In the post-modern world any formation can be justified by the matchups on the court. I will go over a few so that you have a better idea of how and when to use them.
The antidotes to the different formations will be discussed immediately below the formation in question.
Both Back on the Return
This is my favorite to neutralize a big server and/or strong poacher. The basic return in this formation is a high cross court block. This will avoid the poacher and also provide more consistency than a down-the-line lob because the court is longer cross court and, if the shot is short, there is no danger of an overhead from the net player. With this type of return, you are daring the server to serve and volley. Most likely, she will refuse your invitation and now you are into the point! Patience and consistency are keys here while at the same time you and your partner are looking for your first opportunity to “take the net as a team.”
Antidote: If the server serves-and-volleys she should hit a firm volley into the deep center of the court. This gives the baseline team no angles to work with and provides the net team with plenty of space with which to react to the next shot. If the server elects to stay back, she needs to place a forcing groundstroke into the same center position. Occasionally, one of the baseliners has a weaker shot which may be on the outside of the court. For example, a righty playing the ad side might have a weaker backhand. You should attack the singles sideline with a forcing shot to this weakness in this case.
This is usually done in the ad court to prevent a strong inside out forehand from attacking the server’s backhand. It forces the power returner to go down-the-line where there is shorter distance to hit into and a higher net, as well as allowing the server to defend with her forehand. It also exposes the backhand volley of the deuce court player – many times, this is a weakness.
Antidote: The returner should most often return down-the-line. This is so because the poacher in the Australian formation has a longer way to go to intercept this shot. If the server should elect to serve-and-volley, the return should also be played most often down-the-line. If the server has a BIG forehand, then a cross court lob over the net player may be used.
Both Back on the Serve I
This is a purely defensive position which should be adopted when the returner can ‘blow up’ the server’s partner at the net with pure power. The plan is to give both the server and her partner space to react to the power return and to make the points last longer. Basic idea is that you would want the power player to have to string together 3 or 4 power shots rather than just one in order to win the point.
Antidote: The method of attack for the returner is identical to Both Back on the Return.
Both Back on the Serve II
This should be used when the server’s partner has a dominating groundstroke but only an average volley. The server immediately serves and volleys gaining an aggressive net position. She can take an aggressive net position because of the strength of her partner’s groundstroke (almost always a forehand). The opposition is faced with attacking only into your team’s strength (the big forehand) or giving the volleyer a really good finishing opportunity at the net.
Antidote: There are two alternative tactics here. The first involves hitting a good return at the server’s feet as she moves in and positioning your partner in a strong position up close to the net, i.e. she is no longer in the hot seat. This puts maximum pressure on the server’s first volley. The second involves hitting high slow moonballs to the powerful baseliner. This forces her to add pace from deep in the court. Alternatively, it could also force her to hit midcourt volleys – not her favorite shot.
Two Other Things to Note
- If you and your partner find yourself saying “wow, she has an amazing lob”, it always means that you are attacking without conviction. Your approach shots must be hit with more depth and/or pace.
- Every player who plays tennis is vulnerable when they are hitting a second serve. If you fail to make your opponent feel this, you are not going a good job of destroying her confidence. Part of your assignment in a match is to cause the confidence of your opponent to begin to rot.
Using the right formation at the right time can turn a close match into a victory, but it is not a cure-all. Last night’s matches were ALL about serve and return of serve – our opponents got an advantaged start to nearly every point. This is where you all need to focus your practice going forward.