Happy New Year from aceadvice! I hope you all have a great 2017, with some great tennis! To spice things up a little bit to start the year, I am going to analyze a doubles match! I am a huge fan of doubles, and I hope this post will come in handy to any other doubles-lovers out there.
The Australian Open doubles final was the match-up between the unstoppable Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza, against the Czechs Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. The Mirza-Hingis team has been on fire ever since they decided to play together. They have won (so far) 2 grand slam titles, 11 titles, they are the world #1’s, and they have a 35-match win streak! Many of you probably know Hingis as a singles player too, and yes, she was #1 in the world for singles too. With someone like Martina on your side of the court, you can probably imagine how lucky Sania feels to be her partner. Hlavackova and Hradecka are both amazing players as well, but they have not had the same big stage experience as Hingis has on the other side.
Before even playing a doubles match, you want to make sure you find someone who complements your game. For instance, Sania has incredible ground strokes, but does not have the best reflexes and touch at the net. This is where Martina comes in: she has amazing volleys and touch. Together they are a dynamic duo, making up for each other’s weaknesses and helping each other out on the court. On the other side of the net, Andrea has amazing reflexes and movement on the court, and Hradecka has killer serves. Hradecka did not seem to feel 100% physically on the court, so Andrea had to make sure she was ready to run for a lot of balls. If you love the baseline, try to find a partner that loves to volley. If you love to volley but have a weak baseline game, try to find someone who loves to stay at the baseline. Choosing the right partner is very important, you have to be in sync.
Hingis and Mirza won the match 7-6, 6-3. Because this is a doubles final, both sides did an incredible job with strategy, and it really came down to a few points here and there.
The first aspect of doubles that is very important is the volley. Martina by far had the best volley skills, and it really came down to how she prepared herself to hit the shot. When at the net, you must always be on the balls of your feet, ready to explode from one side to another. Another advantage of being on the balls of your feet is that when you make contact with the ball, your wait is going forwards. In doubles, and also in singles, you need to make sure that when you are hitting a volley you are moving forwards, which eliminates errors in the net. Another important idea when you hit a volley is that placement is much more important than power. Hlavackova was caught many times swinging at her volleys, which you should never do. Doubles is not about overpowering your opponent. Remember this because this causes a lot of people to make silly mistakes. Doubles is about positioning on the court and shot placement, not power. Instead of crushing the ball at the net, placing the ball is a much more effective option. The next important thing is to poach. Poach, poach, poach. All players did an amazing job at this, which is what it takes to get into the finals of a Grand Slam. Poaching is the only way to win a doubles match at a competitive level. But in order to poach, you must understand the signs of when to poach.
The first sign is if your opponent is off-balanced. When they are off-balanced, they are unlikely to be able to direct the ball down the line for a winner. Instead, they will try to keep the rally going by hitting cross-court. The second sign is if the opponent has a slice grip. Slices are the perfect time to poach because they are the most slow-moving balls in the match other than the lob. Slices are so slow that they are perfect to poach off of without an issue. When you want to poach, poach. Do not wander to the center of the court and decide not to go. Hradecka sometimes was too slow to get to the center of the net, so even if they did not hit that great of a shot, she still was not able to get to the ball in time. The most important thing about poaching is that you must commit to your decision to poach. Let them hit down the line if they want to, it is the lowest percentage shot. Lastly, when you are at the net, do not just stand there. Make sure you are constantly moving, throwing your opponent at the baseline off. I saw Hradecka way too many times just standing in the middle of the box waiting for the signs, but this does not instill any fear on the other side of the net.
Another important part of doubles is the serve and return. Hingis surpassed the others when it came to when to hit which serve, which might have given them the edge in winning the match. For the server, hitting body serves and serves down the T are the best types of serves. These are the best types because the returner will have little margin to go down the line, since the body serve jams them and the serve down the T makes it extremely hard to go down the alley. On the return, what both opponents did in this match is that they both stood at the baseline on the opponents first serve. This is a smart tactic because then the person who tries to poach off of the return is going to have to come up with an amazing angle. So, by standing back on the opponents first serve, you are making it harder for your opponent at the net to poach.
However, if you are on the serving side and both opponents are at the baseline, this give you a good opportunity to go for safe targets. When one person is at the net, it is hard to hit down the middle because the opponent can poach off of that ball. But when they are both back, they can’t poach off of your ball down the middle. Hlavackova was the main person I saw hitting down the middle when both her opponents were back, and they won the majority of those points. Hitting down the middle can also cause confusion on the other side if they do not have good communication. Also, whenever you get stuck in a down the line rally with your opponent, a good way to change it up is by lobbing cross court and resetting the point to cross-court so your partner can poach again. Every single time one of them lobbed, they always ended up winning that point.
Lastly, a mistake that I see too often in doubles matches is that many do not know what to do when they are out of position. All four of the players were sometimes caught hitting right back cross court, but that just causes your opponent to poach, if they saw that you are out of position (the sign!). Instead of trying to hit an amazing cross court shot from off the court, try to lob the ball to reset the point. Or, if you are confident, try to go down the line with a big target because your opponent probably has the intention of poaching. Hlavackova hit some amazing down the line shots in the second set, but it was too late since they went down two breaks and were going against the dynamic duo.
I hope these doubles strategies will help you win some more matches, because these strategies helped these four players get to the finals of a grand slam.