The Art of Poaching: Anticipating and Intercepting in Doubles

Poaching: Anticipating and Intercepting in Doubles

 After explaining the basics of doubles in a recent article, in this one, we'll take a closer look at one of the most common and spectacular tactics in 2-on-2 tennis - Poaching. The poaching tactic has been proven to be one of the most successful and at the same time the least energy-consuming in doubles - it is risky, but if executed correctly can win you a lot of easy points.

The Art of Poaching: Anticipating and Intercepting in Doubles

What is poaching?

Poaching is a tactic in tennis in which a net player attacks an opponent's return in two possible ways - either in a predetermined (premeditated) or in an anticipated action. In the predetermined poaching, the net player decides the serve that he is going to perform this tactic (in the majority of the cases, both teammates hint to each other with hidden signs that this is the moment to perform it).

Regarding the anticipated poaching, the net player decides during the rally that he will execute the tactic (the reason may be because he expects his opponent to execute a weaker shot or because he knows what direction it will be played).

It can be said that if we are talking about top professionals, the anticipated poaching is much more effective. However, it is a lot harder than the predetermined one, because all the decisions go into the player's head in a split second.

In what scenarios is poaching useful?

The most common scenario of using poaching is off the serve and especially on a second serve (predetermined poaching). When a team has to play second serve, opponents think they have a better chance to win the point, but often the opposite happens.

To execute poaching correctly, the qualities of the opponents as well as their current positions on the court must be very well known. Let's take the following example - Team 1 (with Players A and B) serves Team 2 (Players N and M) receives. Player A plays a second serve, and the return player is Player N, who is right-handed. At the same time, Player B is near the net, waiting for N's return. What is the right direction for A's serve so that the poach can be executed successfully? On N's backhand side! And why is that? The answer is that in a very large percentage of cases, the return players play the ball diagonally because that's the lowest point of the net. And that's when Player B's role comes in. He knows his opponent well (his decision to poach is made even easier if he knows, for example, that his opponent's backhand is weak), moves towards the middle of the net, and volleys the ball in the empty court, where Player M can't reach it. 

Another popular scenario is during а point (anticipated poaching). However, as mentioned, in this type of poaching, the net player in most cases has to be a doubles specialist to intercept the direction of the opponent's shots.

Tips for executing successful poaches

The first and most essential advice we can give is not to use this tactic in the most important points of the matches (especially if you are not 100% confident in your abilities). Yes, poaching can be successful by surprising your opponents at certain moments, but it shouldn't be your main driving force towards success.

Also, think through the risks well when considering poaching, because this is the most "all-in" tactic in doubles tennis – if you make a mistake, you are mistaken for the whole team. That's why if you're not confident in your skills - it's best to discuss with your teammate when and how often to Poach.

As we mentioned in the previous article - doubles are most successfully played with a partner whom you know the qualities of perfectly. This applies in the same way when using poaching. And not to forget - it's important to build trust between each other and to listen to your teammate when they want to suggest a certain approach or method, that can make poaching even “deadlier” for the opponent.