I came across this video from Tony Roig (In2Pickle) not too long ago and it made me think of my friend Mark Armstrong. He’s always wandering around (often wandering forward) whenever I’m serving and I used to call him to come back behind the baseline with me until I eventually I just got used to him doing this. I thought it was strange but now, after seeing this video, I understand why. There is a method to the madness. This is one of the things you can do if your partner is being targeted and you’re being frozen out of the game. For instance, if you notice that every return of serve is going to your partner, then you could wander forward to temp the other team to return the serve to you instead. So, what are some other strategies that you could employ if you’re not getting quite as many shots directed your way during a game?
- Bait your opponents to hit to you. This is basically what you’re doing when you wander forward and closer to the non-volley zone (NVZ) when your partner is serving. You can use this strategy not just on the return of serve but throughout the rally. If you make it seem like you are out of position or if you make it seem like there is an opening on your side, then you may be able to temp the other team to hit the ball your way and you’ll be able to get more involved in the point.
- Stay alert for opportunities to poach. If opponents return a lofty ball to your partner, take advantage of the opportunity to poach and put the ball away. If you are actively looking for opportunities to insert yourself in the rally, not only does this alleviate the pressure on your partner, but it will make it more difficult for the other team to freeze you out.
- Shrink their target. Try to position yourself to cover more of the court so that the area that opponents must hit in order to target your partner is much smaller. A smaller target is more likely to cause an error from the other team that will allow you to get more involved in the game.
- Use stacking or reverse-stacking strategies. Stack with your partner in such a way that makes it easier for you to cover more of the court. For a typical righty-righty team, you can put the partner that is being targeted on the right and the stronger partner on the left so the stronger partner can cover the middle with their forehand. If you are left-handed or are right-handed with a strong backhand, you could put the targeted player on the left so that you can cover the middle with your best shot. If you are already stacking, you can reverse stack to force opponents to hit in a different direction than they’ve been hitting. Forcing them to change their pattern could cause confusion or indecision that may result in an error on their part that your team can exploit.
- Change it up. If your partner is getting sucked into long dink exchanges that they are unable to sustain, then you can change things up by having your partner speed things up. If your team attacks first, then the other team may not be able to control the direction of the next ball which could give you an opportunity to land the finishing shot or at least insert yourself in the exchange and be able to control the rally. You could also ask your partner to change up their dinks and move the other player around to force an error which may result in a ball going your way.
- Keep moving. It’s easy to doze off when you’re not getting hit any balls. Keep moving and resist the urge to fall asleep. Don’t get stuck in one spot. Move with the ball and/or your partner. If you disengage and plan yourself in one position, then you’re less likely to be ready when a ball does go your way. Be light on your feet and stay alert at all times!
- Last and more importantly, avoid negative body language and comments. I know it’s not as much fun when you’re “playing” but not really “playing” (because no one will hit the ball to you). Do not get frustrated. Take this as a compliment because it means that you’re the stronger player on the team and the opponents are afraid of you. Instead of being frustrated and taking it out on your partner, avoid negative body language or comments at all costs. If your partner is being targeted by the other team, they already feel immense pressure and your visible (and audible) frustration will only make things worse. Try to be positive, supportive, and encouraging at all times. Being patient with your partner will go a long way and could give your partner the confidence boost they need minimize errors and even win exchanges with the other team; and then, perhaps your opponents won’t have a choice but to change their strategy and target someone else (which could mean more balls your way).
If you ever notice that you’ve been frozen out, try some of these suggestions. You may be surprised at the results. Best of luck on all your games and see you on the courts!