronger/more consistent player should be in the deuce court to take pressure off the ad court player, I – and most people I talk with – feel that the better player should be in the ad court to help WIN the critical points.

As a righty, that would also put the stronger player’s forehand (Hank’s) over the middle for both volleys and overheads.

What do you think?

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17 thoughts on “Which Side in Doubles?

  1. If you are playing with Hank, I would suggest that you stand in the alley (either side).

    Bill….good advice! 🙂 thanks! george

  2. I have always thought that the player that can handle the inside out backhand the best should play the deuce court. I think that is the most difficult return in doubles and it gets the game off to a good start. The inside out forehand in the ad court is a much easier shot for most players.
    Throw in a lefty and everything is different.

    Ron, and THAT is the shot i would need to practice to play over there! george

  3. I would opt to having the stronger player in the ad court, putting him in the position to play the critical points.

  4. George , one of the greatest things about tennis is that it is unpredictable. My doubles partner and I would switch sides after the first set , not always but at times regardless of the score. Sometimes the other team would over think wondering why we changed sides. Sometimes it was for a good reason be flexible , and see what is going on and continue having fun which it seems you are!

    OhioJack, great concept! thanks, george

  5. I’m a big fan of the best returner should play their better side. In college I played with a partner that was a better returner than I was on both sides, he was good on the ad side but exceptional on the deuce side. Because his returns were so good he took so much pressure off of me.

    Jeff, so you and Emmo agree! george

  6. All told, I tend to favor putting the steadier returner on the ad side and putting the flashier/ harder hitting returner on the deuce side. The rationale is simply this: If you want to win in doubles, in addition to regularly holding your own serves, your team has to break serve at least once each set (or get at least one mini break in a tie breaker each set). To do that, you need to be able to regularly get back to deuce whenever you go down an ad to the serving team and you need to maximize your chances of winning the next point each time your team goes up an ad against a serving team. While the flashier/ harder hitting player might always get lucky and wind up winning his or her share of those different ad point scenarios, you really do not want to leave any part of this to chance, because that same flashier/ harder hitting player, statistically speaking, is also more likely to make an error on his or her return.

    How frustrating is it for a receiving team to fight hard and finally get up break point on their ad against a strong serving team only to have a non-steady receiver on the ad side completely blow the point before the player on the deuce side can even hit a bill because that flashier/ harder hitting player – consistent with his or her personality and overall style – simply cannot stop from trying to go for too much on the return? And then you are back to deuce and have to do it all over again.

    By contrast, if the steadier returner is on the ad side, he or she can be counted on to keep getting the return back in play one ad in after another, each time saving game point and at least getting the game back to deuce. Then all it takes is just one brilliant return from the flashier/ harder hitting player on the deuce side to get the score to ad out and the steadier player’s consistency becomes a real weapon. All he or she needs to do is hit the same old boring but consistent return that he or she otherwise hits and, voila, you have a service break!

    Of course, I understand this is not all that sophisticated in terms of strategy, and there is a lot more nuance than I am suggesting, but it has played out countless times in thousands of doubles matches that I have played, so I do think there is truth here. By the way, I am generally the steadier returner when I am paired with most of my usual doubles partners and, therefore, I normally play the ad side unless I am paired with someone who flat out returns better and is especially more steady than I am.

  7. I also think you need to better define who is the “stronger” or “better” player before choosing sides to receive. Do you mean the player who can hit returns with more pace and power, who has greater spin, who can handle faster serves better, who can handle kick serves better, who is just overall more consistent, or do you mean something else? There are many different ways that doubles players can contribute to – or detract from – a team. No two players are identical, and different “strengths” may work out better when confronting different opponents. It is kind of like the tortoise and the hare. It is not always true that the harder hitting, faster afoot, bigger spin player is truly the “stronger” or “better” doubles player, especially when receiving. There is a lot to be said for just continuing to hit the same old boring shot that always goes over the net, always stays generally out of poach range of the net man, and always lands somewhere that the server has trouble hitting the next ball.

  8. My rational is contrary to Marty’s as the steadier/deuce court player will hopefully give the flashier/ad court player many more 0-15, 15-30 and 30-40 chances to really open up or win the game.

    A lot of times it has to do with individual match ups. I often played the first court(particularly if I was unknown to my opponents) with a weaker forehand because my off backhand was good. If my partner could really dominate with their forehand then I would play the ad.

  9. looking for a partner for 70 or 75 doubles for the 3 jan tourn

    also I always select the ad court to play I’ve played ad court for years….I believe it has helped me become more consistent on returns ….

    I let the guy, hopefully with the big forehand play the deuce court


  10. I agree it can depend on match-ups, but I would usually go with letting the stronger player play the side they are most comfortable with (assuming both righties…). Forehands down the middle if you have a lefty and rightie (unless one player is much stronger on one side). That is the beauty of doubles, trying to find that mixture of 2 different players/personalities that can blend well most of the time. It is always interesting to me, playing with someone new. I tend to like partnering with a steady player who makes few errors. That lets me be a little “creative” and go for more shots without hurting the team.

    Mark, and strangely, i like playing with a stronger player, which makes me feel free to hit away. thanks, george

  11. I believe there’s no absolute strategy or “law” when it comes to this. It’s dependent upon players’ skills. I’ve never subscribed to the forehands down the middle “law”. I’m a lefty and I’ve always played best in the ad court. The challenge for me is finding the right (regardless if they’re a righty or lefty) partner, one who plays best in the deuce court and who works well together with me in the ad court.

  12. Many good doubles players have regular partners and know which is best for there team. When playing with a new partner the key to victory could be the side you play. For a righty I believe the deuce side is much more difficult to return serve and set up the next shot. The return of serve of course is a most important point. I do believe first partners if losing the first set may want to switch sides for the second. Another key of course is who serves first. Obviously you want the best server going first. There may be a question of who is the best server? The weaker server should volunteer to serve into the sun. One righty and one lefty is an ideal doubles team. Go Matt and George!

    Phil, another factor in “who serves first” is how well they each play the net. thanks, george

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