The Middle Riddle

Guard the Middle!

Everyone has heard the old tennis adage, “Down the middle solves the riddle.”  Meaning that is the smart place to hit most shots in doubles.  But the converse is also true.

Guard the Middle

If the logical place for your opponents to hit a shot is down the middle, shouldn’t that be the logical place for you to try to cover?  That situation is obvious when you and your partner are both standing near the service line waiting for the next shot at you; but it is also true in other situations.

But frustrating for me is when I am in the deuce court and my opponent hits an excellent shot that lands in my alley and going out wide.  If I can somehow motivate my body over to the ball and get it back in play and I look over to my partner who is just then moving toward the middle where our opponents are hitting their next shot.

And my partner says, “I was coming to the middle!”  I try not to preach; but if I did, what I would say is … “You should have moved to the middle as soon as you saw where their shot landed.”  In my opinion, too many players WATCH their partner chase the wide ball and then, after they see them make a shot, they start moving to the middle (where their opponents will then want to hit the next shot.)

The Right Next Shot?

And related to the sequence above… if you are taken wide off the court, where should you hit YOUR next shot?  I think you will usually have four options (in potential success order) …

  1. Down the middle – As you set to hit your shot from the alley (or wider), there should be a seam between your opponents down their middle.

  2. Down the line – If your opponents anticipate that first shot and move to the middle, that should open up the down the line shot for you.

  3. Diagonal lob – Frequently, your cross court opponent will tighten up to the net, looking to pick off your next shot; so they would be very vulnerable to a lob over their heads to the opposite diagonal corner.

  4. Cross court angle – And the most difficult (most psychologically rewarding?) shot would be the soft, extreme angle back cross court to their alley.

What do YOU think about these choices and/or “guarding the middle”?

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9 thoughts on “The Middle Riddle

  1. Add right at the net player in front of you -many players worst volley is the shot right at their belly button

    Winder, yup! thanks, george

  2. You’re right George as soon as your partner saw their shot, they should move to the middle… that gives your team best court coverage… you and your partner want to move as a team and preferably be at the net about 12 feet apart… maintaining that 12 foot distance is essential for the optimum court coverage.

    Tom, maybe i should tie the proverbial 12′ rope to my partner! thanks, george

  3. Nobody guards the middle like Michael and Matt….great photo!…and Howie Ames is a master at guarding the middle!

    Scoot, and you ain’t no slouch! thanks, george

  4. Sort of related, if my partner’s momentum takes him across the center line off a good serve up the middle, I’ll cross to the other side. Hate having to get preached at, but love testing to see if the old hands still have some quickness. 🙂

    Kevin, i TRY to remember to do that too (but not always). thanks, george

  5. George, when you are in the deuce court and I am in the ad court and I see you taken off court, I try to move as early as I can to cover the middle. Sometimes it may not be quick enough, so I need some preaching.
    What happens, however, when I move too early is I frequently get passed down my alley, which has been left unguarded.
    With regard to Scoot’s comment about Matt and me – it is easier to cover the middle when both player’s forehands are in the middle, as I am right handed and Matt is left handed.

    Michael, my philosophy: take away the shot they want to hit (down the middle); and make them try something else … even if they pass you in your alley. thanks, george

  6. How about a lob over the net man’s head (not diagonal), especially over his backhand side?

    Jack, an option; but with a much shorter court to work with. thanks, george

  7. George, I like your thought process on what shots to use after being pulled wide. I believe
    In doubles you must think, feel, act, and react as a team. The two areas in which teamwork shows up dramatically are your movements in the court and the shots you select to make. Good partners play the court as a team, moving together up to the net and back again as necessary, and shifting from side to side.
    A USPTA pro in Illinois, where I lived once said that “you and your partner should move toward the ball on each point as if the ball were a magnet”. So, wherever the ball is hit, you and your partner should be drawn a few steps in that direction to cut down the angles and close the holes your opponents can hit into. Adjust your positioning and you’ll force your opponents to come up with a great shot to win the point.

    Glenn, one pro friend of mine (I think Chuck Kinyon) teaches people to view the service box as a microcosm of the other side of the net… where the ball goes on the other side is where you (and your partner) go in the service box. Thanks, george

  8. As a long-time college coach, I continually preached to my doubles players to always hit through the middle. 3 big reasons:

    (1) Net is lower in the middle and the diagonal is longer if your shot goes through
    (2) Opponents may be unsure who should take the volley and their confusion can lead to clashing rackets and/or balls going between them unhit.
    (3) By eliminating other possible conflicting choices the player can concentrate fully on executing the high percentage ball through the middle.

    Reason #3 may not be so applicable to experienced senior players, but when combined with #s 1 & 2, hitting through the middle still solves the riddle most often!

    Sean, great supporting reasons WHY! thanks, george

  9. I agree with Winder, except aim for the hip.

    Steve, and I have been on the receiving end of that shot from you! Thanks. George

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