Tennis Doubles Rules
Singles tennis has dominated our TV screens for the past few decades.
It has been supported by some of the world’s most recognisable athletes, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
These three icons have popularised the sport to a point that even lower ranked players can make a name for themselves and earn a decent living from playing professional tennis.
However, whilst this is great for the sport in general, doubles is sometimes overlooked by the public eye.
However, doubles is generally more widely played at the recreational level than singles.
Therefore, the lack of media coverage means that a lot of budding tennis players don’t often see high quality doubles being played.
This may even mean that club level players may not fully understand the rules of doubles (or at least misinterpret them), and often don’t know how to get the most out of their game on the doubles court.
That’s why we have put together this useful guide to explain how doubles should be played, from rules to tactics to mindset.
So, if you are looking to get better at doubles, keep on reading!
Why We Love Doubles
We love doubles tennis because it tends to be a lot more social than singles, meaning you can meet more people at your local club and play in a more friendly environment.
Whilst singles is great if you want to battle it out one on one, it can be a bit too intense both physically and mentally for a lot of players.
This is where doubles really comes into its own. It is definitely a game for life that can be enjoyed by juniors all the way up to older folks.
Doubles is a lot less physically demanding than singles since there are two players covering the court, and even with the doubles alleys in play there is a lot less running involved.
Doubles also tends to be more dominated by feel shots and short points compared to singles.
This is because there is less free court space to hit into doubles, making it harder to grind out points from the back of the court.
We also love the fact that doubles tends to be a lot more social than singles, since you have four players sharing the court.
Each doubles team has to work together to find a way to out fox their opponents, which can make doubles more tactical than singles.
Doubles Rules Compared to Singles
Now, there are a few key differences in doubles compared to singles when it comes to the rules of the game.
Of course, you will know that the doubles alleys or tramlines count as in in doubles, but you may not be aware of the serving order or alternative scoring systems that are often used in doubles.
When serving, teams will rotate so both players serve alternately.
For example, one team has players A and B, and another team has players C and D. Player A in the first team will serve first, followed by player C in the second team.
Then, player B from the first team will serve, followed by player D in the second team. This is then repeated and the order is kept the same throughout the set.
However, at the beginning of a new set, both teams can alter their serving rotations to change things up and get an early advantage.
Furthermore, teams must decide which side of the court each player will return from.
One player will return from the right hand side (the deuce court) and one player will return from the left hand side (the advantage court).
This can be a bit of a tactical decision, as a player with a significantly stronger forehand for example may be better off playing on the right hand side of the court, as they will be more able to get that strong shot into play.
You may also decide to put a more consistent player on the left hand side of the court, as they may end up facing a higher number of pivotal points throughout the match, such as break points at 40-30.
However, where the majority of ‘big’ points tend to be played from the left hand side of the court in singles, this is not necessarily the case in doubles.
This is because ‘no-ad’ scoring has become popularised in doubles in recent years.
This is partly down to TV companies wanting to speed up doubles matches and make match durations more predictable, and partly to make doubles a more accessible version of the sport.
In any case, no-ad scoring refers to simply one point being played to win a game if it goes to deuce.
If this is the case, the receiving team will be able to decide which side of the court they would prefer the serve to serve from, evening up the playing field slightly.
This adds a bit more pressure to this single point, forcing both teams to come up clutch rather than dragging a game out with endless deuces (as can sometimes be the case in singles).
What’s more, some doubles events will use a 10 point tie break instead of a full third set, again with the intention of speeding up the match.
This again makes for added pressure on both teams, as both teams can go through two long, gruelling sets, only for the match outcome to be determined by a tie break that may only last five minutes.
How to Play Better Doubles
Now we have explained how the rules of doubles differ from those of singles, let’s take a closer look at how you can play better doubles yourself!
Ultimately, you are playing as a team when you play doubles.
Therefore, it is incredibly important to have good, clear communication with your teammate during and in between points.
For example, discussing where you intend on serving and returning before a point starts, mixing up your positioning and encouraging each other are all great ways to display positive communication.
Not only can this help your own performance and that of your playing partner, but it can also discourage your opponents if they see you both getting pumped up and determined to win!
Having strong communication with your partner can be difficult if you have not played much together before, but simply praising them when they hit a good shot or encouraging them if they get down on themselves can go a long way to forming a solid partnership.
Positioning is a very crucial but often overlooked part of doubles matchplay.
Since there is less court space to hit into when two players are on the court, covering and exposing angles on the court is a very important part of winning points.
Unlike singles where points can become a bit of a war of attrition, doubles points tend to be won much more quickly.
This is because a good serve or return can be backed up by the net player putting away a volley and closing out the point within just a few shots.
Therefore, making the court seem as small as possible for your opponents is a great way to pile on the pressure.
You can do this by closing in on the net after a serve or return, as this makes the court seem a lot smaller to your opponents, but watch out for the lob over your and your opponent’s heads.
Also, try not to get caught in no man’s land (just behind the service line), as you will likely be hitting a low volley around your shoelaces.
As a net player, you’ll want to cover both the tramline and the middle of the court as best you can.
The way to do this is to start in the middle of the service box, stay nice and low with a deep knee bend and move forward towards the net to close off the angles.
Whilst you won’t be physically covering more space, you will be closing the net down and cutting off the angles that your opponents can exploit.
Also, the act of stepping into the court causes movement in your opponent’s peripheral vision, which can actually put them off slightly and lead to them miss timing their shot.
From a tactical perspective, changing up your formation is a great way to throw doubt into your opponent’s minds and turn the tables of a match in your favour.
Whilst this is similar to positioning, tactical changes to your doubles setup tend to be more deliberate and calculated rather than reactive.
With this in mind, you can set your team up with both players back behind the baseline to absorb pressure from your opponents more easily.
This gives you more time on the ball and allows you to cover more of the court, which is great if you are up against big servers.
Also, you could use the ‘I’ formation, which is a great way to keep your opponents guessing.
This is done by the server standing closer to the centre of the court to disguise their serving location, whilst the net player crouches down on the centre service line, so both players are positioned in the middle of the court.
Then, once the server has served, the net player will jump up and cover a predetermined position on the court.
Of course, the opponents will have no idea where the serve will be directed or which side of the court the net player will be covering.
Similarly, you may want to adopt the tandem or Australian formation, where the net player stands on the same side of the court as the server.
This opens up the down the line shot for the returner, but the server can easily cover that since they are already at the back of the court.
This position can really throw an opponent off their game and force them into errors.
In terms of mentality when it comes to doubles, the main shots to focus on are the serve and return.
These are always the two most important shots in a tennis match, but this is especially the case when playing doubles.
This is because points tend to end a lot more quickly in doubles compared to singles, so it is important to get a good strike in early.
When serving, look to place the ball rather than go for out and out power.
Having a high first serve percentage is very important in doubles, as a second serve can present an opportunity for your opponents to step in and hit a crushing return.
When you are returning however, it is important to make as many returns as possible and get the ball down low to your opponent’s feet if possible.
Again, placement is more important than power here, as your aim should be to make your opponent hit a difficult volley rather than to hit a winner.
Consistency and high energy is really important in doubles.
Things can change very quickly for better or for worse, so staying positive and always focusing on the net point is especially important if you want to play good doubles.
Tennis Doubles Rules Takeaways
Overall, doubles is a form of tennis that is loved the world over. Its social and less intense nature attracts players to it at all levels.
Doubles rules do differ to singles rules of course, but this brings with it a whole different set of tactics, playing formations and mental cues as well.
Doubles is a unique form of tennis that we all know and love, so make sure you follow our guide to get the best out of yourself and your partner next time you step on the court!
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