Tennis for Two

For the Aging Tennis Enthusiast, Doubles Offers Additional Years of Exciting Competition

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If a lob over your head is too deep for you to handle, switch sides of the court with your partner while he's chasing down the ball.

Poaching (darting along the net to intercept a service return) is an excellent tactic but must be timed well. By leaving too early, you give the returner an easy opportunity to hit behind you for a winner. Don't overdo the poach. Your opponents will start to anticipate the move, and it will tell your partner, "We can't win unless I hog all the shots."

In pro-tour doubles nowadays, returners blast the ball. But at the club level, blasts usually mean errors. Instead, hit a soft "chip" that lands at the net charger's feet.

On break points, don't go for a winner. Get the return into play, keeping the pressure on your opponents to avoid making a game-deciding error.

Lob over the net man's head--a lot. No less an authority than the late Bobby Riggs, a great tactician, called it the best shot in club-level doubles.

If you can volley and can rely on good returns from your partner, position yourself at or just in front of the service line; you'll get opportunities to put the ball away on weak volleys by the server. If neither of those conditions exists, start the point in the backcourt.

When playing the "up" position, stand at an angle facing the opposing net man: If your partner returns to him, he's likely to hit it hard right at you. Also when playing "up," be prepared to scramble back when your partner lobs. As already noted, the one-up, one-back formation is highly vulnerable to opponents who can hit accurately.

A final tip from court psychologists: if you're choosing a partner, make it somebody you like. You'll be less likely to seethe when he blows easy shots. If you do get stuck with a schmuck, think of him as your best friend. Criticizing rather than encouraging him can only make things worse.--RMW

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