The Offense in Doubles
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The offense in doubles is more than smashing and dropping your way to victory. There are things the attacking team can do to minimize their vulnerability to counter-attack and induce the defense to hit a weak return. Gaining the offense while shots in the rally are still low and flat is also an important part of playing attacking doubles. This article will focus on tactics in doubles offense rather than on how to develop rally-winning shots.
Gaining the Offense
The first team that controls the net has the best chance of seizing the offense. The attack-minded team controls the net by hitting a shot that the opposing team cannot smash, then following the shuttle to the net. Claiming the net on an unsmashable shot forces the other team to clear. The unsmashable shot can be any shuttle that is too low, such as a net shot or a half court, or is lifted or driven behind an opponent or to his backhand. One can anticipate a net shot also by hitting a quick drive to the eyes, so that the opponent doesn't have time to hit it back hard. The player who claims the net should be ready for half-court shots and both cross-court and straight drops.
Once a team is on the offense, the shot of choice is the smash. Once the smash is established, other off-speed shots become more effective. Even if the defense is impermeable and counters the smash with outright winners, the smasher has options that should be tried before dropping or clearing.
Since about 90 percent of the smashes are directed at the defender directly in front of him, the first thing the smasher should do is to study how the opponent defends. If he is a backhand defender, the smasher should aim anywhere on the defender's forehand side from knee to shoulder. If the defender waits on his forehand, the smasher should hit to the defender's body or backhand. Frequently too a forehand defender backs up against a sideline (or the center line) so that a wide smash out of reach is also effective. There is no sense smashing to a defender's strength.
In general, the smasher should try to cramp the defender by hitting close to or at his body. Hitting away from the body allows the defender to take a fuller swing; it is then easier for him to drive the smash cross court. Flat or high smashes are also easier to drive-return for the same reason. The effective smash is one that results in a return that is weak enough for the partner at net to smash. These are induced by overpowering velocity or by cramping the swing of the defender by smashing at his forehand hip.
It is usually a bad idea to smash cross-court, even if the smash is directed at the defender's weaknesses or at a weak defender. The cross-court smash is not as effective since it travels farther, and it gives the defense a wider angle to attack. The cross-court smash and the down-the-line return would travel faster than the smasher can run. Since a cross-court smash induces the net man to stay wide and even vacate the net to cover a deep down-the-line return, the defense can safely hit any cross court return which often surprises the offense anxious to cover the vulnerable down-the-line court. Cross-court shots that expose one's own backhand are particularly ill-advised.
The wider the smash is, the riskier it is. The safest cross-court smashes are those from the smasher's backhand court (assuming everyone is right-handed) to the body of the cross-court defender. They must be steeply angled so that the shuttle has to be lifted higher, giving either the net man or the smasher time to cover the forehand court.
Smashing down the middle between the two defenders is best when they stand far apart or when the shuttle can be smashed from the center of the court (so the smash does not have to travel cross-court much to split the defense). Each defender may depend on the other to return the smash, afraid of clashing racquets. Placing the smash in the middle, across the net in front of the net man, also reduces the angle the net man has to cover, thereby increasing his chances of cutting off the smash return.
The offense is not all smashing, although smashes "set up" other shots. Drop shots and half smashes are effective against quick defenders or those who play deep. Drop shots are most effective to the middle: the defense has more time to be confused, and the offense has to cover less angle on the return. Cut smashes throw off the timing of the defender so that the return is frequently wide. Quick attacking clears may also be effective, especially against players who defend closer to the net, crouching and waiting with the racquet head up.
The net man
The partner at net is crucial to the offense. He protects the smasher, wins the rallies, and forces the defense to continue lifting. To accomplish this, the net man must do more than stand in one place at net with the racquet up, bent over from fear of getting hit in the back of the head.
The net man's position in front is fluid, depending on where the smasher is and what type of shot the defense favors. In general, if the defense returns smashes with drives, the net man should play deeper, almost as if he is playing singles. Conversely, if the defense is softer, the net man can play closer to the net but still a couple feet behind the short service line. He should still be able to get to net returns of smash before the defense gets to the net, so that he has the advantage in a rally at net.
The deeper the shuttle is lifted to the back, the deeper the net man moves away from the net, though still staying in the front half of the court. The net man also stays on the same side of the court as the shuttle is on. He is anticipating the smash straight ahead to the forehand hip and so stands in a position that reduces the angle of the likely return. If the smasher drops, the net man moves forward to cover a possible net return, intimidating the defense into lifting the shuttle. When the shuttle is lifted, the net man moves back againóit could be tiring for the net man to play with a person who continuously drops. If the lift is weak, only to mid court, rather than play in front of the smasher, the net man should move out of the way to the vacant side of the court. The smasher can cover the net for weak returns, while the net man covers the empty court.
When the net man does get a shuttle to hit, he should try to maintain the quick attack by driving the shuttle to the body or face of the closest defender. The net man is much closer to the defenders than the smasher, and so does not have to hit hard or take a big swing to make the defense hit a weak return. Merely blocking the shot to the net may be effective against deep defenders, but usually it gives the defense another chance to clear deep.
Many players at net move to the back if the smash or smash return is hit cross-court. This is fine if the net man is a stronger back court player, or if the smasher is tired, or if the net man can get to the shuttle in a better position to smash than the erstwhile smasher. This type of rotation underscores the importance of proper positioning of the net man (i.e., not too close to the net) and a steep downward angle of the smash.
The ideal offense
The smasher should be behind the bird, properly balanced so that his mass should be going forward when he strikes the shuttle. Against a good defense, velocity is not as important as angle, both in terms of the steepness of the smash's angle, and the lateral angle of possible returns available to the defense. Some smashes are safer than others and some smashes are harder to return than others just from the location alone. The offense does not have to hit smashes until arms start falling off, but usually they win the rally faster. If the smasher is in trouble, or off balance, the shot to try is a drop or a half-smash to gain time and to set up the next smash.
The net man should be aware of what the smasher is doing, whether he is out of position or out of balance. Being aware of the smasher helps the net man to anticipate return shots and cut off potential winners. The net man is not passive, just looking for the weak return he could put away; he is constantly moving and thinking. He should stand tall, taking up space, scaring the defense to clear the shuttle away from him.