California Doubles For Connecticut Players
Is this style for you?
In 1982, Judy Louie invited me to be her doubles partner. By 1984, our “pick-up” team was ranked No.1 in the nation in the Women’s 35’s, No.1 in Northern California in Women’s Open doubles, and had participated in the U.S. Open Famous Names Doubles event. Even though our knowledge of doubles strategy was woeful, opponents would constantly complain that they had nowhere to hit the ball, that there were no holes on our side of the net, and that we covered the middle better than any other team they had played. What was our secret you ask? Although I did not know it at the time, Judy and I were playing a version of California Doubles!
Why this system works
Even as an active teaching pro, I hadn’t realized that the clichés of strategy I imparted daily – “Stay no more than six feet apart,” “Stay even on the court, tied together with a rope,” “Cover your own lob,” and “Close! Close! Close!” – bore no relationship at all to what Judy and I really did on court in a match!
Before every match Judy would say, “You know I’m not very comfortable on the net, so I’ll just hang back here and take anything over your head, and you just get up there and flash around and put the ball away.” Judy and I were never parallel on the court. Rather, we had assumed a staggered formation, with Judy playing behind me, not on the baseline, but hanging back near the service line to take the lob. I was always flashing around with my nose on the net, looking to poach the ball. We never really had a problem because we always knew our jobs.
My later partners were more of my own mentality, serve-and volleyers, and we would constantly clash racquets in our dual effort to be the one to put away the ball. Lobs would go unchased, and we never knew who would take the middle ball – all common problems of “conventional” doubles. It was then that I analyzed the reasons why Judy and I were so much more successful than my subsequent partnerships and I wrote The Art Of Doubles, largely to explain the California Doubles system. In it, I advocate that the server or receiver refrain from closing the net to set up the point and cover the lob, thus allowing his partner to poach, end the point, and earn his moniker, “The Terminator.”
Successful doubles teams play in staggered formation, whether they realize it or not. Most teaching pros do not take the time to examine the relationship between the anti-quated “rules” of doubles that they teach and the true framework of the game they actually play.
Unfamiliar, but effective
This system is a Godsend for league teams. Because there is never any confusion over who takes which ball, players become interchangeable without having to adjust to someone’s idiosyncratic style of play.
Still, many students ask me why they don’t see the pros playing the staggered formation I insist they learn. There are two reasons:
· Most pros don’t play doubles. If professional players appear on the doubles court at all, it’s to win a little extra money, improve their ranking, or work on their volleys. It is not the serious endeavor to them as it must be to those of us who compete on teams or in leagues.
Most pro doubles matches are exhibitions of big serves, big returns, and reflex volleys. Would playing this system improve their chances of winning? Probably, but it isn’t a big priority to most of them.
· Some teams DO play this way. Many committed players who earn their prize money on a doubles court – Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, and the “Woodies,” come to mind.
Three common problems solved
Is this style of play suitable for you? Think about the questions below, and if any of them sounds familiar, California Doubles may be the answer.
1. Who should cover the middle?
· Conventional Doubles: The center ball belongs to the forehand in the middle, unless that player is left-handed, in which case the player who hit the last ball hits the next, unless this is the first ball, in which case it’s mine because I’m the better player, unless my partner thinks he’s the better player…
· California Doubles: The middle ball is always yours on the diagonal, thus it is always covered by the crosscourt player. Balls high enough to be poached will always be intercepted by the crosscourt player’s partner, “The Terminator.”
2. Who should cover a lob?
· Conventional Doubles: Both players cover their own lobs, unless on player has his nose hanging over the net with thoughts of poaching, in which case his partner covers for him, unless he too is closing the net, in which case maybe both players should hang back a little, in which case the match will take four hours because no one can put the ball away…
· California Doubles: The crosscourt player is always positioned around the service line because all lobs belong to him! If a crosscourt lob bounces behind a traditional team, somebody has to run faster than the ball to retrieve it. In this system, the opposition is prevented from using this weapon because the crosscourt player never closes the net.
3. Who should put the ball away?
· Conventional Doubles: The ad court player always puts the ball away because he is the stronger player, unless the server’s partner chooses to poach, in which case they may kill each other, but if they don’t, and they switch sides on the poach, then the ad court player ends up on his own side…
· California Doubles: The Terminator, positioned at the net directly in front of the ball, always closes the net. Freed from the nagging worries about covering lobs, he happily takes advantage of points set up by his crosscourt partner, earning his moniker, “The Terminator.” Since the crosscourt player never closes the net in this system, there is little confusion about who finishes the points.
In California Doubles there is never any question about job description. The crosscourt player covers lobs and sets up points from a position near the service line. The Terminator’s goal is to position himself no more than two or three feet from the net as quickly as is practical in the point, eager to intercept any ball on which he can effectively hit down. Icy stares, “That was YOURS,” or “I thought you said you would take your own lob” hands-on-hip glares, secret longings for a partner with a working brain – none of this is part of the body language or vocabulary of a California Doubles team.
Pat A. Blaskower, USPTA, is a graduate of the University of California-Berkeley and has been head teaching professional at Mill Valley Tennis Club since 1985. She has been ranked as high as No.1 nationally in the women’s 35’s doubles and is the author of Women’s Winning Doubles and The Art of Doubles.
If you have questions about California Doubles you’d like Pat to answer, send them to: California Doubles c/o Court Time Magazine, P.O. Box 5044, Westport, CT 06881-9820 or email Daviddusek@aol.com
California Doubles – 101
I learned this system from Pat Blaskower about three years ago in San Francisco, hence the name – “California Doubles.” In my 25 years of teaching, this is the best system I’ve ever found for the average club-level doubles player.
Most people play doubles as if they were playing “singles with a helper,” getting little or no help from their partner. As a teaching pro, this system helped me, my partner, and my teammates win at the district level for the past three seasons and in the USTA / Senior and Adult League this season. The following examples illustrate how we put Pat’s advice to work for us. Good Luck!
Example 1: Serving
Before I serve, my partner flashes me a sign to serve up-the-middle or hit wide, or to let me know if he is going to poach. This accomplishes two things – my partner and I know where the ball will go, plus, he can adjust his net position based on that knowledge. There are no surprises.
My job is to deliver a medium paced serve, not a blistering one, placed up-the-middle (as my partner signaled). I move forward until my serve lands, then make a decision – stay there or go forward, based upon the return of serve. Because my net-man knows the ball is going up-the-middle, he moves forward at the sound of the serve and takes one step toward the middle of the court.
If our opponents hit their return too close to the center of the court, my partner puts the ball away. If the return is hit crosscourt, I must hit it back to the returner and keep the ball low. If the return is low, I’ll try to hit it back low. If the crosscourt return is high, I’ll hit the ball into the open court. Much like a setter and a spiker in volleyball, we are two people with two different jobs – one to step up the point and one to finish it.
Example 2: Lobbing
On the next point the return is a deep lob over my partner’s head. This is called a “911 lob” – an emergency. I call my partner back to the baseline as I chase the ball and lob as high as can to the middle of my opponents’ court. This pushes them away from the net and takes the angles from their overheads. From this totally defensive position, my partner and I keep lobbing until we can take control of the net and resume our staggered formation or out opponents miss a shot.
If I can play a lob in the air and it’s not a “911” lob, I must give my partner a place to move so we maintain our staggered configuration. I’ll tell my partner to switch and he’ll move diagonally back to the service line, covering my vacated side of the court as I hit the high volley straight ahead and move to the net. My partner and I never give up the net or our positions – we just switch roles!
Example 3: Returning
Receiving serve underscores the net-person’s job – put away the ball! My job as the returner is to keep the ball in play crosscourt. My return should be a medium-paced shot, aimed low at the feet of the rushing server. This forces the server, who is now 20 feet away from the net, to hit a low ball. My partner knows this and moves to cut off the ball. If the floating ball comes, he puts it away. If the shot comes back to me, I can either hit a low ball back cross court or hit a lob over both players if they are in a solid position at the net. If the lob doesn’t win the point, my opponents are still forced to give up their positions at net, and my partner and I can get into our formation and look to finish the point ourselves.
Example 4: Moving
If I receive a serve and hit a lob over the net person’s head, because I have changed the direction of the ball, I have to move forward while my partner takes two or three steps back behind the service line to cover any potential lobs. If our opponents drive the ball, I may be able to pick it off and put the shot away. If the ball goes crosscourt, my partner is there waiting and can play the shot as described above. It will take a near perfect lob to beat us.
These examples illustrate California Doubles strategy, but no tennis system is perfect. Subtle intangibles such as fear and confidence level and poor shot selection affect play. Patience on the side of the crosscourt player and diligence on the part of the net person are key. But remember, the object is not to hit balls crosscourt forever, but just long enough to set up your opponents. Use your brain to outsmart them.
This system makes sense for most doubles league players at the 3.0 to 4.5 level. Good doubles is an art and this system will help you discover its artistry.
#1 Pro feeds left or right to team B, team A reacts, move together with the ball (above)
Play out point.
#2 Lob Cover Drill. Person that gets lobed says one of two words mine or yours and
play out point, Both B players react for lob.
#3 All different feeds reacting to ball and play out point. Very Active Play