If you're a singles tennis player but you're interested in transitioning to doubles tennis, keep in mind that doubles tennis must be approached with an entirely different mindset. While the basic elements of the game will be the same (e.g., serves, ground strokes, volleys etc.) the way in which you approach them can be radically different at times. Below are a few tips to keep in mind when making the transition from singles to doubles tennis.
1. Be Mindful of the Rules
Doubles tennis can be tricky, because there are a handful of rule changes that you have to remember in order to avoid violations. For example, players alternate serves in this manner: Team 1, Player A serves first, followed by Team 2, Player A; then Team 1, Player B, and finally Team 2, Player B. In addition, players must maintain their position throughout a given set. For example, if you start off on the right side of the court and your partner starts on the left, you will have to maintain your side all the way through the set. You can decide to switch sides for the second set if you so choose, and then switch back on the third set, etc. One aspect of doubles tennis that you'll have to get used to is the fact that you'll only be returning serves from one side of the court. Also, don't forget that alleys are now in; what that means is that the outermost sideline (not the inner sideline) is now the out-of-bounds line. If any balls fall within the alleys, don't let them go!
For a full list of doubles tennis rules, you can visit the USTA website.
2. Doubles Games Have Different Dynamics
Of course, the most obvious difference between singles and doubles tennis is that you're now playing with a partner. This means that not only will you have to learn your opponents' strengths and weaknesses, but you'll have to learn your own partner's strengths and weaknesses as well! It may take a while for you and your partner to get in sync, but with good communication and enough practice, it will eventually become much more intuitive.
In addition, only one player is allowed to hit the ball at a time; if both rackets strike the ball at the same time, the point will be awarded to the opposing team. For this reason, good communication is absolutely critical once the ball is in play, so that neither one of you will operate from speculation or guesswork as to who will cover the shot. One of the most dangerous shots in doubles tennis is when the ball is traveling straight down the middle of the court, because there is a tendency to question or assume that your partner will try and return the shot. This often leads to mix-ups, where both players end up not going for the ball and just watching it pass right by.
3. Doubles Tennis Requires a Different Focus
In singles tennis, the ability to hit deep ground strokes is important, but with doubles tennis, angles are the most important factor. As a doubles player, if you can focus on perfecting the art of hitting short angle shots, you will open up the middle of the court for high-percentage shot opportunities. In addition, you must be extremely focused when it comes to defending your territory, so to speak. As you know, having to worry about two opponents instead of one opens up the door for many more variables where return shots are concerned, so you'll have to be vigilant in keeping watch over your side of the court. Whether you're on the baseline or playing the net, assume the mindset that the next shot will be coming your way, every single time. This will help keep you focused, eager and active in your position.
It's often been said that playing doubles will help you tremendously in your singles game. The reason for this is that with doubles, there's a lot less margin for error where accuracy and placement are concerned. You'll need to be able to land the shots exactly where you intend to land them, period. Otherwise, you could give your opponent an easy shot opportunity, or you could accidentally hit your own partner with the ball. As you learn how to transition to doubles tennis, keep the above tips in mind to help you adopt the doubles mindset, and with consistent practice, you'll find doubles tennis to be a healthy and enjoyable challenge that will sharpen your overall game.