One of the main goals in doubles tennis is to take the net, as it decreases the likelihood of hitting the ball into the net and gives you better angles to put the ball away. It also gives your opponent less time to recover after a shot or prepare for the next one…and charging the net intimidates the crap out of them!
But many recreational players struggle with the first and foremost step of net play: knowing when to move in and when NOT to move in. Obviously, you’ll have to come in to net on a drop shot or short approach shot, but there are other opportunities (some of which you can create yourself) that you should also take advantage of. You need to pick your moments wisely, so be patient; don’t just rush in without a purpose. Rushing the net at the wrong time takes you out of position which could cost you the point.
When you DO decide to make your move, get in quickly, but not too close. You don’t want to crowd the net or you’ll leave a lot of open real estate behind you…a step or two inside the service line is perfect. That way you’ll be in a good position to either move forward to volley a sitter or to take a few steps back use your overhead on a lob.
Here are some great tips that players of every level can use. Always consider approaching the net:
When you serve.
Your serve puts you at a huge advantage for your next shot. When serving, you can control where you want to place the ball, how hard you want to hit it, and the type of spin you want to use. This alone can make your opponents sweat, and rushing the net adds the pressure to hit a good return.
Here is how you should handle serve and volleying:
Out-wide: Serves that pull them off the court does two things. First, it messes with them mentally because their normal return shot is gone and they’re now having to resort to praying to the tennis gods just to get the ball back over the net. Secondly, it physically forces them to work harder and faster to get back into position. It’s the perfect time to come in to the net! More than likely they’ll block back the return, and if you’re anywhere near the net, you can volley for the put-away.
Down the T: A solid down-the-T serve is normally tough to return, especially for the backhand. If you can stretch your opponent out and force an off-balance return, they won’t be able to place the ball with any precision or pace. No doubt the return will be weak, and more toward the middle of the court where you should be waiting with your partner at the net, ready to pick it off.
At the body: Jamming your opponent is hard to do on purpose but happens a lot by accident. Serves to the body generally lead to an easy sitter, so as soon as you realize that’s what happened, start moving in.
Most serve-and-volleyers decide to charge the net before they serve the ball. It’s an aggressive mental approach that you need to commit to if you want to be successful. If you’re unsure about moving in, don’t do it. Any hesitation and you’ll likely get caught in no-man’s land. Also, you don’t want to rush the net on every serve because many times they aren’t executed the same way we envision in our heads. If your serve winds up in their strike zone, stay put. And on a final note, don’t come to net on a weak second serve…they will punish you with it.
When you have your opponent on the run.
If you have your opponent on the run from one baseline corner to the other – especially if they’re running toward their backhand side. Even the pros struggle with a backhand return on the run, so at our level, you can expect their return to be either an error, a short lob or sitter.
When you hit a deep lob.
The offensive lob can be a great weapon for doubles play as the ball hangs in the air, giving you plenty of time to move in and get into position. Let’s say you and your partner are receiving serve, and your opponents are in the usual one-up, one-back formation. Return with a lob over the net player, and as your opponents are hustling to switch and/or move back, and chase down the ball, that is when you move in. This works best when the player chasing down the lob has to return it with an awkward backhand.
When you hit a “dipper” right at their feet.
A “dipper” is a groundstroke that is hit low and with heavy topspin. When a ball like that lands at their feet, your opponent will have no choice but to put their racket head down and hit up on it in order to get it over the net. The resulting return is likely to be high enough so that you or your partner can volley for the put-away. This is actually a favorite shot I use against serve and volleyers: As they are coming in behind their serve, I hit a dipper to their feet and follow it in; this usually results in either an error or a sitter which I put it away.
When your opponent comes in to the net.
Yep. You heard me right. If they’re coming in for a low short ball (in the middle of the service box) or drop shot, you come in as well. Because they have to come so far into the court, they won’t be able to rip a winner without risking hitting it long or into the net. If they do get it back, chances are good it will be a sitter, and if you’re inside the service line, you can pick it off with a winning volley.
Some players fear coming to net, while others don’t care one way or another about it. Good players, however, have well-rounded games and keep their opponents off-balance by mixing up their strategies. Charging the net requires an aggressive mindset, so don’t wait until you shake your opponent’s hand to finally get there! Use any or all of these tactics in every match, and not only will you gain more confidence at the net, but you’ll win more points!