As children play more singles tournaments and face tougher competition, doubles can become an afterthought. I understand the temptation to dismiss doubles. There are only so many hours in a week and so much to already work on, so why concentrate on anything other than singles?
To me, this is a big mistake. Doubles is an incredibly valuable part of our sport, it can teach children many lessons—and also make them much better singles players. I would encourage any child to keep playing doubles. It will add to their skill set and make them more complete tennis players. Doubles reinforces fundamentals, helps players understand strategy, and teaches leadership and emotional control.
Let’s look at tennis skills first. No matter how well you hit from the baseline, at some point in a singles career you’re going to have to become more comfortable in the forecourt. Doubles forces you to hit a wider variety of shots than you would hit in singles, such as half volleys, drop volleys, reflex volleys, overheads and lobs. Your improvisation skills will improve dramatically.
Doubles stresses different and important aspects of the shots you use most often in singles. Serving—and especially serve placement—is at a premium in doubles. A big serve is not always best, because you’re trying to follow it to the net and need time to do it. Each return of serve is important because it’s difficult to break serve against two opponents.
Doubles returns must also be precise and purposeful. There are no opportunities to float a return back into play to start a rally. If opponents start to poach, you need to be able to return to different sides of the court effectively.
Footwork will also improve with regular doubles play, especially forward-and-backward footwork, which isn’t used as frequently in singles. That comes in handy when it’s time to attack an unexpected short ball or chase down a drop shot. It’s also a mind-set: You’re trying to be aggressive and looking for transition shots to get to the net. This will transfer to your singles play and help you identify opportunities to attack.
Doubles is more three-dimensional than singles. When you play doubles, you’ll learn a lot about strategy. Having two opponents forces you to use the whole court, and understand which angles to hit and when to hit them. You need to learn which shots will separate your opponents to create an opening, whether it’s a shot up the middle, or angles or lobs that get them off the net.
Besides those tennis skills, you’ll also learn a lot about teamwork and friendship from doubles. Tennis is an individual sport and you often don’t build close relationships. The pressure is always on for you to perform. In doubles, you have a partner who can ease that burden and make the game more relaxed and fun. It’s a nice break to have someone there to pump you up or carry you on a bad day—and it feels great when you get to return the favor.
Doubles is a change of pace, a great workout and a wonderful teacher. It can be eye-opening. You’ll realize that not everyone sees the court, the sport or the world the way you do. You can learn from those different perspectives. That’s incredibly valuable, not just in tennis, but in life.