There are certain shots I often see people trying to hit when they play doubles that are just not the best shots they could play.
And maybe worse still, they spend a whole load of time (and money) trying to improve those shots.
If your only objective is to play winning doubles, then here are three shots you need to put time into developing and improving versus some shots you don't need the extra time to improve.
You Don't Need a Big Serve1 of 7
The biggest problem with the big fast serve is this: It reduces the time you have to get ready for the return.
Players on the receiving end of your serve also get the chance to block or tee off at the ball, using the pace you've given them and often without having to move their feet. They retain their court position and are ready to play another shot if they need to.
Yes, if you are playing a pair of a much lesser standard and you already have a big flat serve, then great. But if you don't already have full command over a big serve, then concentrate on the opposite option.
You Do Need a Good Spin Serve2 of 7
A good spin serve does everything a hard, flat serve can't. It gives you more time to get in to the net or ready for the next shot (hopefully a volley).
It doesn't give the returner as much pace to work with, and if it's a good slice or kick, it will force them to move.
If it's good enough, then a weak return is always the result of a player forced to move their feet when off balance and will bring your partner in to play—more often than not—to poach. It also opens more gaps on the court for you to exploit (as your opponents have to move to get the ball).
If you watched Roger Federer win the Gold medal at the last Olympics, you would have seen him serving for placement not power most of the time.
You Don't Need Topspin Groundstrokes3 of 7
This is a funny one because this is a shot you definitely need for singles.
But for doubles, the concept of hitting high looping shots from the back of the court is a no-no. Here's why: Shots traveling deep to the back of the court with topspin become a nice easy volley either for the opposite net player, who can poach it, or for the oncoming volleyer.
If you possess a sharply dipping topspin shot that you can angle or put at the feet of the opposition, then you are OK. But if all you have is the singles-like groundstroke, then you are in trouble.
Also, if you can't get the ball to dip at the feet of an oncoming player you will only be presenting them with a volley or mid-court ball that they can hit on the rise and make life difficult for you.
You also need to consider whether the extreme grips often used for topspin groundstrokes may give you a problem when and if you need to change grips when coming to the net to volley or half volley.
You Do Need a Sliced Backhand and Forehand4 of 7
Having a sliced shot on both wings (especially the backhand) will prove invaluable. You can play a slice without rotating your upper body, which does several great things for you.
It means you can deal with a fast oncoming ball in less time (no rotation needed). You can also play it while moving forward (again no rotation needed), so getting to the net quicker becomes easier.
And you can get the ball down low to the feet of the opposition much easier, making things much more difficult for your opponent.
I have seen Nadal -- who has great topspin shots -- returning and playing with slice in doubles much more than when he plays singles.
It will also help the "feel" on your volleys as it is played pretty much in the same way.
My doubles partner and I have played many practice sessions only using sliced forehands and backhands and the associated volleys. You would be surprised at how successful we were with that tactic.
You Don't Need a Smash5 of 7
This freaks many people out. They get used to coming to the net and up goes the lob.
They go for the smash and it comes back, maybe over their heads. They smash again (a bit harder) and the same thing happens or they miss.
It shouldn't take you long to realize that many of the people that frequently lob are, in fact, very good at returning the flat smash. They do it because they are good at it and because they know people will just try to hit the ball harder -- and often miss.
It's the same principle as not needing a hard, flat serve. The returners of the smash often don't move much and use the pace you give them to give you an even higher, deeper ball to smash again.
You've got to be really good to win this game.
You Do Need a Variable Overhead6 of 7
I make the distinction between the two for the following reason: The smash is a shot that says it all. An overhead implies that you do several different things with a ball that is hit overhead.
When you are faced with a lob and your opponents are at the baseline waiting for your smash, what you need is a sliced or angled overhead landing around the service line.
Not only is that nearly impossible to pick up from behind the baseline, it also means that if they do go for it they are on the move (control is then difficult) and they also leave massive gaps on the court.
It really is just a matter of solid tennis strategy, intelligent play and knowing what to do -- not trying too hard.
I was lucky enough to be given this useful info by someone else and it transformed my tennis doubles game.
Hopefully this will do the same for you.
For more doubles info, visit WinningTennisDoubles.com.