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 is divided into two major events: singles and doubles. Singles are played one-on-one, while doubles are played two-on-two. On opposite sides of the tennis court, two tennis players pair up to play against another two-player side. 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.
- Doubles vs. Singles
- Doubles Serving Rotation
- Where to Receive?
- Alternative Doubles
- Positioning and Formations
- Tennis Doubles Strategy
- Choosing a Partner
- Final Thoughts
- Extra Resource
Doubles vs. Singles
A tennis player has less court to cover in doubles because there are 2 players on the team (as opposed to 1 in singles), which makes it less challenging but not necessarily less difficult than singles. However, the primary goals in both 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 regulations apply to doubles tennis.
The court is bigger in the first place. The boundary extends to the doubles sidelines on both sides following the tennis doubles rules, remember the doubles court boundaries come into play only after the ball has been served.
Doubles Serving Rotation
Serves are rotated from one team to the next. Instead of a 2-player rotation (singles), a 4-player rotation (doubles) is established and kept up during a set. For example, the doubles team Rublev/Medvedev is playing a set against Tsitsipas/Alcaraz.
Medvedev is the first to serve on his team, and player Tsitsipas is the first to serve on his side. Via a coin toss, it’s been decided that the combo Tsitsipas/Alcaraz serves first in this set.
- Tsitsipas serves in the first game
- Medvedev serves in the second game
- Alcaraz serves in the third game
- Rublev serves in the fourth game
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 side in the following set(s), and a new rotation can be established. Strategic gameplay is important, so I recommend letting the player with the better serve go first.
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 (ad court). Then, for the remainder of that set, each team player may only return serves from his or her designated side of the court. You cannot switch service courts to receive a serve until the set is over.
After that, teammates can swap 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. The returner usually stands behind the baseline to receive serves. The teammate stays in or close to the adjacent service court.
In doubles, communication is crucial. For example, when the ball is returned over the net from one end of the court, only one player on that team can hit the ball back. For example, if you and a teammate both try to hit the same ball and both of your rackets make contact with the ball, the opposing team wins the point.
However, if only one of the rackets 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. A player might opt to cover the entire court and hit every ball following the serve in an effort to score a point.
The doubles tiebreaker follows the same scoring and regulations as the singles match tiebreaker, with one exception. When playing singles, the 2-point rotation begins after the first point is completed, and the serving rotation is continued.
So, for instance, the doubles team Rublev/Medvedev is in a tiebreaker against Tsitsipas/Alcaraz. However, the serving rotation is still in effect, and Tsitsipas is the next in line to serve.
- First Point – Tsitsipas Serve
- Second Point – Rublev Serve
- Third Point – Rublev Serve
- Fourth Point – Alcaraz Serve
- Fifth Point – Alcaraz Serve
- Sixth Point – Medvedev Serve
- Seventh Point – Medvedev Serve
- Eighth Point 8 – Tsitsipas Serve
- Ninth Point – Tsitsipas Serve
This rotation is repeated until a side wins the tiebreaker. To win the tiebreaker and complete the set, a side must win at least 7 points with at least a 2-point margin. So, for example, the winning side’s tiebreaker final score could be 7-2, 7-4, 9-7, 13-11, 24-22, etc.
Mixed doubles are played the same as doubles, but with 1 man and 1 woman per team.
Canadian doubles is a way of playing with 3 players. It has 2 players play against 1 player on the court simultaneously. The only difference in rules between Canadian and standard doubles tennis is that the team of 2 players can only hit the ball within the singles court, while the single player can hit into the doubles court on the side of the team with 2 players.
A tennis match with 3 players in which a singles player is matched up against a doubles team, with the singles player rotating each game.
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 cover half of the court and handle wider returns comfortably.
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 tennis doubles 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lining up on the same side as the server allows the net player to cover the crosscourt return better. As a result, they are forced to return down the line, which is a more difficult shot.
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.
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.
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.
Tennis Doubles Strategy
Here are a few basic approaches toward a solid tennis doubles strategy that is useful at practically any level of play:
Doubles Tennis Positioning:
Knowing where to position oneself is one of the first things beginners should learn. You’re used to cover 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 while neither of you is 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 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.
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 play. 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 games. You and your partner should agree on the direction, strategy, formations, and net play.
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 doubles 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 tennis 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.
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.
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!
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, ensure 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 its 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 volley, usually their weak 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 can attack and be aggressive, aim for the opponent’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 opposing net player’s feet is an excellent technique to cause opponents to make mistakes.
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.
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:
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 attempt a down-the-line shot early on. And if you can expose your partner’s weakness with the serve, you should get a relatively easy volley.
This is when a player moves diagonally toward 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.
This one is fairly self-explanatory. You’re faking it when you act like you’re going to poach instead of recovering toward 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.
Serving in doubles is more aimed at setting up your partner for a volley than hitting dozens of aces. You’ll need to communicate with your partner and develop a serving strategy. It should be communicated within the serving team 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.
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 player at the net. 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 tennis doubles strategies is to aim for the middle net 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.
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 doubles 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.
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.
Which is harder, singles or doubles tennis?
Doubles are more difficult regarding strategy, tactics, and coordination than singles, but they are less mentally and physically demanding.
In singles, you have a larger area to cover and must be very consistent with your groundstrokes, whereas, in doubles, it is more important to play at the net, feel comfortable with volleying, and place your shots strategically.
Who are the best doubles in tennis?
Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan, Martina Navratilova/Pam Shriver, John McEnroe/Peter Fleming, Serena Williams/Venus Williams, Todd Woodbridge/Mark Woodforde, Natasha Zvereva/Gigi Fernández, John Fitzgerald/Anders Järryd, Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury, Nicolas Mahut/Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova, Paul Haarhuis/Jacco Eltingh, Jonas Bjorkman/Max Mirnyi.
What makes a good doubles player in tennis?
A solid doubles team plays cohesively since doubles is a team sport. At the net, the players make an effort to stay together while shifting as a unit to follow the ball. They understand how to set up their partner to win the point and how to divide the court to cover the majority of shots.
They are effective communicators, plan strategies and provide support for each other. It also helps to be a great singles player with an attacking game and quick reflexes at the net.
How many sets are in a doubles game?
Tennis doubles matches are often played in best-of-three sets, with a 10-point tiebreak used in place of the third set.
Can you switch sides in tennis doubles?
Yes, you can, but following that, you must continue using the same sides for receiving throughout the set, though you can change sides for the set after that.
Is scoring different in doubles tennis?
Most of the singles tennis rules and guidelines are applicable in doubles tennis, but there are a few exceptions. The only difference in gameplay is the boundaries on the court. In singles play, the alleys are out of bounds; in doubles play, they are not. Also, in most tournaments, including on the professional tour, doubles is usually played with no-ad scoring.
How do you score a tiebreaker in doubles tennis?
The first player to win 7 points (win by 2) will win the match. The tiebreaker will begin with the first server serving once from the deuce court. The following server will serve twice, starting in the ad court. Service will then alternate after every two points. Teams switch sides every six points (i.e., at the score of 4-2, 6-6).
Christoph Friedrich is a German tennis player and coach currently residing in Oakland, California. He began his tennis journey at the age of eight and has since dedicated his life to the sport. After working as a tennis coach and hitting partner in New York City for eight years, Christoph decided to share his knowledge and experience with tennis players around the world by creating the My Tennis Expert blog. His goal is to make tennis education accessible to everyone and help players select the best equipment for their game, from racquets and strings to shoes and overgrips. Christoph's extensive research and expertise in tennis technology make him a valuable resource for players of all levels.