The Server’s Partner

Dick Valentine and Matt Davie

What is the role of the “net man” when being the partner of the player serving?  Too many times, they are just a passive ornament on the court as the ball gets put into play.  But they can be much more.

Formation Options

Depending on your and your serving partner’s mobility – and whether they will stay back after their serve or crash the net – there are several options to where the server’s partner can stand.

Traditional Spot – In the Old Days, we used to “guard the alley”; but in today’s tennis game, most players will challenge the returner to try that hard shot down the line, over the high part of the net.  They will stand just about in the middle of the service box and look for the cross court return.

Playing a Lobber – If you are playing vs. someone who lobs the return of serve often and well, you may be forced to retreat back from the middle of the box to stand nearer the service line.  This will usually discourage the lobber; but takes you out of the early offense on the return.

The I Formation – This aggressive move has the server’s partner straddling the center line and telling the server which way they will move (left or right) after the serve.  This can be very challenging for the returner to guess which way they should try to return; but the player at the net has to be mobile enough to squat down as the serve is put into play and quickly move off the center.

The Hybrid I – This formation (coined by tennis guru Brent Abel) has the server’s partner standing roughly half way between the standard middle of the box and the center line (and usually a little tighter to the net).  This presents a much more aggressive look to the returner, allowing the net man to pick off any return too close to the center of the court.  You would think that the alley is “wide open”; but in actuality it is still a challenging shot to make REGULARLY.

Australian Formation – Different from the I Formation, this has the returner’s partner standing on the same side of the court as the server.  Too many players stand close to the center of the service box; but I feel they should stand closer to the center line.  Since the best return against this is the cross court lob, either the server should stay back and cover the lob, or the net man should be closer to the service line than to the net.

I like to use the last two formations the most because I believe it takes the passiveness out of the server’s partner and makes them an active – and aggressive – part of the play.

What formation do you use and prefer?

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2 thoughts on “The Server’s Partner

  1. The server’s partner should stand in a position where he can cover any service return lob that might go over his head. If the server has to move over and cover the bouncing lob, then the point breaks down very quickly for the serving team. This is especially important in Senior tennis.

    John, yes, senior mobility — or lack of — is a critical factor in how we play. thanks, george

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