tennis turning the tables defense to offense

Defense to offense

This post is about turning the tables. That is, neutralizing the advantage of our opponents and gaining the advantage ourselves.

Here’s the situation: the up players (or the back player hitting a good approach) just hit a good volley or half volley to you, the baseliner. It’s pressing you hard.


1. Play defense. Get one more ball back, preferably a lob that they can’t win on. Call your up partner back if she’s not already recognizing she should be backing up. She/both of you can move back in later. This is a great choice when, for example, we are running off the court** and being stretched.

2. Counter attack**. (Example: they hit a good pressing ball, but it’s in my strike zone. I don’t have to move quickly laterally to chase the ball and I feel good about stepping in and ripping it back down the middle.)

The (defensive) lob is the hated but ever-so-useful tennis doubles strategy shot. On option 1 the lob should be high and fairly deep. Down the middle is a great choice as their angles are diminished and they need great communication to avoid confusion and still strike a quality ball. A few milliseconds of indecision between your opponents will guarantee they won’t hit a winner. Do not aim for the baseline. That is, do not try to beat them with a defensive lob.* Aim for the left-to-right center, 5-6 feet inside the baseline.

Once the lob is up, there are (at least) three scenarios:

1. If the lob is deep enough to where it bounces behind them, come in –both of you– no deeper than the service line. You are now ready to back up for a likely lob AND ready to step in to attack a short floating lob.

2. They reach the lob in the air but you see them reaching behind and hitting an overhead/high volley (especially backhand) as they are moving backwards. Get ready to step in and rip (or drop-shot if they retreat deep) the bop/bunt down the middle if it’s short and weak. You can win outright or take the net and gain advantage in the point. If they hit a decent deep bop or overhead which doesn’t press you greatly, then counterattack with a solid driven ball down the middle. They probably did not close back in and they will likely hit up on a low volley or half volley. (That is, if they figure out whose ball it is.)Then rip that one, too. Yes, you guessed it: down the middle.

3. Your lob is short or they are athletic/alert/quick to back up and are able to get established and hit a solid, pressing overhead: lob again.*

Summary and additional points:

– don’t attempt to beat them with a defensive lob that bounces on/near their baseline. You will miss long more than you’ll beat them.

– *you can probably make a lot more lobs in a row than they can hit forceful overheads from half way between the baseline and the service line.

– ** Do not attempt a counter-attack when you are on the run, stretched and outside the doubles alley. Even though well struck, it will probably still lose (unless it’s clean winner [high-risk] or opponents are very poor at court positioning). The opposing team will use your pace and block to the open court. There’s lots of open court to the left and right of your partner who is basically playing singles and by now positioned in the middle.

– use defense to cause errors or turn the tables. Defense wins a lot of points.

Go have fun now (that is, win).


These are actual notes I took during an actual team practice with the above topic last year.

– a bunch of safe “bop” overheads (as opposed to winner attempts) when we are on our back foot deep into the court because of a good defensive lob by opponents. You will risk too much attempting a winner. You are better off just getting it back. If your bop is deep enough, even though not forceful, you may be able to re-gain the net position. The worst that can happen is a short bop, in which case you both back up and play high-percentage defense. I saw very few overheads attempted as winners from that non-winning position.
– very few attempts at cracking it back (counter attack) when we were pressed, stretched off the court and defense was the right shot.

– quite a few overheads that should have won, but were missed or hit very timidly, or with no specific target or with no precision.
– the good-lob team did not capitalize on their good lob and the resulting short bop from the overheading team. Quite a few times they were flat-footed, slow to get to the ball to do any damage, or just not aggressive-minded enough.
– several no-communication instances on the part of the overheaders. This resulted in poor overheads or the dreaded winner lobs when we look at each other and nobody’s getting the ball.

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Comments, questions are welcome below.