Doubles Strategy by Robert Bj Jacobucci

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1 Doubles Strategy by Robert Bj Jacobucci Introduction Doubles is an exhilarating and strategy filled game. Most who play it, find themselves quickly caught-up in its rapid fun-filled excitement. Doubles allows more people to play per table, is fun, and best of all when you make a great shot there are 3 other people there to witness it! Doubles also, of its very nature, adds a great deal of strategy to an already animated singles game. Let s examine the stimulating world of Doubles Strategy. Strategy Vs. Tactics Strategy is a scheme of how we plan to approach the play. It is preconceived and exists in the players mind before play even begins. In a fast game such as table tennis, having such a premeditated default scheme in advance gives that player an advantage to the lightning quick play that follows. Strategy often involves using our current shot to set up a winning shot for our partner or for our own next shot. Tactics, on the other hand, are immediate changes in the plan necessitated by the actions of the opponent and one s own partner. Tactics are entwined with normal play and often can cause changes to one s strategic plans. However, strategy is the plan until some happenings override it. Strategy is the plan we bring to the game of how to play our opponent. This approach will apply until a tactical situation arises that forces us to adjust it. Strategy is our Ace-in-the-Hole that is always there giving direction to our movement. Tactics may momentarily cause us to adjust, but Strategy is always there guiding us behind the scenes and will return full-force on the next point. How Doubles Differs from Singles There are 3 primary rule differences between Doubles and Singles and all add significantly to the strategy of the game. 1. There are 4 players you have a partner! 2. Unlike tennis, partners must take turns hitting the ball.

2 3. Unlike singles, service is restricted diagonally to the right-hand courts of both server and receiver. This is the forehand court for right-handed players. Service must proceed diagonally from my right-hand court to our opponent s right-hand court. Each of these rules has its own impact on how the game is played and on the strategy that also applies. Proper strategy gives the smart player an advantage that could help defeat otherwise more skilled opponents. Let s examine them: 1. There are 4 players you have a partner! Strategy involves knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent and your partner. Putting pressure on the opponent s weakness will keep him off balance and cause him to make mistakes and lose confidence. Playing to an opponent s weak backhand, or moving in to quickly block a loopers shot immediately off the bounce are examples of a preplanned strategy. One might even plan to serve with a sidespin that encourages a return to your partner s strong hitting side. Having a partner changes the mindset and forces team play into the strategy. In singles, we are free to take whatever risk we choose because it is only ourselves who will sink or swim with the results. In doubles, we must consider our partner. He too will have a strategy in place for winning this point. We must be careful during play that we don t take any inappropriate risks that foil the plans of our partner. A well placed push is like passing the play to our partner and allowing him to make the point-winning shot. Much more strategy will come about when the 2 nd doubles rule is considered: 2. Partners must take turns hitting the ball. This means that the player hitting the ball must immediately evacuate the area so that his partner can move in to hit the next return. There is always an outgoing player and an incoming player. Unlike singles play, it also means that the next hitter (the incoming player) must begin play out of position. This invariably leaves one section of the table open and the incoming player must hustle to cover this weakness or it will be easy pickings for an astute opponent. The most dangerous open section is usually an uncovered corner that invites an opponent s attack. Whenever our partner is hitting the ball, we, in our evacuated

3 position, usually have such an open corner that must become our immediate concern. A player s open corner will be referred to as his weak corner. We note that in singles a player instinctively positions himself ideally so as to be able to optimally defend both corners. So we see that the weak corner strategy while critical in doubles does not apply to singles in nearly the same magnitude. The result of this doubles rule to take turns hitting the ball is twofold: 1. After his hit, every player must immediately evacuate the hitting area to allow hitting space for his partner. Because of this, the new hitter is always recovering as he reenters the hitting area from the outside. 2. Each player will be hitting and serving to the same player throughout the game. Therefore, we will likewise be receiving from the other partner throughout the game. In subsequent games this order is always reversed so that the person I was serving to is now serving to me. The Pin occurs when the outgoing player gets forced to one side of the table and cannot begin to recover to protect his far (weak) corner without disrupting his partner s shot. If your opponent gets pinned to one side of the table, it means you can have an easy winner to the other side when the ball comes back to you. Forcing a pin is good strategy in general and good tactics during a point. This means that the shot that you are taking now could be the setup shot for your next one if the ball stays in play until your next hit. Any shot we take directs the receiver to one side of the table or the other and will determine which direction he will go to escape the playing area for his partner. This will affect our next shot as we now know which will be his weak corner when we next hit. Tactically we must always be aware of where our opponent is and which side of the table will be his weak corner. Tactically we can force a pin to one side or another by where we place this current shot to set up our next. Many pins are tactical maneuvers set up during the play of the game. However, in doubles, each point contains 2 built-in automatic pins that can become an

4 important part of doubles strategy for the wise player. They will be introduced and explored when the 3 rd doubles rule is considered. But first, a brief discussion on: How to avoid a pin. A pin is best negated by escaping back instead of to the side. This is made easier and even possible when your partner plays close to the table. Then, after escaping backward, we can even actually be moving behind our partner toward the center and closer to our weak corner while our partner is hitting! On the other hand, if our partner likes to play deep as loopers and choppers often do, then we have no recourse but to escape to the side to get out of their way. In addition, there is little hope of getting around behind them during their shot. Teaming up with such a player will cause you to be pinned each time you hit the ball! Loopers will also have full hard swings that would make one wary of starting too soon to cover our unprotected weak corner. While looping is a big asset in singles play, it could create a serious problem for their partner in doubles play. Therefore, in the very nature of partners and pins, we see that (quick) close to the table players offer a big advantage to their doubles partners. 3. Service must proceed diagonally from my right-hand court to my opponent s right-hand court. This rule automatically sets up 2 pins. Both the server and the receiver must usually evacuate the playing area to the right side creating an automatic pin on both of them for their 2 nd shots! Before we can explore this, we must define some new vocabulary: 1 st ball 1 st ball hitter refers to the 1 st hitter or the server. 2 nd ball refers to the 2 nd hitter or the receiver 3 rd ball refers to the 3 rd hitter or the server s partner 4 th ball refers to the 4 th hitter or the receiver s partner 5 th ball is the 5 th hitter and will be the original server s 2 nd shot

5 Etc. The Automatic Pins: Strategy shows us that both the 1 st ball and 2 nd ball hitters (server and receiver) will usually escape right and will then be pinned there for their next shot. This means that their left corner will be their weak corner for their next shot. For right-handed players it will be their backhand side. Therefore, the winning shot against this automatic pin would be a backhand to this open backhand corner. Strategically, this is the shot the 4 th ball hitter will have against the server. As the 4 th ball hitter, we can observe the server escaping play to his right side of the table and we can see the open backhand winner available to us. The server, knowing that the 4 th ball hitter will be taking aim at his exposed backhand corner, must make every effort to cover that weakness. In Doubles, the server has 3 key responsibilities: 1. To make an effective serve. 2. To evacuate the playing area for his partner. 3. To cover his weak far corner on his next shot. On the bright side, the server s reward for successfully covering his weak backhand corner is to exploit the 2 nd automatic pin. The server becomes the 5 th ball hitter and his 2 nd shot will find that the receiver of his serve (2 nd ball hitter) was also subsequently pinned to his right side after return of service leaving his left corner also exposed. So, if the server effectively covers his 5th ball, he will find that his own backhand has a diagonal winning shot against the pinned receiver. These two built-in backhand winners are specific to doubles play and is the primary reason that many have rightly observed that doubles is a backhand game while singles is primarily a forehand game. In singles the players do not have to leave the playing area after each hit. Therefore they can remain centered in their playing zone. In singles, one quickly sees that the best way to beat one s opponent is by overpowering him. Powerful loops and drives (primarily forehand) remain the singles player s best weapons. Doubles built-in 4 th and 5 th ball winning (usually backhand) shots become key strategic plays that are always available and can lead intelligent players to exploit that advantage.

6 So, the Doubles Game proceeds thus: Service and service-return have their own strategies. And, the 3 rd ball hitter remains poised to capitalize on any weak return of service. However, if the point goes beyond that, then astute 4 th and 5 th ball hitters remain strategically poised to exploit their ready-made pins into winning shots!

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