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Awesome Doubles Strategies with Mehrban Iranshad – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast 188

By Kselz @TennisFixation

In this episode, you're going to get more tips on doubles strategy than you could ever have thought possible! That's because I'm talking to my friend Mehrban Iranshad, the host of the Tennis Files podcast and he also hosts the annual Tennis Summit, a huge online tennis instruction event. Mehrban agreed to come on Tennis Quick Tips to give us his very best doubles strategies tips. So in this episode, Mehrban gives us not 10, but 11 (!!!) awesome tips for doubles strategy. And at the end of the episode, I give you all of the information you need about Tennis Summit 2020. It's coming soon. It's a free online event. And I think when you hear about it, you're going to want to be part of this.

You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player in this post or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in Apple Podcasts by clicking on this link:


Here we go with my interview with Mehrban Iranshad giving us his best doubles strategy tips:

Kim: I'm talking to Mehrban Iranshad today of the Tennis Files podcast, a podcast that I myself have listened to virtually every episode since you came out. Mehrban, what year did you start the Tennis Files podcast?

Mehrban: Hey Kim! First off, thanks for having me on. I really do appreciate it and love connecting with you. You do a lot of fantastic work and I love your podcast as well. And yeah, I started off in 2016 with the podcast. So it's pretty amazing that it's been going on for this long. But I really love tennis just like you do and that's why I'm still doing it.

Kim: Well, that is great. We talked back in 2016 when you had come out, your podcast was pretty new, but you have been at it. I know you have, how many episodes now? I just listened to one on fitness and I can't remember what number you're at. But it's up there.

Mehrban: Yeah, I think in the 130s, 135 was the last one

Kim: Oh, okay, There you go. Well, that is a long track record for podcasts and especially in the tennis space. There are a couple of ones that have been holding on for a long time and your's is definitely one of them.

So I said that we had talked back in 2016, you and I did an episode together here at Tennis Quick Tips. It was Episode 150 on how to hit deeper groundstrokes. But why don't you tell my listeners a little bit about you since it's been a little while since we talked.

Mehrban: Sure thing, so I started off with my dad bringing me to the tennis court and he also exposed me to a bunch of other sports and I just really ended up loving tennis and excelling at it the most. And so I went from there and played a bunch of junior tournaments after getting some pretty good training. I got pretty high up there in the rankings at least locally and around like 200 in the country when I was like 16. Then I went to play college tennis at University of Maryland Baltimore County which is a D1 school, call it a mid-major I guess. And I had a lot of fun there. And then after that I went to law school and after that I actually quit playing tennis for three years. And it was through my best friend Victor who introduced me to USTA leagues that I rekindled my passion for tennis. Ever since then, I've really loved it.

And pretty much there was one day when I was searching for some tennis information, I think it was backhand technique. And I kind of looked at some of the sites and it occurred to me that "hey you've been playing a long time and people are looking for informational content and maybe you just start something up and tell people what you've learned through your lessons and experiences and so forth". And so then I started in 2015 and then a year later I ended up seeing that there are all of these podcasts out there and I looked for an interview style one regarding tennis. And I think I found one other one but I thought to myself that it would be really cool to interview tennis experts. That's when I started the podcast and it's been doing really well just like Kim, your podcast has been doing great as well. And I've been fortunate enough recently for the Tennis Channel, they actually put my podcast on their podcast network which started in August of last year. And yeah, just been doing that ever since, and doing some other stuff on the internet as well. And that's pretty much the story.

Kim: Yeah, I love your podcast because you don't just talk about, oh, here's how you're going to hit a better backhand. You really go into all of the ways that recreational players can become better players including fitness, and the mental game, and a lot of things that the pros do outside of just hitting tennis balls that we can actually bring to our own game. So that's why I've always enjoyed it. I was saying that the episode that you did just recently that was all focused on fitness, I was like "this is it! this is what I'm gonna do! it's gonna make such a huge impact!" So that's why I love all of the experts you bring in. They're really great.

Well, Mehrban, you are an expert as far as I'm concerned. And you and I talked about how much I would love to hear some tips for my Tennis Quick Tips listeners from you. Specifically, what we talked about was doubles because I know I have a lot of listeners who play a lot of doubles. And I know you play doubles too. I do almost exclusively. In the summer, I try to get some singles in but year-round, it's doubles. So I was hoping that you might give us your favorite strategies for winning points in doubles. Because we all need some help there with strategies we can put to work out on the doubles court.

Mehrban: For sure Kim. I was thinking about you and your listeners last night because I had a 9.5 combo doubles match and I was thinking if there are any additional strategies I use today, I'll definitely mention them on the podcast. And so yeah, I'm really excited to talk to you about that.

And I'll preface it by saying that when I was a junior player, and even up until college, I really had no clue how to play doubles. I mean I was just a grinder out there playing singles and in a lot of cases, reacting to what I was given. And being consistent. So I started to learn more about doubles when I played college tennis. You know my coach would help me with positioning and so forth. But I want to give you 10 tips today on doubles strategy. And hopefully you can implement, I really implore you to implement at least a couple and then let Kim know or myself know how it works out.

10 (Really 11) Awesome Doubles Strategies

1. Disruptive Plays - Poach, Fake Poach, I-Formation and Australian Formation

So the first one I actually group into what I call disruptive plays and the reason for implementing these plays is to throw off the returner and also the returner's net partner. And whenever I've implemented these disruptive plays, my teammate and I have always gotten free points. Whether that's just a missed return or we were able to pick off the returner when we're at the net. And also, because in a lot of cases, the returner does not know where the net player is going to go.

So these plays that I like to use are the poach, the fake poach, I-formation and Australian. I think you know the poach where you're serving let's say and then your net partner calls a poach. Then that means that your net partner will just cross to the other side and you'll cross as well. And then the fake obviously is where you act like you're going to poach but then you actually go back to where you are. And I actually like that one a lot after I throw in a poach or two. And then the returner is tempted to go down the line. I'll do a heavy fake and then go back and then be able to hit a volley where I'm at.

Then the I-formation is a very fun and interesting way to strategize and play the game. And that's where, let's again say you're serving, and then your net partner is actually crouched down in the center of the court basically, up near the net. And then they're going to tell you where they're going to go and in a lot of cases they'll also tell you where to serve and also what side they're going to go. And so this way, by using this formation, your opponents have no idea where you're going to go because you can have the net player go to the left, to the right.

And this was huge for me, because last night, as I mentioned, I played a 9.5 combo math with my 4.5 partner. We actually lost the first set and we actually did not use too many of these disruptive plays. But in the second set and in the third set tiebreaker, we ended up using them a lot. And we didn't get broken in the second set. We won that. And we won the match. You know I've used these plays to great effect and I can confidently say that in a lot of cases, if we didn't use these plays, we would not have won. So I've won a lot of matches with these plays.

And of course, the Australian which is basically, let's say if you're serving on the ad side, your partner actually is also standing on the ad side as well, at the net. And then you're just going to take a step to that deuce side.

But last night, at 8-7 in the third set tiebreak, I called an I on both plays and I also coupled that with knowing that in crunch time my opponents were probably going to return crosscourt. I was able to put both of those volleys away and we won the match.

So these disruptive plays that I mentioned, that's one whole tip that I mentioned.

Kim: That's a good one! And with that. But I agree with you and I like the word disruptive because sometimes, even if it doesn't work, if you go for the poach, and it doesn't work, or like you said, you just fake poach, it gets in your opponent's head to where they don't know what you're going to do next. If you just let them get into the groove, where you're not switching it up, you're always standing in the same spot, you're never moving to try a new formation, you're never moving to the poach, your opponents just relax and just doing these things just enough can really screw with their head. So that they do start making those errors. Like you said, they miss the return or the returner's partner doesn't know how far over should I be covering the line, what's going to happen next. So that's a great word for it, disruptive plays.

Mehrban: Yeah, thanks Kim. And I'm sure you see it a lot and I see it too. Just like you said, in a lot of doubles leagues and matches, the individuals are just staying where they are and not moving much. And there's a lot of opportunity there. And you have to adopt the mindset that its really fun to try a lot of plays, to move around, and cause havoc.

2. Serving Out Wide

Mehrban: My second tip for you is, what I personally like, when I'm serving, I really like serving out wide. Because I find, when people do that against me too, it makes it more likely for my net partner to be able to pick off the return. And it's also really hard to hit a down the line winner. It's a lower percentage play anyway. And then you're getting one player off the court. So then you're really only dealing with 1 1/2 players I guess. It really opens up the court and I really like the wide serve.

Obviously, a sub-tip of this is experiment with different placements of your serve and see how that works for you. In a lot of cases the body serve is also effective because it's really hard for the returner to direct it. But I personally have felt like the wide serve has really worked out for me.

I will say that if for whatever reason your opponent has a good angled return, then you might want to change it up. But otherwise I like the wide serve for doubles.

Kim: I've used this and I've used it in some matches over and over. And it just seems like you know you serve wide, the returner gets drawn off the court, and that partner never moves to cover the middle. And I always feel like "oh, I don't know if I can get away with doing this one more time." But some matches, I've just done it over and over where I'm like "I don't get it. Why aren't they stopping me?" But until they do, I'm going to keep using it. So that's a nice two shots and you can win a lot of points.

3. Let The Stronger Server Serve First And More Often

Mehrban: Exactly Kim, exactly. My third tip is kind of a short and simple one and maybe obvious. But I really like to, when you're a team, just figure out who's the stronger server and have that person serve first. Because obviously you want to be able to start strong. And you want the person who has the stronger serve to serve more often. Because there's been a couple of times when I've been passive and made this mistake and we've chose the wrong person to serve first. And sometimes it's been me who's had the weaker serve and I've served first. It's just better overall to have the person who has the stronger serve serve first and serve more often.

Kim: And you know I think, as a partner, when you're playing doubles, you need to think about that. You need to think about you and your partner and who has the stronger serve. And if it's your partner, defer to them, set them up, let them serve first, let them serve more often. I even, if I think my partner is the stronger server, I'm like "which side of the court do you want to serve from?" I want them to have the sun at their back if that's going to help them with their serve. So I think you need to be a good supportive partner and think what's the best thing for my team. And it might be to say that your partner is the stronger server so let's set them up to have a better service game.

4. Use The Lob Return

Mehrban: Exactly Kim, love it. And so my fourth tip for you, this actually came from a Summit session last year, which I'll mention later on. Emma Doyle gave a great doubles tip in her session which is the lob return over the net player. And I really like this because the strongest position is having two players up at net. And so what this does is it enables the returning team to get to the net. Obviously if you hit like a normal return, the returner is still at the baseline. But if you lob it over the net player's head, then you're both at net and then the person who's back at the baseline on the opposing team now has to hit a groundstroke or a lob back at you. So that you're able to establish that strong position if you lob over the net player.

And one other thought that came to mind too, this is a personal experience, one time I played with my partner in a doubles match. And the other team actually kept lobbing over my head and also sometimes over his head because he just served and volleyed every time. And that was also causing him to get really tired because he would have to stop his forward momentum and then go back. So lob returns is something that you definitely want to practice in your practice sessions and then try and implement a couple of those in a match and see how that works out.

Kim: Yeah. I always think of this depending on who's on the other side of the net, if they're a righty or a lefty, because if you can hit a lob return over the net player and make that other person have to run down and hit a backhand, I mean, I play ladies, I don't play mixed doubles. But ladies do not want to run and they do not want to run and hit a backhand. So if you can hit a lob return over the net player, and cause them to have to run that down, that is a great way to get a point. That's a good one.

5. Use Signals And Communicate Your Plan

Mehrban: It's also very disruptive as well. And also, I mean this is kind of related to the doubles plays too. But I don't see enough signal calling by the server's partner in a lot of cases. So you really want to make sure that you're talking with your partner and calling signals, whether that's poach, fake poach, or location of the serve. And you know, by calling signals, it really enables you to pre-plan the point out. Because I've played with players who say let's just free play it as they call it. But it's always better to have a planned out play at least for the first couple of shots. So I really like having the net player call signals for the server. And also alternatively talking about what you're going to do before the point starts.

6. Take Advantage Of Tendencies And Patterns

Mehrban: And then my next tip for you is that it's really helpful to be able to read your opponents and really pay attention to their tendencies, their favorite shots, their return patterns. As I mentioned at the top of the podcast, one thing that I pick up on is most players on important points they have tendencies that they go towards. So if it's break point, then it's possible that the opponent's going to return crosscourt. Or I guess a better example is if it's 9 all in the tiebreak then you're probably going to get a crosscourt return. So then that tells you that I'm going to go pick off that shot.

Another tendency is if someone is falling back when they're hitting a shot, that's probably a good sign for you to cross the net, to poach, to pick off a weaker shot. And also returns, maybe the player has a much weaker backhand. Obviously you want to target that.

So it's really just important to pay attention and be aware what's going on. Because in tennis, all it takes is a couple of maybe one more point, that you've won and then you're going to win the match. So really crucial to pay attention to tendencies and things like that.

Kim: Right. And I think definitely in recreational play, people have those tendencies and you can read them if you pay attention. I think a lot of players don't believe that's true, but they have never thought about it and tried really hard. You can see a lot of shots that are coming and prepare yourself for them. So I think that's a great tip.

7. Target The Weaker Opponent

Mehrban: Thanks Kim. I appreciate that. And so the next tip for you all is, well I don't think this controversial, you know you're going to increase your chances of winning if you do target the player who is weaker in doubles. You obviously don't have to do this to where you're hitting it to that person every time. Unless this is an extremely important match. But in situations on the court, you have to be kind of smart about it. For example, if you have to hit a passing shot or a groundstroke into the net player. Obviously if you know one player has weaker volleys, it would be much more advantageous for you to hit it that person. I've caught myself quite a few times on certain points that were pretty important and I hit to the other player for whatever other reason. And I rethought about it and told myself it would have been much more smart to hit to the weaker player.

It's just a fact that the purpose of tennis matches is to win and to win you have to exploit weaknesses. And that would mean hitting to the weaker player when appropriate.

Kim: Right. And that's the most basic strategy. Surely nobody has a problem with that. But I think also to sometimes be aware that things can change during a match. Like you think this person is weaker and then suddenly you realize, no, it's the other player. I would say the classic situation I see, I live here in Houston, it gets really hot, I play ladies tennis. And one player will be really good and then somewhere in the middle of the match, she gets really tired, and suddenly she's the one we need to pick on. You could say that's controversial, that suddenly someone gets tired and they become the target. But you know, if somebody is slowing down and can't get to the ball as easily, then you need to keep watching and see what happens and maybe you have to switch who's the weak link during the match.

Mehrban: Yeah, that is a wonderful point. Like you said, it's possible that one player is just playing lights out and then all of a sudden, when the match gets close, that same player gets tight, so yeah, that's a really wonderful tip.

8. Volley To The Feet Of Your Net Opponent

Mehrban: Another tip for you all is, I really like volleying to the feet of the opposing net player. Because that gives you an excellent target. When I mentioned that I poached, both of those times that I poached in the super tiebreaker, I just picked a high percentage target, where I thought I'd have an excellent chance of winning the point or maybe getting a weaker reply. And what I did was I just volleyed it to the feet of the opponent. Because it takes extremely good hands, especially at the USTA league level. There's not too many players who are going to be able to get too many of those shots back. So it's a great and easy target to hit at. The person's feet. I mean I'm not advocating for hitting their head or anything. But their feet or the lower part of their body, aiming there. Probably 95 times out of 100 they're going to get a part of their racquet on it. But it's going to go to the ground or the net. So this is a really great high percentage location for volleys that will win you the point.

Kim: And even if they do somehow miraculously get it back up, they usually pop it up, the next shot you're going to put away. Because if it's down at their feet, all they can do is hit it up. That's a great way to win a doubles point.

Mehrban: And that's exactly what happened. One the first point at 8-7, I volleyed to the feet of the net player and it was not returned. And one the second one, I volleyed to the feet again, and that player actually had nice hands and got it back but it was a weak reply and I had an overhead. So that's what happened.

9. Change Your Return Position

Mehrban: The next tip for you all is that I really like to change my return position when I'm returning obviously. So, one example of this is, often times, when I have an opponent who's able to hit serves to my backhand, I will actually shift a couple of steps to the left. I primarily return on the deuce side but this works on the ad side too. So what that does is it gives the a smaller window to my backhand and in many cases they will slice it. So they'll aim for the other side and then, in those cases, I'm all prepared because I know there's a good chance they'll go there. So I don't have any problems personally with split stepping and then moving to my right. And so, in that case, it's a simple tweak of where you're standing. It will give you a better chance of hitting your favorite shot. And it will also give the server a different look and make them think a bit. So I've found that that's actually helped me quite a bit in my matches.

Kim: I actually have not done that. But I like that one because, same thing, if it gets in their head and they're wondering now what are they doing, why did they move over there. A lot of times that's all you need to throw things off. So that's a good one.

10. Surprise Your Opponent When You're Weak With A Down The Line Shot

Mehrban: Thank you. All of these tips, I've been able to implement and they've worked out really well. And there's also an interesting tip that I particularly enjoy. I think it's a little sneaky. It really does depend on the awareness of your opponents. But I have found many, many times if my opponent has hit kind of a short ball that forces me to hit a slice backhand, I play at the 5.0 level and you know sometimes I play with a 4.5 partner at 9.5 combo, but whenever I'm going up and I'm hitting and they see my slice backhand preparation, the net player on the opposite side will cross. So I actually love hitting that down the line and I catch them most of the time.

And another tip that works for me that's pretty much the same time is, a lot of times when I'm at the baseline and I'm on my back feet and they see that I'm like moving backwards, I hit it down the line. Because a lot of times, they're crossing. Maybe those are advanced tips but kind of thinking about okay, my opponent is probably going to cross here because I look weak. Or it looks like I'm going to go crosscourt so I switch it up. And I win the point.

Kim: I think those are good tips. This is my only one-handed backhand that I hit. It's my emergency shot. My one-handed backhand slice when I'm really stretching and on the run. And I hit it down the line a lot because of what you're saying. Because I know I look weak. I know when I'm hitting that, things are not going well for me. So you've got to come up with some way that you can put it to work for you. And if it's unexpected that you're going to do that, especially if that person up at the net, looks like they're seeing it and they're ready to pounce. That down the line shot, if they're not there for it and if their partner is covering the other half of the court. That's a great shot that's not going to come back at you. That's a good one.

11. Communicate With Your Partner

Mehrban: Exactly. My last tip for you, unless I think of some more before the podcast ends, is that I did mention before and it's related to a lot of these, but really making sure to communicate with your partner. And more specifically to keep it positive, to talk strategy, when you notice things, communicate it to your partner. To pump each other up and get each other focused as well. I can't overstate the importance of this. You see a lot of times two partners who are not speaking and are just going through the motions. And it's definitely not a good recipe for success. And so a lot of us can fall into that trap of just thinking about ourselves when we're out there. But making sure to really talk to your partner and keeping the spirits up and strategizing a lot. It makes it more fun and also gives you a higher likelihood of winning.

Kim: I think that's true. You want it to be positive no matter what is happening on court. And I always think, if I'm a good partner and I play with someone and they like playing with me, maybe I'll get to play more often. Maybe the captain will say, "well she's good, she can play with anybody, everybody likes playing with her." To me, that's ultimately, I want to win this match and I know if I'm positive with my partner, there's a higher likelihood of that. But I want to play the next match too and so I want to be sure that nobody is going to the captain, "please do not ever put me with her again." Which, I don't know about where you play Mehrban, but here where I play, that happens a lot. Ladies are very clear about who they will and won't play with. I don't want to be that player that nobody wants to play with.

Mehrban: I hear you Kim. It's not just you or your region. It happens here sometimes. That's more likely if two players have had some sort of skirmish or something like that. And I've had people on my team say I'd really prefer not to play with this person.

Those are the tips and I'd be happy to field any questions if you have them.

Kim: I counted 11 different tips right here. And when I do the show notes I'm going to break them out so that it's clear exactly what the 11 tips are. They're all really good. A lot of them, maybe players know them but I bet they're not applying them in all of their matches. And I think if you could even do half of these in your next match, you would so up your chances of winning. I especially like the fifth tip, about signal calling by the server's partner. Having a plan. I find that a lot of people I even play with are sort of just out there reacting, let's see what happens. Having a plan, just even if it's we're going to hit this serve and then try to poach, that's more of a plan then most people are having. So I think that's a great one. But all 11 of them, super, really good stuff.

This is a longer episode than I usually do. But you have given way more than one Tennis Quick Tip. You've given 11. Thank you. That was fabulous.


You mentioned earlier the Tennis Summit. And I have participated in the Tennis Summit in the past. And it has grown to be such a great event in the past few years. So can you talk about that a little bit?

Mehrhan: Thanks for giving me the opportunity. It's a really fun event for me and the audience. Basically what it is is a week long online tennis conference. This will be the fourth year of the event. It will be in late April. What I do is I contact over 30 of the top coaches in the world that I can find and communicate with. And what they do is they teach the audience lessons and sometimes I interview them as well on different areas. The biggest areas of your game, including technique, strategy, fitness and the mental game. It's free to register and check it out. I've had some amazing people on like Paul Annacone who coached Roger Federer and Pete Sampras. And Gigi Fernandez who's won 17 Grand Slam titles. Craig O'Shaunessy who's been a strategic coach for Djokovic. And a lot of the classic online personalities, coaches like Ian Westermann, and Jeff Salzenstein, Dr. Mark Kovacs, Will Hamilton. So there's just a lot of really great experts who are going to teach you everything from your serve technique to doubles and singles strategy and mental game and all that. So it's a great event and I think you'll really enjoy it.

And if you'd like to attend, I'd love to have you and you can check out the videos from all of these experts.

Kim: That sounds cool. I will definitely have the link to Tennis Summit 2020 in the show notes. What I like about this event is that all of those people you named are all great tennis instructors. And we can all find stuff from them. But it takes a lot of time to track all of this down. The Tennis Summit really puts all of it together in one package and says here it is. Here are the top professionals who are teaching online which is really a lot of us the only way we're going to be able to access these people. And here's one package where you can find it all. That's what I liked. It wasn't a lot of work for me to find them.

Mehrban: I really appreciate you having me on and keep doing the great work. People love you and I really appreciate what you're doing.

Kim: Well thank you Mehrban and I love your podcast too. I'm always listening to it and I'm looking forward to everything you're putting out. Thanks for talking to us. I really do appreciate it.

Mehrban: Thanks. Everyone have a great month and keep playing tennis and improving

So that's it for this week's Tennis Quick Tips episode. Not just one quick tip - 11 quick tips! Thanks so much to Mehrban for being on this episode. And be sure to check out Tennis Summit 2020. You can get your free ticket by clicking on the link below.


Be sure and grab your free ticket to that awesome online tennis instruction event that I talked about in this episode - Tennis Summit 2020. Just click here for that free ticket:

And if you have any questions about any of this stuff, you can always reach out to me by emailing [email protected]. I would love to hear from you!

Thanks so much for listening and, as always, . . . Happy Tennis!

© Kim Selzman 2020 All Rights Reserved

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