Good doubles teams win at the net. Yet the dilemma for the modern player is that they haven’t developed the skills or the mindset to come forward.
If you are a good duo at the net and can absorb the heavy hitting for one or two shots before you put the ball away, that’s the way you are going to win. It is the way to build and control pressure in matches.
One great exercise that Mark Woodforde and I used to do at the end of every warm-up session was to belt balls at the net person, just to get our reflexes sharp. You’ve got to stay low, eyes to the ball. This builds confidence and quick reaction. We’d also volley fast to each other at the net. These were the last two things we did every day.
You have to practice, you can’t just think you’re going to bowl up and take control of the net. Volleying is a skill and you’ve got to work on getting volleys below the net; learn how to angle the short ball. You can do drills for that, like intercept drills and incorporate them into every workout.
People can get scared about coming into the net because they fear getting hit. The best way to change that mindset is to take the ball on. In an exchange at the net, if you start to back off, you will get hit. You’ve got to hold your ground, keep moving forward and take on that ball, look to get it on you racquet. As soon as you have that mindset you become a much better volleyer.
Again, you’ve got to work on your skills at the net. It’s something the modern player doesn’t do enough of. They work so hard drilling from the baseline and building a physical game. But try two-on-one drilling with one person at the net and two at the baseline. You will quickly learn how to volley if you do this for long periods.
Coming into the net develops a mindset that helps you take control of the match. It’s a way of asserting yourself into a positive position. That’s the game changer, especially in doubles. A quick reaction, a reflex volley on a crucial point changes momentum. Even in singles, so many key points in a match are won by the ability to finish the ball off at the net.
If you are back in the court, a good time to come to the net is when you hit a drive up the middle of the opposition’s court. This is more effective than coming in off a crosscourt ball. Don’t give your opponent lots of options; if you’re coming in off a straight ball, or a ball that you’ve hit down the middle, they’ve got to come back down that line, it’s harder for them to pass you.
I played a lot of club mixed doubles growing up. My mother was great at the net, she couldn’t serve-volley to save herself but she was very confident at the net off a hard driven ball, she knew where to move to be able to put the ball away. A lot of club players do that well. Commanding the net also has to do with flow. You must flow in the direction the ball goes as a combination. If the ball is moving to my left, I go towards it and so does my partner. You should always be moving as one. If you had a piece of rope joining you two metres apart, it would never get slack. If one moves to the right, the other should move to the right as well. You would always move in the same direction. It’s like a dance.
A winner of every Grand Slam doubles title at least once, Todd Woodbridge claimed 61 titles with Mark Woodforde and 83 in total. He is now Professional Tennis Manager at Tennis Australia.
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