#15 Serve Formations

You have 3 main options. Why not use them all? 

The net player can shut down a returner’s favorite patterns with where they stand to begin the point.

The Server’s Partner has a lot of flexibility with where they stand to begin a point. There are three primary locations and certainly many more different options on where to move (or stay) once the serve is in play.

Where the Server’s Partner stands can help cover any weaknesses a server may have in not being able to hit certain spots. It also covers up problem areas for a volleyer (e.g. backhand volley), and makes the Returner have to hit to a secondary location that they may not necessarily be good at.

Here are the Primary three formations for the Server and Server’s Partner to start in.

1. Traditional

This is the way nearly nearly every doubles team on the planet lines up – and every returner has figured out the angles to counter it. The advantage is that it’s a pretty straight-forward pathway to the Center Window, and if the serve makes the Returner somewhat uncomfortable, then the Server’s Partner can get really involved without too many problems.

2. “I” Formation

I really like this one a lot, and by now you should know exactly why – because the Server’s Partner is standing right in the middle of the Center Window to start the point. What a great way to get the party started! The success of the Server’s Partner at the net is primarily reliant on the quality of the serve. If the first serve is good, and the Returner is uncomfortable in any way, then the Server’s Parter is going to have a field day right in the middle of the court without too much movement at all. This is almost always used just on first serves as the Returner has a lot more options against a second serve.

3. Australian

Now I really like this one! Being an Australian, there is nothing like having a doubles formation named after your country! This is a SUPER effective pattern to take away an obvious cross court strength from the returner. This get used a lot in the Ad Court where a right-handed returner has a really good cross-court backhand return. Playing Australian means you start in the opposite service box than normal, and there are variations of how far to the middle of the box or the middle of the court the Server’s Partner will be. There are a lot of returners that find it really easy to return cross court but not down the line, and playing Australian forces that better than anything else.

Offense & Defense

  • Use different positions to get the Server’s Partner more involved at the net.
  • It can also cover a weakness at the net, such as a backhand volley.
  • Altered formations can simply throw a curve ball into the match, changing the flow and momentum of the rallies.
  • Changing spots can take away obvious cross court strengths and make Returner’s have to hit down the line, which can be a lot tougher.
  • Using a different formation just once or twice a set can be extremely effective.
  • Starting a match with a different formation, such as “I”, can signal very aggressive intentions.

Teams often limit themselves a lot by not delving into all three formations and the myriad of initial movements that can be created from them. The best way to get good at them in competition is to practice them. Playing practice sets of doubles is a terrific use of everyone’s time, and should be done a lot more often at all levels of the game.

Strategy Drill

1. Playing Drill

Objective – To get teams comfortable running different formations, and discover which ones work best for them.

  • Play a set.
  • The Server’s Partner can’t line up in a traditional formation on 1st serves. It must be “I” or Australian. They can do Traditional on second serves.
  • This will force the serving team into far more offensive situations than normal, and bring the Server’s Partner more into play.

Variations – Every time the serving team wins the point, they must stick to the same formation on the next point. They must change it if they lose the point.

2. Feeding Drill

Objective – To get comforable in formations that players hardly ever practice.

  • For 2 players – Server’s Partner.
  • Server serves at a target and the return is fed by the coach.
  • The Server’s Partner lines up in the unfamiliar locations of “I” and Australian, and must look to get involved immediately off the return.

Variations – Have just the Server’s Partner at the net. Drop feed to simulate the timing of the serve. Set out target areas to volley to. Hit 10 good volleys at a specific location and then adjust the formation and volley location.

Go Do This

Practice all the different formations. It’s okay to be uncomfortable at the beginning. You will get better at it.

Use different formations to force the net player to get more involved. Makes for much better teamwork.

It also creates a perception of heightened aggression from the serving team. They are dictating the flow much more.

Use it to immediately take away an obvious cross-court return strength. Down the line is not nearly as easy.

Make the Returner play where you want the ball. Bring it to the part of the court that favors you more.