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Offensive and defensive positioning

July 29, 2010
By JAK BEARDSWORTH

While visiting an out of town club last weekend, I overheard a player announce to his doubles group immediately after completing play: “I don’t know why you guys wanted to stop after just three sets, I could’ve played another three.”


    The pro, whom I knew, also standing within earshot, looked at me, shrugged and shook his head to stealthily disassociate himself from this particular member.


    His statement was by no means a proclamation of his boundless energy or superb fitness, it was, however, an unknowing confession of his doubles “style” of net play — the motionless, non-participating net man.


    Earlier, I casually observed this group and the player in question. When at the net he consistently positioned himself as close to the net as possible — a mere racket’s length away — normally only appropriate for very young children, and as close to the alley as possible without actually stepping on the singles sideline. He stood absolutely still, never moving from that spot, with his head swiveling weirdly back and forth — like some possessed character in an Exorcist movie — to observe the action.


    He removed himself from the fray, leaving his partner to cover four-fifths of the court. I can only surmise, since he and his partner lost, that he probably blamed him for poor back court play.


    Club doubles is played mostly in the one-up, one-back alignment. Playing it well requires a constant shifting back and forth by the opposing net players between an offensive position (one that creates an opportunity to poach) and a defensive position (one that defends against the poach).


    At the beginning of each point, the net player on the serving team should be positioned offensively. That’s approximately in the middle of the service box in order to pick-off (the “poaching” reference) any errant returns that are reachable.


    Conversely, as in defense, the receiving team’s net player is positioned in close proximity to the service box “T” in order to defend the middle of the court from an opposing poacher.


    Once the defending net player’s partner makes a successful return — one that’s sufficiently cross court and safely out of the poacher’s range — the net partner then transitions immediately into the “up position” to, hopefully, have an opportunity to snag the opposition’s cross court counter.


    Upon failing to be a factor in the initial offensive position on the serving team, this net player has to then transition back toward the defending position mentioned earlier near the “T” to fend off any interceptions of their partners shots from the back.


    Back and forth it goes. Over and over. All match long. This takes effort, energized footwork, constant movement, and a commitment to the task versus the approach of our always fresh as a daisy friend.


    Other challenging teamwork, positioning issues abound in doubles play (a chimpanzee could be taught to play singles) but the offense-defense aspect of net play is essential if you’re going to play true doubles versus four players stuck in mostly singles mode.


Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Resort. He can be reached by e-mail at  jb1tennis@comcast.net, by phone at 941-626-0097 or through his website: jakbeardsworthtennis.com  

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