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#6 Don’t Cover The Line

I really love this one. 

The line is your friend, but it’s also your enemy.

Is there anything more humiliating in a doubles match than getting beaten up the line? It’s just the worst isn’t it? Oh please…

It’s absolutely amazing how it’s okay to get for an opponent to hit a winner cross court, through the middle or over your head but down the line? That’s the one that hurts the most….

Let me tell you something – you WANT to get beaten down the line. You WANT your opponents to consistently go there because tennis is a game of percentages and the percentages say that 10 attempted passing shot winners down the line will probably result in 2 winners, three volleys back in play and five instant mistakes. It’s time to play the odds.

The line is my friend.

You want your opponents to go down the line just like Vegas wants people to come from all over the world to play their machines. It’s a numbers game that you can control.

Let me tell you a little secret. Because I know the value of the Center Window (and I seriously doubt my opponent does) I actually WANT my opponent to make their first passing shot attempt down my line. They are far more likely to continue going there and I will be winning a lot more points in the future on them missing more than they are making.

The line is my enemy

It’s not my enemy, but for most doubles players out there, it certainly is. It is their enemy because they love it and protect it so much that it takes their attention away from the middle of the court where all the action is. It’s amazing how well the line gets protected but the middle never gets crushed like it should.

Also consider this scenario.

You are in the middle of a rally and you go and cover the line. It’s not an ambush – it’s blatantly obvious that you have the line covered.

Guess what? The opponent sees that as well, so where is the last place they are going to hit it – down your line.

Which effectively takes you out of the point because you are nowhere to be found during the rally and the opposing team can run a Power Play on your team and grind you down.

It’s not my fault

The majority of times that a player gets beaten down the line, it really is not their fault in the first place – it’s the fault of the their partner at the back of the court. All too often the back player (Server or Returner) hits a weaker ball or a wider ball and lets the opponent have all the time in the world, and all the angles in the world, to hit their shot.

The ball ends up going down the line for a winner and the net player feels terrible about the error. Lighten up! It wasn’t your fault!

The Rule of 3

Here’s how I handle getting beat down the line.

Beaten First Time – Too good, well done. I am still all over the middle of the court.

Beaten Second Time. Too good, well done. I am still all over the middle of the court.

Beaten Third Time. Ok, now I am going to respect your strategy a little more. I am still all over the court, but will definitely be looking to shut this down in the future.

Also – remember the numbers game. If you get beaten down the line three times, there is a good chance they have missed six as well, and you have also put away five volleys in the middle of the court. That adds up to eight points for you and three for the opponents. I like that kind of math.

Don’t cover the alley really means:

  • Middle is more important – The alley is a small area and the middle is a big area. The ball goes down the line a little and it goes through the middle a lot. I think you get the picture.
  • Alley winners are tough to repeat – I could feed you a basket of balls right into your strike zone and you are still not going to consistently hit the alley. Now you have got to do it in competition, under pressure on a big point. It is not that easy, and it’s certainly not that easy to keep doing as a repeatable pattern.
  • Do the math – Quite often in a match I will keep a running tally in my head of how many points I have lost when an opponent goes down my line and how many points I have won. And that does not even take into account how many I have won from owning the middle of the court as a consequence.

Early in a match.

Let’s now use the alley to your advantage. In the first game of the match, I WANT you to go down your opponent’s line to freak them out a little. It may be the only time you really plan to go down the line, but your opponent’s don’t know that. By going there early, there is a good chance your opponent will be looking for that shot all match and spend most of their time at the net covering the alley (which you went there once) and far less time covering the middle of the court where you plan on owning for the rest of the match. It’s a smart strategy that works a lot more than you think. Early alleys often open up the middle of the court for the entire match.

 

Good Positioning = Covering 1/2 the alley.

This picture tells a lot. When the Server’s Partner is positioned correctly right in the middle of the service box, they are already successfully covering half the alley. Do you know how hard it is to hit the outside half of the alley on a return? I will take my chances there over time – all the time.

 

Strategy Drill

1. Playing Drill 

Objective – To have players realize the reality of winning and losing points down the line, and why.

  • Play a set.
  • Each players keep track of their personal alley totals – how many times they attempted it &  won/lost. Also opponent totals as well.
  • Easy way to keep score is with balls on the side of the court – a win and loss column for alley attempts made by each player, which also includes attempts down their line by both opponents.

Variations – You can have one scoreboard for the entire court. You can also have another player silently counting on the side of the court and only tell the total at the end of the match.

2. Feeding Drill

Objective – To teach the right time to go down the line, and the overall percentages with this pattern.

  • Players line up in a doubles formation.
  • No serving. Feed goes to the returner. Play to 15.
  • Play the point and award double points in the score for all alley attempts. Players win two points with a successful shot to the alley, or lose two points for their team if they lose the point chasing this specific strategy.

Variations – Another good strategy lesson is to talk with the players once they have been beaten down the line and figure out whose fault was it more – the back player of the front player. For example, the net player was passed, but the back player caused it with an easy wide ball. At the end of the game add up how many times each player had a positive and negative impact in this area

Go Do This

It’s okay to get beaten down the line early. Reap the benefits later on.

Own the middle. Pretend to cover the alley.

Use the Rule of 3 before you start respecting the opponent’s success down the line. 

Invite your opponent to go down the line with your court position when they are most uncomfortable.

You are already covering the inside half anyway. Bait your opponent with the outside half.

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