The Best Tennis Doubles Rules, Tips & Strategies

You’ve been playing singles forever, but now you’re ready to try doubles. Read on to learn more about the rules, strategies and etiquette of tennis doubles.

Tennis doubles

Tennis is divided into two major events: singles and doubles. Singles are played one-on-one, while doubles are played two-on-two. Two tennis players join forces to compete against another two-player team on opposite ends of the tennis court. For this article, we will assume that you are already familiar with the fundamentals of tennis. Feel free to skip ahead to the topic of your choice.

Quick Navigation

  1. Doubles vs. Singles
  2. Doubles Serving Rotation
  3. Where to Receive?
  4. Communication
  5. Tiebreaker
  6. Alternative Doubles
  7. Positioning and Formations
  8. Main Doubles Strategies
  9. Choosing a Partner
  10. Final Thoughts

1. Doubles vs. Singles

What discipline is harder, singles or doubles? But, of course, this is a contentious and, at times, endless debate because of the various opinions and obvious factors. Competition is competition. However, there is a noticeable difference in the game dynamics when players compete in doubles tennis.

Because a doubles team has two tennis players (as opposed to one tennis player on a singles team), an individual tennis player has less court to cover, making it less demanding but not necessarily less challenging than singles. However, the primary goals in singles and doubles tennis competitions remain consistent. Win… points to win games to win sets to win matches to win every match and, eventually, the championship in a tennis tournament.

With a few exceptions, most singles tennis rules and guidelines apply to doubles tennis. First and foremost, the court is larger. The boundaries are extended to the doubles sidelines from side to side. This includes the alleys on the court between the singles and doubles sidelines. Remember that the doubles tennis court boundaries come into play only after the ball is served.

2. Doubles Serving Rotation

Serves are rotated from one team to the next. A four-player rotation (doubles) is noted and maintained throughout a set instead of a two-player rotation (singles). For example, players Rublev and Medvedev (Team 1) are playing a set against competitors Tsitsipas and Alcaraz. (Team 2). Medvedev is the first to serve on Team 1, and Player Tsitsipas is the first to serve on Team 2. As a result, Team 2 has been assigned to serve the first game of the set.

  • Tsitsipas serves in Game 1
  • Medvedev serves in Game 2
  • Alcaraz serves in Game 3
  • Rublev serves in Game 4

Each doubles player rotates to serve every fourth game until the set is completed. Then, teams can determine which player will serve first for their respective side in the following set(s), and a new rotation can be established. Although strategic gameplay is important, I advise letting the best server on your team serve first.

The serving choices have been changed from pairs to singles. The server takes over the area behind the alley, along the baseline between the singles and doubles sidelines. That is to say, the server in doubles tennis can serve from any place behind and along the baseline, from the center mark line to the doubles sideline at the team’s end of the court.

3. Where To Receive?

(Deuce Court vs. Advantage Court) Before the game begins, teammates must choose whether to receive serves in the right service court (deuce court) or the left service court (advantage court). After that, each player on that team can only return serves from his or her designated service court for that set. Switching service courts to receive serves is not allowed until the set is completed. At that point, teammates can alternate service court sides at the start of each new set. Teammates can stand anywhere on the court, as long as the player is expected to return the serve attempts or executes the return, not the other player. To receive serves, the receiver typically positions himself behind the baseline. The teammate positions are located in or near the adjacent service court.

4. Communication

In doubles tennis, communication is crucial. For example, when the tennis ball is returned over the net from one end of the court, only one competitor on that team can strike, smash, slice, lob, and volley the ball.

For example, if you and a teammate both attempt to return the same ball and both of your racquets make contact with the ball, the point is awarded to the opposing team. However, if only one of the racquets makes contact with the ball, the game continues until a team wins that point. It doesn’t mean competitors have to take turns hitting the ball. In fact, after the serve, a teammate may decide to cover the entire court and execute every return to win a point. Except for returning serves, that is entirely within doubles tennis rules and guidelines. Of course, this may be necessary occasionally, but if this competitor consistently covers the entire court, expect an irritated reaction from his or her teammate.

5. Tiebreaker

The doubles tiebreaker follows the same scoring and guidelines as the singles match tiebreaker, with one exception. When playing singles, the two-point rotation begins after the first point is completed, and the serving rotation is maintained.

The difference is that the two-point serving rotation now includes four instead of two players. So, for example, Rublev and Medvedev (Team 1) are in a tiebreaker against competitors Tsitsipas and Alcaraz. (Team 2). However, the serving rotation is still in effect, and Tsitsipas is the next in line to serve.

  • Point 1 – Tsitsipas Serves
  • Point 2 – Rublev Serves
  • Point 3 – Rublev Serves
  • Point 4 – Alcaraz Serves
  • Point 5 – Alcaraz Serves
  • Point 6 – Medvedev Serves
  • Point 7 – Medvedev Serves
  • Point 8 – Tsitsipas Serves
  • Point 9 – Tsitsipas Serves

This cycle is repeated until a team wins the tiebreaker. To win the tiebreaker and complete the set, a team must score at least seven points while holding a two-point advantage. So, for example, the winning team’s tiebreaker scoring results could be 7-1, 7-5, 8-6, 14-12, 21-19, etc.

6. Alternative Doubles

Mixed Doubles

Gender is referred to as ‘Mixed.’ The rules and guidelines are still in place, but there is a catch. Each team has one male and one female member.

Canadian Doubles

This doubles variant requires three players. This is a two-on-one match. In other words, this is a match between doubles and singles. There are two players on one side of the court and one player on the other. The boundaries of the doubles players are the boundaries of the singles court, and the boundaries of the singles players are the boundaries of the doubles court. Three sets are played, with each player having to play singles in at least one. Tennis with a twist, but all standard tennis rules and guidelines apply. The singles player who wins the most combined games in the match wins the championship.

Australian Doubles

This sport is similar to Canadian Doubles, but a few differences exist. Australian Doubles is still a doubles vs. singles competition. On the other hand, the singles player always serves. Players rotate positions on the court after each game, allowing all players to play singles every third game.

The scoring guidelines are not set in stone. However, because this is an unofficial tennis style, scoring can be determined before gameplay by tournament officials, coaches, and players in a pick-up game. Many use the Canadian Doubles guidelines (most combined games won by a singles player).

Another popular method is to assign a specific point value to each game. For example, assume a game has a point value of four. If the singles player wins, he or she will receive four game points. Each member of the winning doubles team receives two points.

7. Positioning and Formations

First and foremost, you’ll want to ensure that you’re in the correct position and moving in the right direction. So here are some pointers on where to stand and how to move when using a standard doubles formation:

Stand a few feet away from the doubles alley when serving. This will allow you to comfortably cover your half of the court and handle any wider returns. Stand near the center of the service box on the opposite half of the court when your partner is serving. This positions you to hit volleys at the right height and cover the tramline on your side of the court. It also positions you well to cover a lob if the ball goes over your head. If your partner returns, take a step back from the service line. If your opponent volleys, you’ll be able to cover the court or go forward to volley yourself. Stand as you would for a singles return when returning a serve, but closer to the doubles alley to cover a wider serve. These are the positions used in the traditional doubles formation. You will need to adjust your positioning if you use more advanced doubles formations. Below is an overview of each doubles formation, including the benefits and drawbacks of each and when to use them.

Standard Formation

The standard doubles formation is most utilized in doubles at all game levels. Both teams will have one player at each end of the field and one at the net. Baselines can rally across the court since the net players stand diagonally across the court.

  • Advantages: It’s a fairly neutral formation that allows you to cover the court well without leaving large gaps for your opponents to exploit. It also enables you to be offensive and defensive at the same time, allowing the net player to be aggressive. In contrast, the baseline player covers deeper crosscourt shots and lobs.
  • Disadvantages: It can be overly neutral. Assume your net player isn’t being aggressive enough. It will allow your opponents to rally crosscourt and easily work their way to the net.

When to use it: Because it is appropriate for most players and scenarios, we recommend using the standard formation and occasionally employing more advanced tactics to shake things up.

I-Formation

The I-formation is a more advanced version of the doubles formation. The net player stands on or near the center service line, and the server stands near the baseline center. Before the point begins, the players will agree on the direction the net player will move. This is typically accomplished through hand signals, allowing the net player to be more aggressive at the net. At the same time, the server covers the other half of the court.

  • Advantages: It allows the net player to be more aggressive when poaching, giving you an advantage at the net. It also confuses opponents because they won’t know what side the net player will end up in.
  • Disadvantages: The net player opens up more of the court and exposes himself to return strokes by being more aggressive.

When to use it: When your opponents are comfortable returning crosscourt and can keep the ball away from the net player, this is the best time to use it.

Australian Formation

Another advanced doubles serving strategy is the Australian doubles formation. Both players take up positions on the same side of the court, exposing half of the court. An aggressive formation forces opponents to hit returns down the line.

  • Advantages: Lining up on the same side as the server allows the net player to better cover the crosscourt return. As a result, they are forced to return down the line, which is a more difficult shot.
  • Disadvantages: You’re leaving half of the court open. That can be a big risk if your opponent has a good return or the server doesn’t hit a great serve.

When to use it: When your opponent is very good at returning crosscourt, you want to force the return down the line.

“Two Back” Formation

Playing with two players at the back of the court is a common return tactic when you or your partner is being bullied at the net. It’s especially useful against big serves when you’re having trouble getting the return back.

  • Advantages: Playing with two players back allows you to react quickly to your opponent’s shots. It can be extremely beneficial if you and your partner are being bullied at the net on return.
  • Disadvantages: Playing with two players in the back gives your opponents greater space to hit into, so you’ll have to rely on your returns more.

When to use it: When you’re being bullied at the net.

8. Main Doubles Strategies

Here are a few basic doubles strategies that are useful at practically any level of play:

  • Positioning: Knowing where to position oneself is one of the first things beginners should learn. You’re used to covering the entire court width yourself in singles tennis. However, the court is much larger and wider for doubles. As a result, each of you is in charge of half of the court.
    • You must trust your partner to handle the balls hit their way. And they must have faith in you to do the same.
    • And covering only half the court isn’t any easier because there’s still a lot of uncertainty. Even if you intend to cover the left or right side of the court, your court position may change as the doubles game progresses. For example, who is now covering the right side?
    • Yelling “mine” or “yours” will save you and your partner from watching a ball sail between you while neither of you is even attempting to hit it. When both players are right-handed, the player with the stronger backhand usually receives serve on the advantage/left side. Because most tennis players’ backhand is their weaker groundstroke, taking advantage of your opponent’s weak side on serve can be advantageous.
    • Another thing to consider is timing. For example, if you’re on the return team, you should know when and where to move: Stand at or near the baseline during the first serve, not too far from the doubles alley/singles line. This enables you to receive serves aimed at your forehand or backhand side.
    • Move closer to the net when returning a second serve. Second serves are notoriously slower in pace. Getting closer to the court allows you to take advantage of a weaker serve and potentially cut off any angles.
    • If your doubles partner receives a serve, stand near the opposite court’s service line. This protects the court from an angled volley by the opposing net player.
    • If your partner serves, take a position opposite the opposing returner in the center of the service box. This places you in a good position to volley the returner’s bad return. The trick is to be receptive to continual positional modifications.
  • Team Communication: Everything revolves around communication. Although it may sound like one of those corny relationship quotes, this significantly impacts how you and your doubles partner will perform in doubles. I cannot emphasize this enough. Doubles Tennis is a sport that is played in groups. Therefore, it makes no difference if you are a very skilled tennis player on your own. However, if you cannot collaborate, your chances of success are minimal.
    • Communication is essential in doubles tennis. You and your partner should agree on the direction, strategy, formations, and netplay. In addition, each doubles pair should have its method of communicating during and after the game. Some people, for example, use hand signals during a match. You’ll have more fun and have a better chance of success if you communicate.
  • Capitalize on Your Team’s Strengths: Every tennis player has strengths and weaknesses in different areas. For example, if you are the stronger server, serve first between you and your partner. Then, cover the ad/left side of the court if your partner has a killer backhand.
    • Doubles tennis is about the team’s success, but the team is made up of two people. So plan how you will use your strengths to create opportunities for the team’s benefit as a team.
  • Prey on your Opponent’s Shortcomings: Exploiting an opponent’s weakness is a competition component, just like any other sport. As you play a doubles match, you observe what causes your opponent the most difficulty. When an opportunity to exploit a weakness presents itself, take it.
    • Don’t get the wrong impression here. I’m not talking about launching groundstrokes at your opponent at the net. This is more consistent with the server having a poor second serve and teeing off on it when you’re in your sweet spot. Sportsmanship is an important aspect of doubles tennis, just as in singles tennis.
  • Move: Many first-time tennis players have lead feet. It’s similar to inertia in that an object stays in motion. The same is true for your feet. You’re ready for anything if you’re quick on your feet and almost dancing out there.
    • Tennis is a fast-paced sport that requires quick movements and decision-making. It’s all about constant tweaking. Footwork is essential for establishing proper shots. The net is where a lot of the action in a doubles match occurs. Because balls move quickly, standing still in one place is a no-no. Instead, do a split step whenever the ball is struck on the court. It’s a small step, but it keeps you light on your feet and prepared for the next shot.
  • Angles Game: This may directly contradict #5, but this doubles tennis strategy is mostly recommended for volleying and overheads. In doubles tennis, you have the entire court to yourself. So make use of those alleys. Use sharp angles to push your opponents off the court when volleying or hitting overheads. Go for it if you can hit a well-placed shot that takes advantage of a sharp angle!
  • Lob: A lob is a dramatic change in the ball’s speed and direction. It entails slowing down the pace on the ball and hitting it high over the net player into the back of the court. To hit a lob, make sure the ball is as high as possible and with topspin. A lob will most likely catch your opponents off guard. They’ll rush to the back of the court, giving up their net position. As a result, they frequently do not make it to the ball; if they do, the topspin shot takes the ball out of their reach. Unfortunately, in doubles tennis, the use of a lob is vastly underappreciated. It takes time to master them, but it’s time well spent. Tip: Lobs are useful in the middle of a long rally. Don’t be afraid to experiment with a lob. It can cause havoc and keep the opposing team on their toes.
  • Avoid “No Man’s Land”: No Man’s Land is a section of the court that is neither a net position nor in the backcourt. It’s a position in the middle of the court that might make you feel stuck and like you have few options. Deep shots may land right at your feet and may not be within volley range. Or you end up with a half-volley, which is usually unpredictable.
  • Avoid The Player At The Net: In general, you should avoid the opposing net player. They have a chance to win the point if they can get their racket on the ball. Instead, keep the ball away from them when rallying from the baseline. You keep the rally going while allowing your partner to be aggressive at the net.
  • Hit to the Backhand of the Weaker Player: Hitting to the weaker opponent will earn you more points. However, you should also try to hit the weaker player’s backhand, usually their weakest shot. The same can be said for their volleys. Backhand volleys are more likely to cause errors for your opponents than forehand volleys.
  • Hit Deep Groundstrokes: Keep your groundstrokes deep when rallying with an opponent from the baseline to keep them held back and prevent them from reaching the net. Hitting deep increases your chances of forcing a mistake and allowing your partner to put away a volley at the net.
  • Hit the Ball to the Feet of the Net Player: When you have the opportunity to attack and be aggressive, aim for the opposing net player’s feet. It’s much more difficult to hit a volley from your feet than hitting a regular at chest height. Even if your opponents are excellent volleyers, they will struggle to hit an aggressive shot because they will be volleying from below the net’s height. Even if they recover the ball, it will likely float back over the net for your partner to put away. As a result, aiming for the net player’s feet is an excellent technique to cause your opponents to make a mistake.
  • Attack the Court’s Center: If you find yourself near the baseline with both opponents at the net, consider a middle-of-the-court shot rather than a more difficult one like a passing shot down the line or a lob. You force your opponents to quickly decide who gets the ball, often leading to confusion by hitting to the middle. It also makes hitting a winning volley much more difficult because they will have fewer angles to work with.
  • Dominate The Net: Taking the net is a common and effective doubles tennis strategy. It’s an excellent way to seize control of the point, be aggressive, and put your opponents under pressure. It takes away their time and gives them much less space to hit into, forcing them to take more risky shots such as passing shots down the line or even lobs.

Net Strategy

Because you’ll be spending a lot of time at the net, developing a good net strategy can make or break a match. There are three general strategies:

  • Poaching: A poach is when the net player crosses the center service line to end the rally and hit a volley. It works well at the start of a match because few players will return down the line early on. And if you can expose your partner’s weakness with the serve, you should get a relatively easy volley.
  • Pinching: is when a player moves diagonally towards the middle of the net to close down the space during a crosscourt rally. It’s especially useful for forcing your opponents’ errors to take more difficult shots.
  • Faking: This one is fairly self-explanatory. You’re faking it when you act like you’re going to poach instead of recovering towards the doubles alley. The key here is to make sure your opponent sees you move, so start early to give yourself time to recover and catch their shot later. Again, this is a great way to force errors from the returner or put away a fairly simple volley.
    • Remember that pinching and faking are tactics that expose your half of the court, so use them with caution.
    • You should usually volley into space if you have a volley, assuming there is one. Aim for the middle and at their feet if both opponents are well-positioned or at the net.

Serve Strategy

Serving in doubles is more aimed at setting up your partner for a volley than hitting dozens of aces than winning the game. You’ll need to communicate with your partner and develop a serving strategy. You should notify your partner of where you intend to serve by telling them at the baseline or using hand signals. Then there are two options for you to consider:

  • Serve to your opponent’s weak point, which is typically their backhand. As the match progresses, you may notice that they have a weaker forehand return or cannot return down the line. You might even notice that they struggle more with slower second serves than your first serves.
  • If you can’t find their weakness, play to your strengths. Use your most effective or most likely serve to set up your partner for a volley. Serving down the T can help you reduce the angles you’ll face on the return and give your partner more room to poach.
  • A good serve approach will also help you serve and volley more successfully, placing your opponents under immediate pressure.

Return Strategy

Of course, serving is only half of the equation. In contrast to singles, a poor return in doubles will be easily put away by the opposing net player. As a result, having a good return strategy can be critical to making a high percentage of good returns. For example, one of the most common doubles mistakes is attempting to go for too much on the return. Instead, concentrate on getting the ball back and away from the net player before attempting massive returns down the line or extremely wide shots into the baseline. After all, your goal should be to get into the point and set up your partner for a volley rather than to hit a winner off the return.

One of the most effective strategies is to aim for the middle strap when returning. You’ll have a somewhat greater error margin because it’s the lowest area of the net. You are removing angles, making it more difficult for your opponents to hit a winning volley. You’re keeping your head down. Even if your opponent serves and volleys, you will hit the return at their feet while they hit a much more difficult first volley.

If you notice the opposing net player becoming more aggressive, go down the line with your return from time to time to keep them in check and prevent them from poaching too frequently. These tactics require time to develop and may not always be effective.

9. Choosing a Partner

Before committing to a doubles team, there are numerous factors to consider. First and foremost, there are skills. You and your partner do not have to be gifted geniuses. All you need to do is find someone whose strengths complement your weaknesses. It’s not the best partnership if you both have great serves but can’t keep a rally going. So it is, once again, a matter of balance. Personality is the second aspect to consider. A team can have all the talent, but playing together is worthless if they don’t see eye to eye or play with one another. Finally, keep in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect partner. Yes, there may be people with whom you get along better, but each doubles pair has its dynamic.

10. Final Thoughts

Tennis is known as the “lifetime sport.” This is defined and attributed to the US Tennis Association’s compelling slogan promoting tennis as a lifelong recreational and competitive activity. Tennis players enjoy the competition, while spectators enjoy the electrifying nature of the game. Yes, the fast-paced, energetic action in doubles tennis competition adds to the sport’s dynamics. It is exciting to watch and, without a doubt, a lot of fun to play.

And there you have it: all the basic rules and strategies for doubles. Hopefully, this article has provided you with the information you need to go out there and enjoy a competitive (or hit and giggle) match with your friends.