Poaching in doubles is the art of “anticipating” a weak return from your opponent or moving across the net after the ball is poorly struck and putting the ball away. Most players opt out for the second option only. This limits your ability to be an effective net player and an affective team player. Let’s explore the options you have as a poacher in doubles.
Option one is when your partner hits a good serve that causes a poor return from your opponent. It’s floating over the net, you move towards the ball after the contact is made and put it away. Great shot, great poach! However this is only one of five opportunities you have to poach.
Option two is a planned poach off the return of serve. Before the point begins, you communicate with your serving partner that you plan to poach on the return moving “before” the ball is struck. The keys are to let your partner know your plan and have your partner serve down the middle to cause a return to travel over the middle of the net. This will bring the path of the return closer to you, allowing you to put the ball away. Important factors here are to communicate your plans, and be able to serve down the middle. Anticipate, make your move slightly before the ball is struck and put the volley away.
Option three is a “fake” poach. Once you’ve poached a few times, you’ll have the attention of the returner before the serve is put into play. By faking a poach, quickly come back to your position, you’ll draw the return to you. You’d be surprised how often you can determine the direction of the return simply by moving too early. Just make sure you get back!
Option four, poaching by the receiving team. This can be planned or anticipated. Most of us think of the poach only from the serving team’s perspective. However in many cases your return is more of a weapon than the serve, so why not think of poaching for the same reasons you do as a serving team? When your partner’s return puts the serving on the defense the return generally comes back cross court. Anticipate this shot and move slightly before it’s struck and you’ll have an easy volley or overhead. Keys here are to play the odds, anticipate, and make your move. You’ve poached as a returning team!
Option five, poach during the rally. Poaching can be used anytime. If your partner is engaged in a crosscourt rally, anticipate the next shot and poach. Defensive body language from your opponent while stroking, poach. Fake a poach and draw the next shot to you.
Poaching is a learned art. Fail a few times and learn. Be alert, communicate with your partner, be creative and anticipate. You’ll begin to win points simply because your opponents are watching you more than the ball and miss their shots entirely. Easy points created by poaching!
See you on the courts.
Don Paitrick is the Director of Tennis at Glenmore Country Club