Why good doubles makes better singles

Published by Michael Filosi

Venus and Serena Williams are two of the most successful players of all time - in both singles and doubles. Photo: Getty Images
Want to find the winning edge in singles? The secret may be in a team approach. Michael Filosi explores how doubles can improve your singles game.

It is no coincidence that some of the best singles players to ever pick up a racquet all honed their skills in doubles. Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and more recently, Venus and Serena Williams, have all benefitted from playing regular doubles.

While at the professional level the emphasis placed on doubles has waned a little in recent years, there is no question that playing this variation of the sport has many benefits that can help to improve your singles game.

If you are serious about becoming a more well-rounded player and improving your overall game, an excellent way to do so is to find a suitable playing partner and spend time playing doubles together. Just as it helped to sharpen the skills of some of the legends of the sport, it will also help to improve your game, no matter what level of tennis you play.

Improved reflexes

Having four players on the court in a doubles match means that points tend to be faster paced and more frenetic than those in a singles match, putting a greater emphasis on the sense of anticipation and quick reflexes of all the players involved. A doubles rally can see a series of shots ricochet back and forth across the net in quick succession, forcing all players to react quickly and rely on their keen sense of anticipation, ready to hit the ball when it is next struck in their direction.

This type of fast paced play in doubles can help to improve your reflexes, reaction time and court awareness. Each of these improved skills will greatly improve your singles game, as you look to utilise your improved split-second decision making and reaction times next time you take to the singles court. Should you be in a situation playing singles where you are forced to play a rushed shot or hit a ball directed towards you at close quarters, having played doubles will make you much more adept at ensuring you are ready to hit the next shot.

Improved strategy

Singles players of all levels can occasionally fall into the trap of simply blasting away at their shots without too much thought being given to what exactly they are trying to achieve, and the intended result of the shot. Unlike singles, the nature of doubles involving teamwork and a shared goal means that by necessity some time must be spent discussing and giving thought to strategy and tactics, both before the match as well as between points.

Whereas singles players are not necessarily accountable to another player should their play not follow a set plan, the increased emphasis on strategy in doubles means that all players must be mindful of how their shots fit in within the wider context of a game plan. Discussing tactics with your doubles partner helps heighten your understanding of the strategy associated with playing tennis, and many of these same strategies and tactics can then be transferred to your singles game.

Better use of lobs

With singles tennis resembling a baseline slugfest in recent years, the use of a lob has reduced as players tend to use it only as something of a last resort when stretching for a wide ball. In doubles, the use of a lob is much more of an attacking shot, which players are often not exposed to when playing singles. Knowing how and when to use a lob adds a valuable tool to your singles game to implement as an alternative to a passing shot when your opponent approaches the net.

A well-placed lob can cause your opponent to scurry backwards in an effort to reach the ball as it sails over their head and lands in the backcourt, often forcing your opponent to play a defensive stroke in return.

The more attacking use of the lobbed ball in doubles adds both an extra tactic available to you when playing singles, as well as improving this skill set which otherwise is not often practised for singles tennis, thereby improving your game.

Better return of serve

Whereas in singles there can be a tendency simply to get the ball back into play off an opponent’s serve, in doubles with a second opposition player patrolling the net there is a greater need to return your opponent’s serve in a strategic position on the court, as a short or weak return can be easily picked off by the net player.

This increased importance on the placement of a return of serve forces doubles players to work harder at returning the ball to a specific position on the court, rather than simply keeping the ball in play, which can often be the case when playing singles.

The need in doubles tennis to hit your return of serve with precision translates well when playing singles, and you may well find that you win more points off your opponent’s serve as a result of the increased accuracy and delivery of your return of serve due to your time spent on the doubles court.

Better volleying and net play With a wider variety of shots played in doubles, and more emphasis placed on court craft and playing an all-court game, it is inevitable that those who play a lot of doubles tend to greatly improve their ability to volley. Likewise, doubles players spend a considerable amount of time close to the net, and it is little wonder that doubles players are much more adept and comfortable being in this position on the court when compared with singles players who are used to being anchored to the baseline. Similarly, with doubles players tending to move around the court as a rally plays out, it is more common to have to hit a low ball or volley in a doubles match compared with singles play. Being able to play a volley or return a ball directed low at your shoelaces adds a new dimension to your game that a lot of singles players whose play is con ned to baseline rallies never develop.

The improved ability to volley and feeling more comfortable at the net from playing regular doubles tennis adds another dimension to a player’s game on the singles court. This extra skill set means that players who are used to playing doubles feel much more confident coming in off their own serve and approaching the net to close points out early when playing singles, rather than sitting deep in the court too afraid to enter unfamiliar territory closer to the net. Having practised volleying on the doubles court, approaching the net as a changeup on the singles court can catch your opponent o guard and potentially lead to some easy points from put-away volleys that you would otherwise not have been able to achieve.

Improved attitude

When playing doubles, it is inevitable that you and your partner will make some mistakes from time to time. As a supportive member of a doubles partnership, it is common to find that supportive words elicit a far more positive response and improvement from your partner than negative talk. Making this realisation can also help improve your own attitude when playing singles if you are prone to getting down on yourself or beating yourself up over your own poor play. Once you realise that your partner plays better with positive and affirming comments on the court, it might be worth trying the same thing on yourself and see how your own game improves.

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