When in doubt, pull a new formation out
We’ve all been there – your foes in a doubles match have grabbed the upper hand, and nothing seems to be working on your side of the net. You shanked your last overhead. Your partner is beginning to mutter. You are beginning to wonder if it’s time to take up golf or crossword puzzles or curling.
Not to worry. When in doubt on the doubles court, it’s important to act decisively, and one sure way to get back on track is to try a new formation.
Most of us stick to the Traditional Doubles Formation through thick and thin, and when things are going well it can be a winner. You start with one up, one back on return of service, with the net player looking to poach when opportunities arise. You combine an aggressive serve with well-placed volleys to keep the pressure on the receiving team.
It’s the most popular of all doubles formations. But if you need to change things up, or inject some life into your play, or recapture the fun of match competition, there are several alternative formations that can help.
One of my favorites is the Australian Formation. When serving, you and your partner start on the same side of the court. So if you’re serving from the deuce side, your partner also sticks on the deuce side. While this may seem odd, it offers some advantages, most notably that it takes away the cross-court return.
The Aussie Formation also tends to prompt opponents to over-think and over-hit. Meanwhile, it can set up your net player for easy volleys that end the point. One key to succeeding with this formation? The server must migrate to the open half of the court after serving.
Another effective way to spook your opponents is with the "I" Formation. This scheme puts server and net player in a position just like it sounds – in a nearly straight line with the server close to the center hash mark and the net player lined up in the middle of the court in a crouch to avoid being hit in the head by the serve.
Once the serve is delivered, the server and net player go to opposite sides of the court, introducing an element of surprise that can put the returning team on their heels, unsure of where the net player will end up. The I Formation is best if your opponent has a weak return of serve, which makes it easier for the net player to “clean up the trash.” By keeping your opponents guessing, this formation gets in their heads and can cause them to over-hit.
In contrast, if you are playing a duo with good returning skills, the Two Back Formation can effectively neutralize a big returners game and allow you to get into the point – and eventually get into the net. This formation places both server and partner at the baseline to start the point. And while it’s often used as a defensive tactic, it can also pay dividends when you’re serving if your partner is struggling at the net.
One key element of the Two Back Formation is to hit the ball to the middle of the court to rob your foes of easy angles. Spacing is also critical – you don’t want to be so spread apart that you give opponents a big donut hole of open space to attack.
Finally, be sure to take what is basically a defensive start and turn it offensive at any opportunity. If one player gets a short ball and hits an approach shot, for example, both should rush the net. Playing just a few games in this formation can shake up your opponent – and brighten your team’s attitude and confidence.
To succeed with these formations, it’s imperative to practice them first. You can integrate them when playing recreationally with friends, or try them out at drills. The ball machine is also a great tool for creating situations these formations are designed to address.
As luck would have it, Rollingwood Athletic Club has a ball machine program that is open to all. Give me a call or email me for more information: Brad@rollingwoodclub.com
Until next time, have fun on the courts!
Posted on 12/23/2015 at 12:00:00 AM