The Returner’s Partner

Bob Hughes Photo

What is the role of the player who is NOT returning serve in doubles?  It is a very critical one that can help or hurt the team in winning the point.  Here are some thoughts …

Where You Look

  • I believe the non-returner should be standing on his service line, at a slight angle, so that he is facing the opposing net man.
  • His first “look” is to watch the service line and make the line call on the serve.
  • Then, he should NOT turn to watch his returning partner hit the ball; but he should then turn and watch the opposing net man (who may be poaching and/or picking off the return of serve)
  • If his partner’s return does get by the net man, he does NOT yet move in, but looks at the incoming server to see where he is playing the return of serve coming at him

Where You Move

  • First, if the opponent’s serve drags his partner wide into the alley, the non-returner immediately slides along the service line about to the tee
  • If the opposing net man is picking off the return, the non-returner holds his ground and readies himself for a ball crushed at him and/or down the middle.
  • If the return gets by the net man, but the incoming server has a shoulder high ball to hit, the non-returner again holds his ground and readies himself for a ball right at him.
  • If his partner’s return is a good one at the server’s feet, the non-returner moves toward the net.
  • Per Hank Irvine, if the server is playing a half-volley, the non-returner does NOT then come across the middle; because the server can easily control the half-volley down the line.
  • But if the server is taking the low ball in the air, THEN the non-returner closes in and across to pick off the ball.
  • If the server stays back on his serve and the return gets by the net man, the non-returner then closes tighter to the net to be aggressive and pick off the next ball if he can.

You do all those things and you will be a great asset to your returning partner (whose main job is getting that return of serve back in play and relatively low).

Other thoughts and/or comments on all this??

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5 thoughts on “The Returner’s Partner

  1. The vision, movement discipline you describe is solid tactics and of course can be elaborated on in great detail. I’ll just add that same as for net play when your partner is serving (assuming your partner successfully returns cross court, return not poached), you want to be moving before and as your opponent is hitting his shot. For example, one tactic is (if your partner’s return is wide), you take a step or two in and towards the alley and then pivot strongly in and towards the net center strap as your opponent starts his swing. Some strong, experienced players like Hank Irvine can read your move, hold his shot and go behind you consistently if you move to the middle too soon. The better your opponent, the later you have to start your commitment to where you ideally want to be for your next shot.
    Some of the variables are your quickness, the quality and pace of your partners return, and the skill level of the opponent hitting the next shot. Lots of chess move options are part of the beauty of doubles.

    Winder, yes, the better the opponent, the tougher the movement. thanks, george

  2. Great advice for us aspiring doubles players. I recently did some drill sessions with Phil Landauer (who I believe lost track of his gold balls after 20). He spoke of all the things you just mentioned. They make perfect sense and are very easy to execute-except when you start to play a match and it all goes out the window. I know George, repetition, repetition, repetition. It also wouldn’t hurt to practice a bit as opposed to only playing.

    Andy, that is why i enjoy practicing so much! thanks, george

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