You are serving in a doubles match in the deuce court and the returner hits a ball over the middle that lands just beyond the tee on your side of the court. Should your net man have taken the shot … or is it the incoming server’s ball to take? (The incoming server is lower-right in the picture).
Difference of Opinion
I was playing a practice match with a seasoned senior tournament player (who shall remain anonymous – unless he wants to identify himself in a comment below); and that situation happened. He was at the net and let the ball go for me to take as I was following my serve to the net. So I lunged for the low backhand and missed the shot.
On the changeover, we discussed the philosophy of “Whose Ball is It?” His guiding principle is that any ball that eventually lands on the server’s half of the court is the server’s ball to have played. My feeling is that for that ball to come from the deuce court to just my side of the tee, means that it had to cross in front of the net man — and he could/should close in and pick it off.
I remember watching a Bryan brothers’ video where they said: if your incoming serving partner has to lunge for a low back hand (or forehand) over the middle, it should have been the net man’s ball to pick off.
My partner feels that he has to watch out for the returner to hit a ball down his alley and it would then be the server’s job to cover the middle.
Six Shot Options
I figure that the returner (assuming all players are righty) has six return options…
- Down the net man’s alley
- At the net man
- Over the net man
- Down the middle
- At the incoming server
- Cross court toward the server’s alley
My partner believes it is the net man’s job to cover 1-2-3 and the server 4-5-6. But I don’t believe either player can effectively cover for any more than TWO of those options. So unless the serve was very wide to the returner’s forehand, my priority for the net man would be to cover for the hard one at him and the ball over the middle (and be able to take the short lob over his head) – while “challenging” the returner to try to go over the high part of the net down his alley.
My priorities for the incoming server would be to cover the ball at him and wide one towards his own alley (and be ready to cross over and take a deeper lob over his net man’s head).
What do YOU think?
Noted Passing: Veteran senior tennis player Dick Johnson died on April 8th. Those who knew him say that in addition to being an excellent tennis player, he was a fine gentleman.
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