Defense to Defense
As a server or a returner in doubles you are by definition the deepest player, the workhorse, and your job is to start the point and begin to set the point up, build the point up, so eventually your partner, the terminator at the net, up in the offense zone, can get involved and terminate the point.
SHADOW DOUBLES: learn to hit cross court back and forth with your practice partner, only using half the court including the doubles alley, without missing and without the imaginary terminator cutting off your ball.
You are purposely avoiding the net person and going wide to wide, alley to alley, cross court, letting the balls bounce and staying back in the defense zone. You are working on your consistency and patience.
Your job is to be steady and reliable, while hitting with enough force, spin, and or or placement that the imaginary opponent is not able to change direction and hit a winner right at your partner, your terminator. You are always concerned about your partner and don’t want them to be terminated before you and your partner can terminate the opponents.
Practice this with your partner and learn to patiently hit 10 each like this, so getting to 20 means you can control a point hitting to the deepest player ( cross court in this case) without missing. You are now beginning to be a better doubles partner.
Your goal so far is NOT to attack and come to the net, the offense zone, but rather to be steady , accurate and have the confidence to keep a point going and build up the point shot by shot.
You are being a good workhorse partner if you are able to do this.
Study these zones and see how large the defense zone is and this first drill is practiced from baseline to baseline, defense zone to defense zone, workhorse to workhorse.
How to deal with a short ball? Offense vs Defense
As you are practicing this move, workhorse to workhorse, defense to defense, there will undoubtedly be a short ball at some point which brings you forward and makes it virtually impossible to recover to your defense zone HOME and this is when you will be happy to know that there is a HOME in offense zone as well.
So as soon as a ball takes you forward in to the court up in to TRANSITION ZONE you may now continue and recover up to the workhorse’s HOME in Offense Zone. Look at the illustration.
The Home is just inside the service line and this should from now on be a familiar place to hang out while opponent is still back cross court from you in the defense zone. You can from here get ANY lob cross court out of the air and you will have a few half volleys as well, which are totally legitimate shots when at the net (in the offense zone) and not a bad thing at all, and of course you will have plenty of volleys from here. Hit and recover to your Home in Offense while opponent is hitting and trying to recover to their home in defense.
So the drill continues cross court, steady, no winners, hit and recover to your home after each shot. The opponent who is still in defense learns to be calm when she sees opponent at the net and thus does not panic and simply continues to mix up her shots from high lobs, drives and occationally something soft and low in order to try to get a ball with which she will be able to create some offense, such as a hard drive passing shot in this drill down the middle or at the cross court player.
So both players are developing both offensive and defensive skills from this drill and realize that a change of direction is often an escape shot and panic shot but staying crosscourt teaches one to stay calm and collected even under attack.
Tip to Player in Offense Zone: Learn to place your volleys deep and towards opponents feet, with placement being more important than power. Hitting with underspin/slice and deep makes the opponent HAVE to lift the ball UP which is the perfect situation for a net player who can in turn hit DOWN on the ball, high to low, with backspin.
Tip to Player in Defense Zone: Learn to vary your shots with lobs (high defensive lobs that are IN and made so opponent can actually get it and hit an overhead from their transition zone ideally, but hopefully not a blasting one), drives when getting a ball that allows you to set up and really hit it, (this is called a passing shot) and softer ,off pace, short angled shots that bring the opponent forward a little and makes them hit UP on the volley or half volley which gives you the chance then to hit a passing shot.
The passing shot is THE SHOT the player in the defense zone is waiting for, not the chance to come to net as so many players think and try. The net was taken by the opponent first, so it is vacant it is occupied , so hitting a passing shot is what we are waiting for when in defense and opponent is in offense.
Learning this concept while only playing one on one, using only half court, is very important in mastering your doubles skills. “Shadow Doubles” is the term often used to describe this drill.