Receiving the Wide Serve from the alley in Doubles
lieber mit einem Weltmeister als immer nur wie ein Weltmeister trainieren
Once when I was young and athletic I and my partner were ahead 14-3 in the third game against two old guys. I forget the tournament but it was a big one for me; our opponents were from another state and had been playing a long time. They won the serve and we, foolishly, relaxed a little. The server, with nothing to lose, stood wide in the alley to serve and started to serve long. Pretty soon it was 7-14 and we said to each other it was time to stop fooling around. At 10-14 we began to get a little worried. At 12-14 we started to look at each other wondering what was going on. At 14-14 we didn't exactly panic, but now we doubted we were fated to win.
We didn't. It was my worst loss, I still remember it, even though it was over 20 years ago. All because we didn't know what to do against a flick serve from the alley. After the match the happy winners said they thought they would try something different.
There are servers today who believe that they can get a few cheap points standing wide and serving to the back T. That service position may work against C players, but it is actually very vulnerable to attack if the receiver knows what to do.
Receiving in the even court
The first thing to do is to draw an imaginary line from the server to the back T. This line is your new center line. Stand as close as you can to this line while still standing in the receiving court. Remember to orient yourself to the server's position. Take your regular forehand stance; there is no need to give away your next shot by waiting for the serve on your backhand.
Imagine the path of the shuttle if the server serves short and wide to your alley. You should be able to intercept this shot with one easy step. The server doesn't want to serve short and wide, however, because his side will have to scramble to get the anticipated down-the-line return in the alley. Your main concern as the receiver is the flick serve to the middle.
As soon as you recognize the serve is in fact a flick to the back T, step into the odd court. This first step takes away any advantage the server has in standing so wide. If necessary, take your leap backwards, but in most cases, you can cut off the serve with just stepping wide.
What shot should you hit? If you think about it, almost anything puts the server team on the defense. Strangely, perhaps the riskiest shot is a smash cross-court toward the server, because this is the return he is expecting: he would be waiting naturally for it on his backhand because he is standing wide, and any of his returns would be effective, since the smasher's partner is frequently caught just behind the receiver.
More effective returns include a drop to any part of the net, or a quick clear cross-court behind the server, not too wide since you want to make him use his backhand. But a smash down the middle to the server's partner's forehand hip is also fine. The secret is not to try to do too much with the serve. This flick serve works because many receivers make mistakes just getting the bird back. If you are having trouble, simply clear it back over the server's head. If the serve was a low flick, and you intercepted it early by stepping into the odd court, chances are the server cannot cover his back court well.
You have two obvious returns off a short wide serve to your alley. The first, a net return straight ahead to the alley, is a little tricky, because the shuttle has a tendency to ricochet off your strings wide and may easily land outside the alley. You have to meet the shuttle not with an open face square to the net, but slightly turned toward the shuttle so that it will bounce off your racket toward the alley. The second obvious return is a drive down-the-line to the server partner's backhand.
Sometimes, however, if the server is covering his short serves along the net you can fake down-the-line and then hit cross-court, either another net shot or a drive to the back cross-court corner. A cross-court serve is a bad shot for the serving team because it opens up their court. The server is gambling that his short serve will fool the receiver, who will have to lift if he does manage to get to it.
Receiving in the odd court
The same principles apply for the odd court. Stand as close as you can to the imaginary path of the shuttle to the back T while still being able to intercept the short serve wide to your alley with one step. The flick serve from the odd court is obviously less of a problem, since the serve is going right to the receiver's forehand, and the serve is not really from the alley if the server is using his (right-handed) forehand. Here any return is effective, including the smash cross-court, since at least the down-the-line return of the smash is to the receiver's forehand. Here, however, the unexpected service return is down-the-line wide of the server's partner. Most people tend to return fast shots toward the server who has flicked and is therefore tantalizingly close to the net.
What to do if you are the receiver's partner
Stand deeper towards the back when you see the server stand in the alley. Be prepared to help the receiver by calling the serve. As soon as the bird is in the air heading towards you, step away from the center line out of the receiver's way. If the receiver intercepts the bird before it goes to the back, stay wide and square because the receiver may follow his return to the net, moving behind him if he does. If the receiver has to go back to return the serve, your route to the net has to avoid your partner's swing.
What to do if you are the wide server's partner
After you stifle your mental groan, stand ready to play singles for the service return. Your serving partner is so out of position you may have to cover all alley shots away from the server, as well as all the back court. I had a doubles partner (Howard, now Tedd, Bunce of California) who frequently served from the even alley. We set up who was going to cover what return, depending on where he stood (sometimes he served from the alley, other times he stood just inside the singles line). Sometimes his serve worked, especially when the receiver did not like around-the-head shots, but usually we were instantly on the defense, even against the most simple returns.
What to do if you are the server
Serving from the alley is worth a shot, but only against novices and C players. Evaluate your return of their return of serve. If your team is not killing the shuttle, give it up. Although you may be putting pressure on the receiver by threatening a flick serve to his backhand, you are also putting pressure on yourself and your partner. Concentrate on making your standard short serve unrushable.