#21 R. Partner Neutral
There are 3 options.
You are not starting on offense. You are starting in neutral.
The Returner’s Partner is the one doubles position that gets butchered the most. The fact that every other player on the court can hit the ball before the Returner’s Partner makes it a very difficult position. You want to do something, anything, but the best possible thing to do is understand that you start in neutral.
The person on the court that provides the most information for where the Returner’s Partner should move is actually not their own partner – it is the Server’s Partner on the other side of the net. What the Server’s Partner does impacts the Returner’s Partner the most.
Of all the problems I see on a doubles court that puts a team in trouble, it’s when the Returner’s Partner crosses the service line when they are actually on defense. It’s like auto-pilot for so many players, voluntarily moving into the lion’s den when they have no right to be there. And to compound the problem, often they are looking back at their partner, the returner, hitting the ball and moving forward at the same time. Wrong movement and wrong person to focus on. It’s the Server’s Partner who you are reacting to.
Here’s how it works.
- You are last – Last to hit the ball that is. In a lot of ways, you are reacting to what is given to you. That’s just the nature of the beast. Be good at gathering clues in a very short period of time and be ready to move from neutral to either offense or defense as required.
- Stay behind the service line – If the serve if good and return is weak, the last thing you want to do is cross the service line. There is a great chance the Server’s Partner will get the ball and they will be coming in your direction. By moving inside the service line you are robbing yourself of time to defend. direction, getting ready to pounce on a probable ball right through the Center Window.
- Back middle – Way, wayyyy too often when the Returner’s Partner goes on defense they go back and go wide and cover the alley – leaving a gaping hole right down the middle of the court for the Server’s Partner to hit an easy volley. You can’t cover the whole court, so attempt to shut down the biggest target first right down the middle of the court.
- The “j” – Ok, you see the Server’s Partner is not getting involved, or is having to deal with a low, tough volley. If the Server or the Server’s Partner is in trouble the Returner’s Partner absolutely starts moving forward, and in most cases, will run a “j” to go and intercept the ball in the Center Window. The Returner’s Partner will hit the winner but it will be the Returner who should get most of the credit for making the opposing team uncomfortable.
Neutral = Stay behind the Service Line
Start Neutral – Don’t go anywhere until you see what develops.
Defense – shot down the middle of the court.
Offense = run the “j” to the Center Window.
When to make adjustments
Here’s some times to make exceptions to these primary rules.
- Returner is Lights Out – If your partner is having a great day hitting returns then you can “cheat” a little inside the service line to have a head start on getting the next ball that is coming back.
- Server’s Partner No Threat – Sometimes you play against an opponent who poses absolutely no threat when they are in the Server’s Partner’s position. If they are a non-factor, then you can cheat a little more forward as well since you will rarely be on defense from that spot on the court.
- Weak Serving – If the serves are weak and the server is especially missing a lot and having to hit second serves, then this is another opportunity to get a little head start.