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The Pros and Cons of Playing One Up One Back in Tennis Doubles – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast 177

By Kselz @TennisFixation

I've got a question for you. How many of you are playing the one-up, one back formation when you play doubles? And why are you doing that? Have you thought about all of the pros and cons of the one up, one back formation? Because yes, there are pros AND cons. In this episode, we're talking about the most basic of all doubles formations - one up, one back. And we'll look at whether or not this is the best formation for playing out your doubles points. 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 iTunes by clicking on this link:

So today we're going to talk about doubles and we're specifically going to talk about doubles formations. But before we get into that, I want to do a quick Listener Shoutout. And this Listener Shoutout is to you - all of my incredible Tennis Quick Tips listeners. I truly appreciate that you took the time to listen to the very personal story I told in the last two episodes, Episodes 175 and 176. Those episodes are rapidly becoming two of my most popular! And I appreciate that because I really wasn't sure that you guys would even want to hear that kind of content. So thank you to all of you for listening in and for your positive comments and support.

And, I have to point out that Episode 176 was my first episode of 2020 and I made a big change in that episode. Maybe you noticed. I actually changed my theme music! I've been wanting to do that for quite a while because I had this happy, upbeat music I had acquired that is, believe it or not, called "Happy"! I think I've mentioned that I've made big changes to my Tennis Fixation site to make that more user friendly for you and I'm also making changes here at Tennis Quick Tips to keep it fun too.


Okay, let's get into it. Let's talk about and pick apart the one up, one back formation in tennis. So, as I go through this episode, you may think this is pretty beginner tennis type stuff. And yes, in one sense, it is. Because if you've been playing doubles for a while, there's a good likelihood that you are not just playing one up, one back when you play doubles.

But the fact is, I still see many, many players staying in the one up, one back formation. Even players who've been playing for a long time. These players could definitely benefit from getting out of this formation but they don't because they think there are just so many reasons for always playing one up, one back. So if this sounds like you, I know you are going to want to listen in on this episode. And even if this doesn't sound like you, I hope you'll keep listening because you may learn something about one up, one back that you don't already know and you might even learn something that you can use to convince someone else to try a new formation.

Before we get much further, let's talk about doubles formations. As you know, there are a number of formations that you can get yourself into when playing doubles. I've done an episode about one of them when I interviewed Ian Westermann of Essential Tennis about the I formation. That was Episode 104 and I'll have a link to that episode in the show notes if you want to learn more about the I formation. But here we're talking about the most basic of all doubles formations - one up, one back.

Now, if you've ever played any doubles at all, I probably don't need to tell you what the one up, one back formation is but just on the very off chance that there is someone out there listening who is not sure what this terminology means, I'm going to give a quick explanation. The one up, one back formation in tennis doubles means that one partner is playing at the baseline in one half of the court, and the other partner is playing up at the net in the other half of the court. This is how we usually start our doubles points. As an example, the server might start back on the baseline in the deuce court serving and his or her partner would be up at the net in the ad court. And then, very often, this is the formation these players remain in throughout the point, with the server never leaving the baseline on the deuce side and his or her partner staying up at the net on the ad side.

Okay, now that we're all on the same page with what the one up, one back formation is, let's look at the pros and cons of one up, one back. And we'll start out with the pros.


1. It's the Most Basic Doubles Formation

As I said, the one up, one back formation is where we stand when we start a doubles points. And a lot of players just never leave this formation. I think this often happens when you're new to the game. If you're a beginner tennis player or even a lower level player, you have so many things that you're working on that learning another doubles formation may just be too overwhelming. And if you're not taking doubles lessons or doing doubles drills or playing doubles practice matches, again, you may never work on anything different. So staying in this most basic of all doubles formations can happen very easily.

2. It Doesn't Require a Lot of Thinking

Another reason I think people like to play the one up, one back formation is that it just doesn't require a lot of thinking. Whether you're the serving team or the returning team, again, this is usually the formation you're in when you start the point. So it's not the wrong formation to be in and it's easy to just stay this way. You don't have to think about whether it's the best way to play out the point or whether you should be doing something different. You don't have to think about what's happening on the court. You don't have to think about what your opponents are doing. You don't have to think about you or your partner's strengths and weaknesses or your opponents' strengths and weaknesses. You can just stay in this formation and know that things on the court may work out.

3.It Doesn't Require a Lot of Movement

Another reason people like to play one up, one back, is that they think it doesn't require a lot of movement or running around. The thinking is that by playing one up, one back, one partner is covering the whole back of the court and the other partner is covering the net. So, the logic goes, you don't have to move much or run around because the court is covered.

4. It Can Cover the Lob

Finally, I think people like playing one up, one back because they think it is the most effective way to cover the lob. The reasoning is that one partner is at the baseline taking care of all of the lobs while the other partner is up at the net picking off shots and hitting winners. And this can definitely happen when you're in this formation.


So, you can see, there is some logic to playing the one up, one back formation. It is not by any means a terrible way to play doubles and it can work and you can win points in one up, one back.

But let's talk about the cons of this formation. Because one up, one back is not all rainbows and unicorns.

1. It's Almost Completely Defensive

One of the big drawbacks to one up, one back is that you are playing almost completely defensively. The fact is that you are much less likely to hit a winner from the baseline in doubles than you are to hit one from the net. Because you've got that pesky opposing net player you've got to get by.

Yes, I'm sure some of you have amazing hard, deep groundstrokes that produce winners from the baseline. But remember, we're talking doubles here. Not singles where you can often do quite a bit of damage from the baseline. In doubles, it's usually not enough to just hit amazing hard, deep groundstrokes. You've got to hit amazing hard, deep groundstrokes that can't be poached by the opposing net player. And this can be very difficult for even high level doubles players to do.

What usually ends up happening when you stay back is you're just keeping getting the ball back. You're not hitting winners. You have to play very defensively without ever taking control of the point.

2. It Does NOT Cover the Entire Court

You may think that by playing one up, one back, you're covering the entire court. But, in fact, you're not. A lot of your opponents who have good lobs, also have other good shots. If you're back on the baseline on your side of the court and your partner is up at the net on his or her side of the court, you're leaving yourself open for your opponent to hit at least three not-so-difficult shots.

The first is the angle shot to your half of the court and away from your net partner. This shot can easily draw you off the court, make it difficult for you to hit a return shot, and leave your half of the court wide open for your opponent to hit a winner.

The next possibility is that your opponent hits a little dink shot onto your side of the court, meaning you have to run up to get it. Will your net partner get it for you? Maybe. But that means their side of the court is now open for the opponent to hit the next shot which could be the winner. If there is any confusion at all between you and your partner as to who will get that dinky shot, you will be in trouble.

The third possibility is for your opponent to just lob over your partner's head. I've seen this a lot. It's so simple and so effective because it means that, if you're the baseline player, you're having to run back and forth to get those lobs over your partner. And if your partner is not switching every single time, again you are in danger of leaving half the court open for your opponent to hit a winner.

3. It Neutralizes Your Net Partner

What I see a lot when two teams face each other and both are playing one up, one back, is two baseline players sending up lob after lob and two net players just sort of standing there watching and waiting for someone to screw up. What I also see is net players just sort of standing there watching and then getting nailed when the opposing net player gets a short ball that they can slam at them. As long as one player stays up and one stays back, that net player that is staying up often is not doing much of anything, especially if they aren't aggressively looking to poach or move over to take a shorter lob as an overhead.

When your partner is not involved in the point, when your partner is just standing at the net waiting for some opportunity to get involved, it means that one half of your team is doing virtually nothing to contribute to winning the point. Not good.

4. It Doesn't Pressure Your Opponent

The biggest con I see to one up, one back is that it doesn't pressure your opponents. Not at all. Your opponents have a constant way out. An easy way out. They have so many options with the ball. And they can always just lob. They don't even have to hit a very good lob. Just get it up and back to the baseline player. And it they can hit a good lob, well, then they can just run that baseline player back and forth.

Sure, if both teams are playing one up, one back, then you can play this lob game without either team feeling pressure and with both teams just waiting for someone to make a mistake. But again, that is very defensive and either team is often just as likely as the other to make the error. This formation doesn't put the pressure on to draw out that error.


So when you balance the pros and cons of one up, one back, I think you can see that there are a lot of good reasons to break out of the one up, one back formation and try something different.

Now maybe you're saying, "well, I can't play anything other than one up, one back because I've never done anything different!" or maybe you're saying "look, my partner wants to play one up, one back so that's what we play." If that's you, my advice to you is that it's time for a change. It's time to open up your doubles formation toolbox and add something new. The best way to do this is to try different things in lessons, in drills and in practice matches. If you've been avoiding coming up to the net with your partner to play out doubles points, it is now time to take your doubles up a level and get out of that one up, one back formation. And you may need to strongly encourage your reluctant partner to try something different too. Maybe get them to listen to this podcast so they can see your logic!

The good news is that, in the next episode, I'm going to talk about the pros and cons of another doubles formation - and that's the double up at the net formation. So if you think you're ready to try something different and get away from one up, one back, then you're definitely going to want to tune in for the next episode!


Check out these great resources mentioned in this episode:


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

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