Fastball/Curve Ball

In doubles, it is usually the smartest shot to hit up the middle; but you have to sometimes change that strategy to prevent your opponents from totally clogging the middle.  So, what do you do?

The Wide Roller

From either the deuce or ad court, one shot to practice for doubles is the wide roller that gently crosses the net and lands in the alley.  It can be hit with topspin (which I think is best) or with a gentle slice.  So if your opponents are expecting the drive down the middle, their focus (and their bodyweight) is leaning to the center; and this gentle shot can take them by surprise.

Fastball/ Curve Ball

Like in baseball, the pitcher has to be able to come inside regularly with a hard fastball (that is your hard drive down the middle); in order to then set up the batter for the breaking curve on the outside corner (your roller in the alley).

According to Aussie legend Roy Emerson, to hit the forehand roller cross court, you have to do two things: hit the ball on the outside and aim to cross the net at the center strap.

Lob Alternative

Another option when your opponents are looking for the hard drive down the middle is to put up an offensive, topspin lob over their heads.  If their bodyweight is leaning forward, expecting the hard one at them, the soft one over their heads can be very effective.

Other thoughts on these options?

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2 thoughts on “Fastball/Curve Ball

  1. Great topic George! Breaking or changing the pattern of hitting the hard one down the middle on your opponents is a challenge and very satisfying when it works. I like to throw up a lob over my opponents backhand shoulder once I see their weight is leaning into the middle.

    Jim, and then you get that satisfying “shoulder sag” as they see the ball sail over their heads! thanks, george

  2. Great topic, George. Some other returns in doubles that are less frequently tried but can be satisfying if pulled off correctly:

    * Drive (fast ball) straight at the net man (instead of up the middle). Usually it is best to hit this with a forehand for obvious reasons. Great as a surprise tactic. If net man isn’t expecting it can lead to a soft bobbled volley if the net man even manages to touch the ball, so you might want to alert your partner that you are trying this before the serve happens because the bobbled volley can sometimes come back like a drop volley winner if your net man is not ready to move quickly to get it. One final thing: be prepared to hold your racquet up and apologize to the net man profusely if you manage to hit him in the solar plexus off this return, or worse, as will inevitably happen every now and then. So, I rarely actually try this return in “fun” matches, because I don’t want to injure or piss off my friends, but I will not hesitate to try it in “serious” matches like tournament play or USTA league play.

    * Cross court sliced drop shot service return. Kind of a variation on the theme to your rolled cross court return example. Instead of the ball being hit with topspin like the shot you are describing so it lunges away from the incoming server with velocity before he can get to it, this one dares him to move forward more than he had been planning to do as it dies a few inches after crossing the net because of the slice. Great as a surprise tactic, especially if the server does not come to the net regularly. Especially useful against servers who may only come forward on their first serve but routinely stay back on their second serve. One big caveat: It leaves several areas of open court into which your opponent can hit the next ball IF the dropper is hit too deep or the slice is nonexistent and the ball bounces up too high. So maybe don’t attempt this until you have practiced your drop shot technique a lot.

    * Finally: Here is a disruptive shot that probably best works in one unique situation — when receiving against a serving team that uses the “I” formation. It is always vexing to receive against a doubles team that uses this formation because there is always a lot of guesswork as to what your opponents are going to do and where the two of them will wind up after the serve is hit. Frequently the receiving team guesses wrong and they wind up hitting a return that the I formation team has an easy put away on with a volley, if not a poach by the net man. So, I find the safest overall return is a DEEP and HIGH cross court topspin lob return aimed well over the net man’s head. Ideally, the return should be hit as deep and high as possible so it is well over the heads of both the opposing net man and the server and it lands deep into the opposite corner from where it was hit. The reason this return is so effective against the I formation is because most teams using the I formation are simply not expecting it. Instead, they are trying to confuse the receiving team into guessing in which direction the net man is going to move after the serve and thereby to distract the receiving team into hitting a flat and regular return that the serving team can easily poach. And if the receiving team does try to hit a lob return in the traditional direction — i.e., straight ahead — the net man is usually expecting that so he can cross step relatively easily backward to reach that lob for an overhead winner because the lob, by necessity, cannot be as deep and high as a cross court lob would be in order to not sail past the baseline. But by hitting the lob return as high and deep as you can CROSS COURT, and especially if you can put some topspin on the lob, you are taking advantage of the geometry of the court to hit into the one spot at which both the net man and the incoming server will have the most trouble reaching the ball. This not only gives you a greater margin of error for your lob to land in — hopefully for an outright winner — but it screws up the whole tactical purpose of the serving team using the I formation in the first place, to try to draw an easy return that they can poach from. Sometimes, I have found, teams that use the I formation are so thoroughly surprised by the deep crosscourt lob tactic that they just stand there watching the ball fly over their heads for a winner return (if the lob is hit deep and high, of course; a short and low lob is an invitation to disaster). Finally, don’t be afraid of the fact that, if you can hit this lob, it will actually be headed in the direction of where the server just served from. That scares some returners from attempting this tactic, but it need not frighten them. Most times I have found that teams who use the I formation do not expect the server to stay glued to the baseline but, rather, he is expected to move forward to serve and volley as part of a pre-planned play — either crosscourt if the net man will be moving back into the traditional net man’s side off the I formation or straight ahead if the plan is for the net man to move into what would have been an Australian formation. In either situation, the idea of the I formation is to confuse the receivers so that both the server and his partner are coming into the net together and wherever the receivers put their return there will always be one of the two teammates on the serving team standing at the net for a volley . In that case, a high, deep lob aimed ANYWHERE on the court will be hard for either of them to handle, but especially if it is hit deep cross court. Because the server’s momentum will be moving forward, it will be difficult for him to suddenly stop and hit an overhead off your crosscourt deep lob that is about to fly over his head because his whole mind set is to try to get to the net as fast as he can. If he does manage to stop short, an overhead will be difficult for him to execute off your ball that is now starting to drop sharply downward because of the topspin. And if the incoming server is able even to reach your ball after it bounces, usually the depth of your lob, its angled direction into the cross court corner, and the added top spin will make it hard for him to do anything with the ball other than to try to take a few steps backward to get around to the side of the ball so he can send back a weak ground stroke return off your lob. This then allows you and your partner to take command of the point from there. It is a good tactic. Try it!!

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