Doubles – The 10 Foot Tether Myth

I used to teach the 10 foot tether between doubles partners, especially when one of them got pulled wide into their alley.

Guess what? Β It doesn’t work …

This video is a great illustration of how following your partner into the middle of the court can get you in a world of hurt.

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  1. SendMeAway says:

    Guilty as charged! Been trained/taught the same way for years and now I instinctively always move to cover court positions that open up when my partner moves. Will have to force myself to consciously think about when to move, when not to move, and when to fake a move.

    • Hey SMA,

      Your job is to force the opponent in front of you to take their shot back towards your partner …


  2. Julian King says:

    Very surprised at your comments about this point. Covering the middle of the court as she did demanded a much more difficult volley for her opponent, changing direction, and over the highest part of the net . In spite of her efforts, he hit a great shot for the winner. Kudoes to him ! Had she covered her side of the court , leaving the middle open, her opponent would have been able to just bunt the ball over the lowest part of the net straight ahead for the winner- much higher percentage shot !

    • I agree. Before the last volley is hit, the female was playing ‘singles’ in a doubles court, a pretty bad spot to be in. Either way she moves (or doesn’t ) the volley goes the other way.

    • Hi Julian.

      Look, this isn’t always an exact science, but if I’m Dennis and I can reasonably make a play on Tony’s shot to where I can recover back into the court, then I’m trying to go back cros court with my shot, have my partner hold their position, and then Tony, in theory, has to play his shot back to me …


  3. I’m not so sure. If Dennis hadn’t created the angle, Leslie would have been in perfect position. Dennis created the problem by not hitting to Mary.

    Also, assuming the same shot by Dennis, if you can’t be passed, lobbed or crushed at the net, you should move in. If Leslie had moved in to the net, they would have won the point easily. The angle to the deuce side of Leslie was created by her standing on the service line.

    • Hey Will.

      Dennis can solve his problem to playing his shot slowly back cross court to Tony which will allow him a little time to start to get back into9 the court, have Leslie hold her position, and then Tony’s got to go back to Dennis …


  4. Martin Hassner says:

    He did hit a great volley but he saw that wide open court and he was going to go for it no matter what.
    Given Dennis’ position and his own low reach, he would have had to hit an even better volley to get it past Dennis and leaning forward that way, almost out of balance it would have been a tougher shot to succeed with.
    It’s all a matter of degree and and if she had gone two steps to the left instead of four, that wide open court wouldn’t have been so vast

    This approach to teaching is spot on…watching the moments and seeing the difference is a great learning experience.

    • Hi Martin.

      By Mary not closing forward towards the ball that Dennis is having to play, and by her staying back on the service line, the middle now gets opened for Dennis.

      If Leslie holds her position to where Tony doesn’t have an opening into her alley, then Tony is forced to go back towards Dennis with his shot …


  5. Brent – saw your name on the board at the Palm Springs club – you and partner won the 65 mens
    doubles ?-
    congratulations !

    • Hi Michael.

      Thanks. Always a good idea to have a great partner.

      I do in the form of that Jerry VanLinge -;)


  6. The point was mentally over already before the last volley. Any experienced player could have won that point either directing to the left or between those two. The opponents would have had better changes if the male player had made a lob over the female player into the alley.

    • Hi Kalmer.

      Better court positioning by Leslie could’ve changed the outcome.

      And yes, a lob by Dennis over Mary would’ve worked as well …


  7. That’s a tough one Brent. I think she moved correctly and took away the easier shot, which was down the middle.

    Two players cannot cover the entire doubles court. (And in this case, to make matters worse, one of the players wasn’t even “on” the court because he had been pulled wide.) There is always an opening somewhere. A doubles team has to try to position themselves to make the openings as small as possible.

    Viewing one point, with no other context as to the flow of the match, it is difficult to say what the right move should have been. Perhaps earlier in the match, the woman “stole” several points by moving to the middle and had cut off would-be winners. Perhaps Tony recognized her aggressive positioning from earlier in the match, and anticipated her movement to the middle, and then went behind her.

    Well played by Tony. Sometimes you have to give credit to your opponent for a point well-played. All you can do in response is try to learn their tendencies, and try to use that information later in the match.

    • Good feedback Rick.

      If Leslie felt that her partner Dennis was going to struggle to even get to Tony’s shot, then sure, she;s got to cover the entire court for that one shot.

      But, Dennis got to Tony’s out wide shot and was able to make a decent play on it.

      If Dennis could’ve taken his shot back to Tony’s feet instead of the middle, and if Leslie had help her position, you never know πŸ˜‰


  8. I think she made the right adjustments to help cover the opening her partner left open. She probably went to far to the middle and didn’t adjust back after her partner hit the ball and was recovering. It was a nice shot at the opponents feet so she too could of being moving and attacking and moving out of that defensive posture to cut off the angles. Perhaps if she did this she could of had an easy forehand volley put away.

    Cover the middle but then be ready to go on offense if your partner’s shot is good.

  9. After that sequence Leslie knew more of Tony’s skill to direct the ball to the open space. I suspect that with that knowledge Leslie would cover the next similar sequence differently and position herself to cover her side of court just before Tony makes contact. Unfortunately Tony’s skill level is such that there are no easy solutions for Dennis’s team after that cross-court takes Dennis off the court. A partial move to the center and strong move back to her side would be a good choice on the next similar sequence, but Tony has other tricks in his bag, and a simple volley by him over the low part of the net up the middle or slightly toward Dennis’s side would extract another point for Tony’s squad. As an aside, Tony is highly skilled at angle shots and that is what put Dennis’s team in such a predicament here. The phrase “Don’t mess with Tony” comes to my mind. Next time Dennis might hit directly at Mary or try the difficult lob over her instead of going back cross court to Tony where he will be in charge of the next placement. Thanks for your analysis. This is an interesting situation.

    • Hi Walt.

      No question that Tony Dawson is one of the world’s best 60+ players and can do things that most of us cannot.

      However, if Dennis can get his shot more angled back to Tony’s feet rather than into the middle, and if Leslie holds her position, things are different …


      • Major Dan says:

        I am seeing two points being discussed in these posts –
        1 – Leslie’s position in the center of the court after Dennis is pulled wide
        2- the placement of Dennis’ shot after he is pulled wide

        taking both into consideration, if Dennis plays crosscourt to Tony’s feet, Leslie can hold a more normal position instead of extreme center and thus avoid Tony playing behind her – that is the point you are making.
        Nobody has mentioned that Dennis is a lefty and when pulled wide is hitting a forehand. It seems to me that if Dennis hits a soft topspin in the alley or at Mary’s feet, Leslie is in perfect position for the crosscourt shot and Dennis has a short recovery move to cover his half.
        By playing crosscourt, Dennis opens up huge lanes for Mary and Tony to play through. by playing down the line, the big lanes disappear and both players have better court positions due to ball placement.
        I’m saying that Leslie may have played for the down the line by moving to the middle and Dennis crossed her up by going cross court.

        • Hi Major Dan.

          Not sure Dennis can realistically “top” his forehand from that down low and so close to the net AND get his shot down to Mary or by her.

          If Dennis can go slow and low with a slice forehand back to Tony’s feet with Leslie holding her position, now Tony has to deal with a ball at his feet as Dennis is recovering.

          The point here is that Dennis and Leslie ned to play a shot and position themselves so that they can get back to neutral, and not try and win the point outright from Dennis’s shot in the alley.

          Make sense …?


          • Major Dan says:

            Brent –
            Agreed – Dennis and Leslie are in a compromised/defensive position. They can either go for broke and try to blast a winner (unlikely) or play a few shots trying to get back to neutral – the rational choice. Makes total sense to me.
            This video looks like a visit to the land of Continental grips and consequently, Dennis would most likely go cross court with his forehand – so your analysis and recommendation are sound and reasonable.
            Unfortunately, the cross court shot perpetuates their defensive/out of position situation and leaves Tony and Mary with a lot of good options on the next shot.
            Even with a Continental forehand, couldn’t Dennis hit a soft chip to Mary’s feet and get her to volley up ? That might leave Leslie with a chance to finish the point and at worst leave them both better positioned.
            The main point is that if Dennis knows Leslie is going to move to the middle when he is pulled wide, doesn’t he have to try to hit something that will play to her positioning? instead of counter to it? Or is that assuming too much foresight by Dennis?

  10. Steely Dan… nice

  11. rich jaffe says:

    Hi Brent,
    Normally I agree with you on your court positioning videos, but this time I feel moving to the center of the court like Leslie did is the right move to make. Controlling and covering the middle of the court as you know is paramount in doubles. I feel you give Tony that shot, and if he makes it like he did you clap your hands and say great shot. Each player can only cover about 12 feet of the 36 foot doubles court you have to give up some court ,and leaving open the wide cross short volley in this instance was going to happen as you cover the middle.

    • Hey Rich.

      Good feedback.

      The whole evaluation for Leslie comes down to whether she thinks Dennis can recover after his shot.

      If he can, then his best shot is a slow and low ball that lands at Tony’s feet, and if Leslie holds her position, Tony is forced to go back to Dennis who is recovering.

      If Dennis cannot recover as he plays his shot, then he’s got to do something (a lob probably) that buys time for him to get back into position.

      Either way, Leslie is better to hold her position …


  12. Leslie should have moved to cover the net…easy volley for her!!


    Your DVD arrived today … hurrah


    • Good call Anya.

      Dennis’s shot was down low to Tony, and at the very least from the middle, Leslie could’ve closed towards the net to reduce the angles for Tony.

      Enjoy the DVD!


  13. Before you even commented I felt they both moved in the right direction but way too far and the fact both guys had trouble shots well below the net the ladies should have closed in towards the net to reduce the angles and put pressure on. Mary left too much court for her partner and Leslie gave away 1/3 of the court.

    • Hi Brent
      I still feel strongly that the doubles team has to move together.
      On that point Leslie didn’t close at all but actually drifted back. After Dennis hit
      his shot their team should have been moving to the other side. I know Dennis was pulled
      out wide but when he hit their recovery wasn’t there. Leslie drifted back on the shot but then
      stayed in that position.
      If she would have closed that shot could have been a put away down the line.
      Sorry to disagree with you but a team that moves together to cover the high percentage shots will have a lot of success.
      Thanks Love Your Videos

      • Hi Jerry.

        Not problem if you disagree.

        I’m not saying that any of this is an exact science each and every time.

        In my experience however, if Dennis can go slow and low back to Tony’s feet and allow himself a little time to recover, and if Leslie doesn’t leave her side of the court wide open, there’s a good chance both teams are at worst in a neutral position as Tony receive’s Dennis’s slow and low shot …


    • Hi Mike.

      I agree. Good stuff …


  14. Pete O'Brien says:

    Interesting point about Leslie moving to middle. However, if she does not move to center, won’t Tony have an easier shot down the center. As it is, he makes an incredible angle for the winner.

    • Hey Pete.

      Possibly …

      A lot of this is up to Dennis with the shot he plays back.

      If he can go low and slow back to Tony’s feet, recover, and Leslie holds her position …

      See you at the BTC next week πŸ˜‰


  15. Not at all sure I agree with you. Had she stayed on her side of the court, the entire middle would have been open for an easy winner. He had to make a very difficult shot to win the point because she mover. .

    • Hi John.

      Maybe …

      I contend that Tony’s volley is much easier technically if he can carve Dennis’s incoming shot into Leslie’s alley rather than more of a shove volley into the middle.

      I could be wrong, but of course that hasn’t happened since ’72, so … πŸ˜‰


  16. Brent,
    Yes, I think we’ve all taught that way for many years. In looking at the video I think I would have moved to the “T” just as Leslie, the female player on the far side did. However, in retrospect, I can see where Leslie should, as you said, fake to the “T” and then go back to the deuce side of the court, forcing Tony Dawson to hit back up the middle with a chance that Leslie’s partner, Dennis might be able to make a play on it. Generally speaking I think Tony made a really nice angled shot putting Leslie in a “catch 22” situation. Had the wide angled shot been played down the line Leslie should cover the “T” area.

    BTW, nice music. Steely Dan??? I think so, it has that sound. Thanks for posting and see you on the courts.

    Mike Alcott, USPTA/PTR

  17. Colin Chapman says:

    Yes Brent, I agree with you, I hate it when I scramble back a wide ball and my partner does not cover their half of the court, the usual excuse is “I thought you could not get back”,
    I’m thinking ‘Hey, i got 2 good legs, I can move around some and cover my half !”

    • Well alright Colin – finally someone agrees with me!

      If Dennis realistically cannot get to Tony’s shot, or just barely get there, then OK, it’s probably Leslie on her own for the next shot, but Dennis made a good shot where I think he could somewhat recover.



  19. The lady in pink played the percentages and covered the shot down the middle. However much her partner was going to recover, it wouldn’t have been enough to cover the straight down the middle volley. The guy in black was forced to hit a lower percentage shot and was successful. When the angles get big, the amount of court to cover gets bigger – especially for us 60+ players. Somebody has to be covering the middle.

    • Fair enough Rick, but if I’m playing with you, and I go over there like Dennis did, and then play a low and slow slice back to Tony’s feet (not what Dennis did), and place the ball directly in front of where you should be, and you’re hanging out in the middle, I’m a bit frustrated πŸ˜‰


  20. Sal Castillo says:

    Dennis lost the point. He serves to Tony’s backhand and Tony hits a very playable forehand half-volley which Dennis hits (looks almost mis-hit) pretty bad. Leslie at the net does a good job positioning at this point. But Dennis just sits back after his shot and doesn’t close. This gives Tony a very easy sharp angle opportunity, which I know Tony is thinking I can hit a winner on this shot since the half-volley sits up nice. Dennis does a great job getting to it. Leslie moves to her left to cover the middle. Now, Dennis goes up the middle off a sharp angle. This is almost always a horrible idea unless you are given a ball that you can strike from above the net and you can crush it. His highest percentage play (not necessarily the easiest shot) is to out angle Tony or go down the line. In this case, with Dennis being left handed, I hope he learned he should hit every forehand off Tony’s return down the line. I assume because Tony hung back, Dennis didn’t think he could put the ball away from there. WRONG! And by the way Leslie I don’t care what anyone says if you would have closed in tight on the net Tony would have hit a lob volley over your head.

  21. Mitchell Strauss says:

    I mostly agree with Anya. Leslie’s mistake was fading back to give her opponent more room for angled put-away volleys. If she had stayed in her forward position that would force a lob or a much more or a neutral return from tony. Moving to the center just compounded the positioning error.

  22. If was Dennis I would have lobbed over Tony and sent him back putting a little confusion in there.

  23. Jeff Jacklich says:

    Mornin Brent, I couldn’t agree with you more ! I’ve been working on breaking the tether with my 4.0 ladies.
    It has been beaten into their heads over and over again, they just move to the left and then move to the right without any consideration as to what their job actually is at the moment. My partner and I move best as a team when we both mind our own business. In doubles my first priority is to shut down my half of the court! Convince the other team that my half of the court is a bad choice. Next , if I’m not playing the ball, I should be doing every thing I can to corall the ball back to my partner. That’s how you create opportunity. You become less effective when you spend all your time trying to help your partner.
    This is just the tip of the iceberg. We could talk on this subject all day Brent !

    • Hey Jeff.

      Always happy when you chime in with your realistic approach to playing (and more importantly, teaching …) doubles, especially club level dubs.

      Ah, the tip of the iceberg πŸ˜‰


  24. John Watt says:

    Thanks Brent, I wouldn’t have even considered that.

    I think a main point is that Dennis is a lefty and isn’t pulled completely out of the next shot as a righty might have been. It probably makes sense to rethink every part of positioning when playing with a lefty as the shots that are easy or difficult for them are different.

    • Great call with your feedback John about playing with a lefty.

      And, if you’ve got the standard old school continental grip at your disposal, as a righty, you can always reach out wide to play a nice slow and low backhand slice back crosscourt to Tony’s feet that will help you buy time to recover …


  25. Eric carlson says:

    wow! lots of controversy!

    Brent, I also agree with you. I also agree the point was blown by poor court positioning by the lady in black. If she holds the middle better she gets the shot off the feet and bam-done….Too many people overplay the down the line shot leaving their partner too much court to cover.

  26. Brent,

    I have tried this return passing my opponent many times and successful because the line was open. Now I understand that the 10 foot rope rule is to blame for their demise. I am playing this afternoon and will try closing instead of following my partner wide. If they are successful down the center, then great shot! I see how closing to the net is a better choice to cut off that shot.


  27. I have learned a lot from the thoughtful and provocative videos and comments on this site. Thank you, Brent. For what it’s worth from a duffer 4.0 with a thimble full of court sense, I agree with the many commenters noting that Leslie’s movement to the middle of the court was the better % play because it made the opponent hit the more difficult shot. I think adhering to the “close off the middle when partner is pulled off court tether rule” here is best. I just think Leslie should have taken one less step to the middle because, as you note, Dennis is actually not totally out of the play and has hit a reasonably challenging defensive shot.

    I think there is value in predictability in doubles (as long as you are not predictable to your opponents) so you can anticipate where your partner is going to go and position yourself accordingly. I want to know and share my partner’s instincts, and my gut tells me Leslie made the right move here. I remain fascinated by doubles strategy/shot selection, and have much to learn, but on this one I must admit I am sticking with my gut.


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