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Double’s Serves – Divide, Trap, & Conquer
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, we’re all getting older…sad but true. Many of us, in an attempt to shrink the court to make up for our slowing, ravage-torn racquetball bodies, are playing more and more doubles. Over the last few years, more and more questions deal with doubles. So lets start at the beginning with the different serves and their strategies.
In the figures associated with this article, the larger red square is the server, the smaller square is his partner. The larger dark blue triangle is the receiver and the smaller triangle is his partner. The light blue is the path of the ball and the purple path is either a second ball path option or a continuing ball path. The gray arrows are player directional movement on the serve, the green arrows are the direction players are moving to cover potential returns and the purple arrows are a second movement option. Sounds confusing…deep breath…scan the figures…read below…it will make perfect sense. (hopefully)
You’ll recognize this mantra. If you are playing a two-serve game, we’re going for that ace. In doubles, I like the crack serve right over the line. See Fig. 1. I’ll run through my thought process for you.
My first thought is, “I’m gonna Ace this sucker!” or it’s going to be short. The only reason I even have arrows on the diagram is for the few of you undisciplined souls who may have left the serve up. You’ll notice via the arrows that right after my serve, I slip to the center of the court. My slightly missed ace serve will force the receiver forward to return the ball. Since the receiver usually has to rush forward and catch the ball coming off the side wall at an angle, he will rarely if ever be able to slice the ball across his body or turn to go cross court at my partner. With that knowledge, my partner is free to move forward to cover the pinch. I will move back towards the left side of the court to cover the down the line. I can’t move and take away the cross court, even though I know my opponent can’t physically hit this shot. Timing on your left movement must be right after your opponent’s ball contact. You step right in front of him after his shot and cut him off from the front court so if he wants to get up there he has to go around you. If he did pinch, your partner is sitting on him and should have an easy setup. If he came back down the line, you have two options. If you have him trapped behind you…easy pinch…especially since your non-hitting partner hopefully took up a position in anticipation of his possible pinch shot. Your partner’s position should cause just enough hesitation so your opponent’s partner can’t cover your pinch. Your partner must relinquish the spot once you hit the ball. Option #2 is your opponent went around you to charge the front and cover your pinch…he would have gone towards the middle of the court and up, which opens up the line for you.
Figures 1-4 all assume I hit my first serve short and I’m onto my second serve…or I’m playing a 1 serve game.
You’ll notice in figure 2 I show two serve paths. The blue path is a high lob nick. The purple path is a lob Z. On the lob Z, I would start more towards the left side of the service box…but essentially end up in the same location after the serve. Both serves have the same goal. If the receiver does not come forward to cut them off, he will be forced to move slightly back towards the back wall and towards his partner. This movement will eliminate a cross court shot 99% of the time. Once again, your partner is free to cover the pinch. You cover the down the line and just like before you have your opponent’s trapped behind you. I show you both serves because an opponent may be used to seeing one of them over the other. He may cut off one and not the other. You may be better at one and not the other. You’re looking for the “you’re best”, “his worst” combination.
In figure 3 you’ll notice I show multiple color arrows. In this example, you and your partner will move differently based on which receiver takes the ball and which shot that receiver looks like he is going to hit. I hit this serve ever once is a while for a couple reasons. You can see I’m hitting it slightly towards the “other opponent”. Many times the receiver on my side will expect to take this ball. Since I hit towards the other guy there is usually some hesitation or confusion between the partners as to who is going to hit this ball. Typically they will conclude that it is usually the regular receiver’s forehand and he will take the shot. When you see the receiver address the ball you will notice his body position and be able to tell which side of the court he is driving the ball. The side he is driving to, that serving partner moves back…the other partner moves up to cover the pinch. I use this serve sparingly to create confusion and see how the other team will handle it. This setup also takes away the side walls and forces the receiver to shoot down the middle…while he can pinch…it’s an awkward return situation especially after there is a hesitation between partners and since he was never expecting it down the middle. It’s also rare for the backhand player to return a serve with his forehand…sometimes his forehand isn’t ready…physically or mentally.
Fig 4 shows the Jam serve. This serve is a hard drive like serve that hits the side wall in the air and comes right into the body of the receiver. When the receiver elects to take the shot, most of the time he swings late, which means pinch shot. Since this happens quicker than the lob serves your partner should be ready to sit on that pinch and re-kill it before the other team can even move forward.
A little more complicated situation occurs when the first receiver lets the ball go…as seen in the continuing purple path. While the purple path may look like a potential setup, the ball will have picked up a good deal of natural spin as it comes off the back wall. It’s very hard to track and setup on. Many times the small triangle receiver isn’t even ready to return this ball. It’s almost always a slight surprise that his partner let the ball go. If he does track the ball he usually ends up doing a complete circle and that’s tough even for players with the best footwork. Lastly, that spin coming off the last sidewall usually tails closer to the wall than anyone anticipate so a solid return shot is difficult. You will note that as soon as the non serving partner (small square) realizes the ball is coming around, he must clear for the down the line or cross court shot. The purple arrow gets him out of the way…he freezes to determine the receiver’s shot… his obligation after that is to cover the down the line return with a small background thought that he also has his partners back if the receiver does miraculously go cross court. The server covers the pinch only and lets a crosscourt ball go for his partner.
The most important part in all these situations is that the serving team has a plan. The receiving team doesn’t even know what’s coming. If you and your serving partner discuss plays like this so you can eliminate one of the three main returns (pinch, down the line, or cross court) there are two of you and only two shots available. You got them covered. Secondly, you will maintain front court control by the correct use of your body position. Think more in doubles to hit fewer shots and conquer your opponents.
With this many colors, figures, and arrows there are bound to be questions…I’m ready for them!
Questions or comment…Pat@Racquetworld.com
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