Ever wonder what the doubles players on TV are signaling behind their backs? What do the signs mean? Or even what the point of doing it is rather than just telling their partner face to face? If so, you came to the right place.
In order to maximize a team’s potential on court, both players on the team need to be on the same page, and hand signals are the most effective way to do that. Doubles signaling is simple, but if you are unsure what the signs mean it can seem complicated.
The hand signals used by doubles players on the tennis court are used by the player at the net to indicate where the server should hit the serve and where the net player will move after the serve.
THE BASICS: WHAT DO THE SIGNALS MEAN?
The player giving the signal will always be the one who is at the net, while his partner will be saying yes or no to those signals. The most important thing is that both players are willing to execute what is agreed upon before the point is started, or else the team will be out of place as a whole.
The order of the signals is the same whether the team is serving or receiving; the first signal is where the shot is meant to be hit, while the second signal is meant for where the net-man is going to be after that shot is hit.
Servers Partner: Serve Spot
Because the first signal is for the direction of the serve, there are 5 different serve targets to hit. This can be simplified to 3 targets depending on the level of the server, but I will demonstrate all 5 just for reference. The pictures below show the serve signs for the server in the deuce court.
Now let’s take a look at the signals. For this, I will be your partner at the net showing you the signals and you are the server. You are serving from the deuce side.
Body Serve can also be signaled using only the middle finger. Essentially, flip your partner off and in order to tell him to serve body.
Server’s Partner: Movement
The second signal is shown to indicate where the net-man will be moving after the serve lands in the box. There are 3 potential signals for this portion: stay, poach and look to poach
The first signal of the fist, meaning stay, indicates that the net-man will be holding his ground and covering the line
The second signal of the open hand shows that the net-man will be committing to a full poach. This means that this player will be crossing over into the other service box in order to pick off the likely crosscourt return. In this case, the server’s job is generally to cover the line, so both partners will end on different sides than they began.
Look For It
The third signal of the fingers “pinching” together indicates the pinch. For most teams, this is the most commonly used play. This means that the net-man will be looking to poach based on the quality of the return coming back, but it is not a fully committal poach so the players do not switch sides of the court.
Returner’s Partner: Return Spot
There are three basic signals for the return direction: crosscourt, down the line, and to the middle. Because most good doubles players are looking to pick off the middle ball, the middle return is most uncommonly called.
Similar to the serve signaling, the direction in which the fingers point correspond to the direction of the intended return spot.
Return Down the Line
These pictures are taken with the returner on the deuce side of the court, so the net man is on the ad side. You can see that the first picture indicates a crosscourt return, the second shows a down the line return, and the third calls for a middle return
Returner’s Partner: Movement
The returner’s partner signals for movement are the same as for server’s partner. The first picture shows stay, the second shows poach and the third is pinch.
Look For It/Pinch
Advantage of Hand Signals
You might be thinking, “Why even use hand signals in doubles? My partner is close enough to me, can’t we just talk between each point?” Sure. You could, but there are a couple advantages to using them.
- The Audible
Giving signs is advantageous because plays are most effective when a team sees how the other team is set up. We see this not only in tennis, but other sports as well. In football, many times the quarterback comes out of the huddle with a play drawn up. However, when he sees how the defense is lined up he may audible by using signs to change the play.
For example, if the returner is standing several feet behind the baseline, you may pick a different serve target than you would if he was standing inside the baseline. Or, if the returners partner is starting on the baseline with his partner, the movement call may be different than if he was at the net.
Signs also help most people simply because they give a clear visual to what they want to execute on the court. It is much easier to picture what a player wants to happen when they see it as they set up to serve or return. Signals minimize miscommunications, and as mentioned earlier, if a doubles team is unable to move together as a team on the court they will be exposed.
Approving and Disapproving the Signals
One of the most important things to remember with all of this is you do not have to agree with your partner. The person giving the signals is solely giving a recommendation. The person that is hitting the serve or return is ultimately the one who needs to be calling the shots. The biggest mistake you can make with this is agreeing to hit a shot they feel uncomfortable with in a given situation. So, do not be afraid to wave your partner off of the call that he or she suggested.
Simple “Yes” and “No”
It is the server or returner’s job to verbally agree or disagree with the call they are given. The net-man switches the signal until he finds the serve that his partner is happy with, when he then says “yes.” After the server agrees to a serve spot, the net-man then starts showing the signs for the movement. The same protocol is followed for this, as the server decides where he wants his partner to move.
To put it into a visual, here is an example. If the partner at net calls a serve down the T, but the server wants to go body, he simply says “no” to the first call. The net-man then shows the sign for a body serve, to which the server agrees. The net-man shows that he wants to poach, but the server isn’t confident that this play will work either. He shakes it off with a “no.” Finally, the net person shows the fake-poach sign, and the server agrees with a “yes.” Now the server is comfortable starting the point with a play that he feels will work.
Hand signals on the doubles court are something that you and your partner can add to your game without any real drawback. No matter what level your game is at, everyone can benefit from incorporating these into their game for a multitude of reasons. Most importantly, they give a clear idea of what you and your partner want to execute as a team. Additionally, especially at more beginner and intermediate levels of doubles, it is a good way to start thinking about strategy on the court. Remember, doubles should be played as a team not as two individuals on the same side of the court. Communication is key in order to improve as a team and these signals will help you be in better harmony on the court.