Winning at tennis doubles with a partner who isn’t as strong as you are isn’t easy but is achievable with the right tactics according to Jean-Yves Aubone, a former ATP player and current coach. In this article below, Aubone writes talks of the winning strategy to win doubles tennis with a weaker partner.
Now this is something I have a lot of experience with! I always tried to find a partner that was either better than me, or had strengths that made up for my weaknesses. Then I would try to strategize appropriately so I was playing with my strengths and hiding my weaknesses.
I learned a lot of valuable lessons being the “weaker” partner. Every player does certain things better than others. You might not think they execute them very well, but in comparison to their other shots, it’s the best they got.
The best thing the stronger partner can do is put them in position to execute their strengths as often as possible.
Below are some examples that might help you put your partner in positions to play their best:
Do they serve better wide or down the tee on the deuce side? What about the ad side? Once you know that, tell them to serve to their best locations as often as possible, especially on important points.
Some players serve better standing closer to the teem as if they’re playing singles. They’re not comfortable standing in the traditional doubles servers position.
If that’s the case, have them stand in their best serving position and play either I-Formation or Australian. The Australian formation is where you stand directly on the server’s side of the court. You’re now out of their vision and they feel like they can serve as if they’re in singles.
Do they have a weak serve?
If they do, you should start the point at the baseline. It’s unconventional but who cares, you’ll be in a better position to defend a strong return from your opponent.
Do they have a better forehand than backhand?
If so, on the deuce side, start with the traditional doubles formation where the server’s partner (you) is at the net on the ad side. When the point starts, they’ll be in position to hit their forehand more often than their backhand.
Also, you have to make sure you poach on every ball that goes down the middle of the court. If you don’t, your opponent’s shot is going to go to your partners backhand, their weakest shot.
If that happens, and you know they have a weak backhand, it is now YOUR fault if your team loses the point. You know you have to protect your partner and prevent them from hitting a backhand as often as possible.
On the ad side, play I-formation and go left when your partner makes the serve and your partner goes to the right. This puts them in position to hit their forehand the rest of the point.
You can also play the Australian Formation and your partner just has to move over to the right and they’ll be in position to hit their forehand.
Return of Serve
Ask your partner what side of the court they return best on and let them play that side. It doesn’t matter if you’re not on your favorite side.
They need all the help they can get. Put them in position to succeed by letting them play on the side they play best. If your level is significantly higher than their, then your minimal level drop by not playing on your favorite side will be more than made up for by your partner playing well.
If your partner doesn’t have a great return, play the 2 back formation.
This is where you’re at the baseline to start the point. This way if your partner can’t direct the ball well, and the server’s partner is getting easy put-away volleys, you’ll have more time to defend.
Also, if your partner has a weak return, you can ask them to lob it back. Maybe they can at least get it over your opponent’s heads.
Finally, ask them to try returning the serve from a farther back position.
Some players don’t have a great return close to the baseline, but if they’re farther back, they have more time to hit, and can execute better. If you decide to try this, start at the baseline as well.
If they’re returning from far back, it might be easier for your opponent’s to poach. But who cares. You’re just happy to get the point started!
At the Net
If your partner’s volleys really are THAT bad, they don’t have to play there. It’s quite unconventional, but they can start every point at the baseline. Let them play with their strength!
But let’s say they insist on being at the net.
Have them stand as close to the net as possible, and make sure they’re racket is up and prepared. If the ball is hit to them, they’re so close to the net that they can simply tap the ball with their racket and it will go in.
Even a volley hit off the frame has a good chance of going in because they’re so close to the net.
Also, if they’re so close to the net, your opponent’s will see how wide open the lob is. That’s fine! You want that. You don’t want your partner volleying.
If they lob your partner, that means you get to hit the next shot. And if you’re better at the baseline than they are at the net, then the point setup is actually right where you want it!
Let’s reverse the scenario.
Let’s say you’re at the net but your partner is at the baseline. Their groundstrokes are weaker than their volleys, but for whatever reason, that’s how the point setup is.
You can poach right away so they don’t hit a groundstroke, or literally stand as close to the middle as you can. The latter is high risk.
You’re leaving some space open for winners, but if you’ve decided to use this strategy, you’ve come to the conclusion that your partner’s groundstrokes are weak enough that it merits this risky play.
Final Words on Winning Tennis Doubles with a Weaker Partner
Hopefully these examples help you strategize appropriately for when you’re playing with a “weaker” partner.
Too often I’ve seen players complain about their partner’s playing abilities without doing anything to put them in position to use their strengths. They only focus on doing their thing and simply ask more of their partner.
Don’t ask more of your partner.
Ask them to do what they do best and that’s it. Setup points correctly. Pay attention to what’s going on in the middle of the points. And recognize where you need to help out.
If you don’t help out, then maybe your hitting ability is high, but your ability to be a great partner is low.