Tennis tips: When to hit down the line in doubles


This is a guest post by our monthly contributor, Will Boucek, a former college tennis player from Austin, with over 20 years of experience playing and coaching. Will specializes in doubles and was 4.5 men’s and mixed doubles champion in Texas in 2017. Fascinated by the strategy of doubles, Will shares his valuable insights on his website The Tennis Tribe. Will is also the founder of Tennis Tribe Marketing where he designs website & helps tennis businesses grow. In this month’s column, Will is explaining the down-the-line shot scenarios.

In the past, I’ve created video lessons and even courses about (not) covering the alley when you’re at the net in doubles. One thing I haven’t taught much is when to hit down the alley, if you’re at the baseline. That’s exactly what we will cover today.

A few questions people ask me about hitting down the alley:

  • When should I go for it?
  • Where should I aim?
  • How often should I do it?

I’ll answer all that, and more below.

Why hit down the alley in doubles?

Before we discuss when to hit down the alley, we first need to understand why we would want to go for the down-the-line shot. There are a few reasons we might do this:

  • The opponent at the net is very aggressive, and we want to hit a passing shot;
  • The opponent at the net doesn’t have strong volleys;
  • We want to target the net player, because the opponent at the baseline is clearly the better player;
  • Our down-the-line forehand is just too good not to try from time to time :);
  • We’re stuck in a crosscourt rally that isn’t in our favor and need to change it up.

All of these are valid reasons for hitting down the line, but you need to be strategic about when and where you hit this shot.

Where to aim down the alley

So where should we aim when we hit down-the-line in doubles:

  • Should we go for the all-out winner on the doubles line?
  • Should we play it conservative and go for the singles line?
  • Should we hit it right at the opponent to jam them and set up the next shot?

This all depends on a number of factors like the strength of your groundstrokes, where in the court you’re hitting from, and the volley skills of the opponent at the net.

Going down the line from the deuce court

First we’ll consider the deuce court.

In the deuce court we probably have a forehand, which will be more accurate. The opponent will be hitting a backhand volley (for right-handed players), which is the weaker volley.

With this in mind, we don’t need to hit a clean winner. Typically, I will aim for the singles line and give them a chance to hit a backhand volley. If you’re at the USTA 4.5 level or lower, the opponent will likely miss the backhand volley or pop the ball up for you to finish the next shot.

If you can dip it at their feet, even better 🙂

That said, when I play in my 5.0 league, they have much better backhand volleys, so I have to go for a little more. I’ll typically aim for the doubles alley and go for the clean winner in this case.

Hitting down the alley in the ad court

In the ad court, you’ll need to hit a better shot against most players when you go down the line. They will be able to hit a better volley, and cover more of the alley with their forehand.

I usually only do this if I can run around my backhand, and hit an inside-in forehand. I’ll try to spin it over the net and hit with good pace, so they can’t catch up to it.

In general, you’ll go down the line less often from the ad court. But when you do, you’ll want to hit a winner.

When to hit down the doubles alley

Now we know why we might want to hit down the line, and where to hit it. But when should we go for this shot?

It’s tempting to do this a lot because it feels great to hit a winner down the line. However, it’s usually not the right shot on the doubles court. If you are the better team, or are in control of the point, there’s no need to go for such a high-risk shot.

If, however, you’re outmatched, and the other team is controlling the middle of the court, you may need to mix things up with a few lobs or down-the-line passes.

Here’s my criteria for hitting down the line:

  • I have a short, high forehand (near the service line) and the opponent’s backhand volley is down the line;
  • I see a weak 2nd serve on the ad side to run around and am up big (40-0 in the game, or 5-1 in the set);
  • The net player is by far the weaker player on the other side, and we’re targeting them;
  • The opposing net player is poaching (successfully) every time, and I can’t get the return past them. This is rare!

For the most part, working the middle of the court and moving forward is the best strategy in doubles.

The problem with down-the-line shots is that they almost always end the point:

  • The opponent has an easy gap to volley into (below);
  • You miss the shot – this happens most often;
  • You hit a winner.

Two of those three do not go your way.

If you have a scenario where you like to go down the line, or aren’t sure, comment below and I’ll give you my best advice!



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