#1 Center Window
This is the most important doubles concept.
Understanding the Center Window sets up every other Golden Rule perfectly.
Ever played Monolopy? You may remember that the most expensive piece of real estate on the board was right before you passed “go” and it’s name is Boardwalk. Well, a doubles court also has an area that is far more valuable than the rest. It is not an easy area to conceptualize because it is a virtual space – it’s above the net right in the middle of the court.
When I first started analyzing doubles matches this concept was not immediately obvious to me. It was only after I was able to manipulate the court in my Dartfish software that I was able to really get a grasp on the most important part of a doubles court – the Center Window.
Now remember, not every single ball is always going to through there, but then again Las Vegas does not win every single bet. They just dominate the percentages!
The Center Window is by far the most important part of the court to control because most balls do indeed travel through this area.
The Center Window
Center Window Size
9′ wide – two 4′ 6″ doubles alleys combined.
3′ high – the height of the net in the middle of the court.
High Traffic Area
The following video explains it all.
As you watch this slow-motion video, keep in mind all four players on the court hit the ball in this rally. Pretty amazing really. When I made this video it really created a “sticky” message in my mind on just how important this virtual area is on a tennis court.
Watch the video and clearly understand the true value of the Center Window.
That’s a very powerful picture.
Sometimes you have to look at something again and again and again to really appreciate what you are seeing. For me, that rang true with this particular doubles point. The ball could go anywhere, but it didn’t. You could even imagine each player saying, “Well, I am going to hit it through the Center Window,” and have every other player on the court know that – but it’s still exactly the right high percentage place to hit it.
The Doubles Court is an Hourglass.
The more I thought about the video, the more the analogy of a doubles court being an hourglass made perfect sense to me.
The picture above is essentially a doubles court. You have two large areas on either end and a small opening in the middle. That small opening is the Center Window.
The Center Window is a virtual target area that all players should play through because it offers the highest percentage place to win the point. As I analyzed video of thousands of doubles matches, I constantly saw serves, returns, rally balls and volleys constantly flowing through this high traffic area.
If you control the Center Window, you control the match.
In a traditional doubles match, the Center Window is by far the most important piece of real estate on the court.
The Server’s Partner is the first player on the court that can reach out and grab control of the Center Window by intercepting the return of serve. The better the serve, and specifically more to the middle, the more likely the ball will be in the Center Window for the Server’s Partner to intercept.
When teaching this concept, I often tell players that it doesn’t matter if your opponent knows or not, if you can execute a good low ball through this middle area then then you have a massive advantage in the point.
If you don’t control the Center Window, stop playing there immediately.
Sometimes you are going to play a doubles team that is really good at crashing the middle of the court and owning the Center Window. Well, if they are better than you are at getting control, then take the battle elsewhere.
One of the first places to play is down the line, or even right at the net player. Going behind them will hopefully create doubt in their mind and stop them being so aggressive in the middle of the court. Another really good option is to lob a lot more, and make your opponents hit a lot of overheads – even better if they are looking into the sun or having to deal with the wind.
A third area to play is short angles away from the aggressive net player. Softening shots and hitting short angles can be very tough for the net player to get to.
Once you have taken the battle away from the Center Window, hopefully you have evened the playing field. After a short period of time, you can take the battle back to the Center Window and the opponent’s may not even realize it – plus they will be so focused on your secondary lobbing and hitting down-the-line strategy that they will not enjoy the same success in the middle of the court.
Focus on these key elements to better understand the Center Window.
- Traffic – It’s where most of the the action is. Don’t wait for the ball to come to you – go and get it right in the middle of the court.
- Party for 4 – Most times, it does not even matter that your opponent knows that it’s going there. It’s just such a good place to play. All four players can know each other’s intentions before the match starts and it’s all good. It’s kind of an unspoken rule already. Got to own this area.
- You Don’t Start There – Remember that in almost all points, there is not a player starting in the Center Window (except for the “I” formation). You have got to be active and go and get the ball in the Center Window. Run a”j” or run a “v”. Doesn’t matter. Go get it.
Because the Center Window is a virtual area, you want to outline the area below it on the ground with markers or cones and/or draw a circle with sidewalk chalk of the area players will be standing in when they attack balls in the Center Window.
1. Playing Drill
Objective – Instead of awarding bonus points (which I normally love to do), I just like to create a general awareness in practice for players to know where the Center Window is, and to always be considering it with their doubles play.
- Play a set.
- Call out “freeze” during a point, or at the end of a point, to stop players where they are standing on the court.
- This enables instant coaching and understanding with court position, particularly with how it relates to the Center Window.
- Use these teaching moments to either show why the players did something well, or as an opportunity to improve their Center Window strategy.
Variations – Let the players lead the discussion about how important the Center Window area was during the point and who best controlled it.
2. Feeding Drill
Objective – To encourage both the Server’s Partner & Returner’s Partner to be aggressive towards the Center Window.
- Have all players start in their normal doubles positions.
- Feed the return right through the Center Window area to begin the point – Server’s Partner to cut it off.
- Also start with the first shot after the serve right through the Center Window so the Returner’s Partner can work on going to the middle.
- Play to 15 then all players rotate positions.
Variations – Don’t allow the net player to hit the feed every time. Sometimes they are not allowed to, which lets them see the opportunity that they would normally be missing.