WTRS #40 – DOUBLES: The No Nonsense, Old School, Super Reliable Backhand Return of Serve

Old school – as in, super consistent, super reliable, and in this case, your cell phone will be ringing off the hook with good tennis players begging you to partner with them in doubles.

Old school, as in, let’s see just how simple we can make this thing so that the chances of stuff going wrong get minimized down to almost nuthin …

Old school, as in, copy what Tony Dawson shows us in this video and really good things will happen for you 😉


You’re invited …

My bride Mai and I are hosting an informal gathering at our pad here in Moraga, CA (northern California) this upcoming Wed Feb 19, 6:00pm PST where I’m going to share our story about how the LifeShotz income program allowed us in just 9 months to buy our 2nd home in the Mission Hills CC ion Rancho Mirage, CA (Palm Springs).

Yeah I know, this stuff might not be right for you, and if so, that’s totally cool, but we’d love to have you stop by for an hour and take a look.  

You just might know someone who would love to find out how to develop a secondary income with some of the finest folks I’ve had the pleasure of meeting recently.

Let me know if you and anyone you want to bring along can join us – [email protected]  Hope you can make it 😉

Mai at the Mission Hills CC grasscourts - Sep 2013



  1. Off to play a league match.

    < "Commit to the early shoulder turn, stay sideways, watch the ball bounce up and out of the service box, and disregard that net player" ... >

    OK, I’m good to go 😉


  2. Mogens.

    Huh. I just clicked the video and it worked fine.

    Try “refreshing” your browser and let me know if that helps …


    • Yes, it’s fine now. Thank you very much. Also for your kind invitation. I’m too far away to be able to meet with you and your wife. Sorry!

  3. Anyone else having problems playing the video?


  4. Slice return in doubles?… The balls floating up there, the net man should put it away

    • Anon.

      Believe me, those slice backhands from Tony are not floating up there.

      Even if the net man crosses, there’s not much to work with …


      • On the first serve the net man did poach but couldn’t get there because the slice was so sweet. In fact he would have blocked his partner’s half volley had he made it. I’ll work on my own slice BH return.

  5. Did you notice the net person committed too soon and still did not get to the slice. Really enjoyed watching this video, now I know why old people, like me, learn to hit slices.

    • Warren Turner says:

      I sometimes play against a former pro player – and if I get that angle he can’t get to it without leaving too soon, in which case just dumping a shot down the line (don’t need to put much on it) will be effective (unless he is faking a poach).
      It is just geometry, not stroke mechanics per se. Any ball which follows that path will do!
      I will say, the receiver needs to work on his low volley/half volley a bit!


      • Hi Warren.

        The fake poach IMHO is the one skill that every doubles needs to practice and eventually master.

        You can control the returns of serve …


    • Hi Gordon.

      The poach is at best a guessing game, it’s certainly not an exact science for a whole host of reasons.

      So, don’t be misled by the thought that you have to win the point every time you poach.

      Worst case, you lose the point but send a message for future points which often creates an unforced error from the returner …


  6. Worked fine for me. Brent any thoughts for returning an inside-out back hand from the deuce court?

  7. It goes to show you don’t have to overpower that backhand slice return and just drop it cross count low and away from the net man. There is not a lot the server coming in can do with the low shot. Thanks for the video.

    • Hi Howard. You’re right on …

      There is so much power available in today’s rackets that it takes a smart tennis player to know how to be in control with their swing mechanics and when to add power.


  8. Thanks Brent. I understand this shot but the problem I have with it sometimes is that it floats a bit high and when it does, it is an easy poach for the net player. So what do you have to focus on to avoid the tendency to float this return and eat the next ball??

    • Hey John.

      Commit to playing this slice backhand return as an approach shot.

      You know, where you commit to moving forward (sideways) as you’re playing the shot.

      Your body weight moving against the ball, unless you reach too far in front, will help you keep your shot from floating.


  9. If you can do that from a serve, it shows you have control. It’s hard to see if this guy’s serve was difficult, though. What do you think, Brent?
    By the way, nice background music. What is it?

    • Hey Marc.

      Al Kooper on Super Session, ‘The Season of the Witch” – talk about old school 😉

      What Tony does is minimize his stroke technique.

      There’s not a lot going on there other than getting into position with his feet so that the ball is off to his side where the stroke can work.

      Keep it super simple, and like Mr. Dawson, you’ll have lots of happy doubles partners 😉


  10. Brett,
    Thanks for the great video. Couple of things that I noticed. First of all the returner moved to his right before the serve because he was so confident in his slice backhand which put him into a better court position for the next shot. Secondly, he let the his left foot slide behind his right as he hit which helps you get really sideways and prevents opening up too soon on the slice. I have had problems with my slice floating and have attributed it to taking the ball too early with the raquet face too open.

    I would appreciate your comments on these observations

    • Hi Larry.

      The back foot slide behind the front when executing the stroke is a must have on this shot.

      You’re totally correct about how that “magic move” helps keep us naturally sideways so that the swing path can go back towards the server and not across the back of the ball when we open up too early.


  11. Great view and analysis of shoulder turn.

    Re net man picking it off…much harder to do that w crossing backhand. and…server is usually closing with backhand too.

    I am lefty..used to try slice from deuce court. Now I have to set that up first w lob return and drive back hand… Once I do that this shot works well in the m I

  12. I play the Ad side and this is my favorite return of serve….I’m thinking of applying for patent rights on it. Some teams try to counter it by playing the “Australian” formation….to me, that’s like they put up the white flag of surrender! Love it!

  13. Hi Brent,
    Thanks for this.
    Ever wondered why Australia, with such a small population, has produced so many great doubles players over the years? One reason might be that for as long as anyone can remember, our main ‘league’ competitions were solely doubles played on GRASS. So every Saturday, you can still see ‘old school’ players like Tony finessing the return at the incoming server’s feet every time. McEnroe might want to dispense with doubles on the ATP, but Tony Dawson’s style of tennis gives hope to the legions of seniors out there who want to play until they die.

    • Great comments David. Thank you …

      I’ve got another point from this match where Tony drives his backhand return, comes over it with a little topspin, and it’s just …. BOOM!


      • Ah yes … when it’s right in your slot and the server isn’t making such good ground to the net. But I guess that’s why double handers can hurt the server more off the return. Of the top pros only Federer can get such an acute angle off a one-handed chip. But then who did he learn his tennis from? An Aussie, of course! Btw, did u see Fed playing doubles in Brisbane? Magical!

  14. Brent – Great video! And terrific music: “Season of the Witch” by Super Session (Al Kooper & Steve Stills)

  15. Just turn your shoulders, get in position, and watch the ball not the net player. Tennis is so easy.

  16. First thing I noticed was Tony’s partner watching Tony. This seems to me like a big no-no but considering the execution of Tony, no problemo.
    While I am a big fan of what you are showing and suggesting, how does this fit into the modern doubles game and wouldn’t the server best attack these returns off the ground?

    • Hey Mitchell.

      I’ve got no problem with Tony’s partner, the great Larry Loeb, looking back at Tony to see what kind of return is about to be played.

      Of course, if the server’s net partner is the mad poacher, then maybe not such a great idea …

      Modern doubles? Really? Staying back on the baseline and trying to win points from there against two players who can volley decently?

      Maybe at the pro level, but let’s be realistic, we’re not at that level, and thus, get your butt up to net and challenge from there …


  17. What Tony’s shots bring to mind to me is how friggin *precise* those top guys are with their shots (as well as being ridiculously consistent). Stuff that’s “good enough” against even “good” club players gets you *killed* against guys like Tony. BTW, I got to meet Tony at the 60’s clay courts, and he *is* a tremendously nice guy. 🙂

    In the last few months I’ve had the pleasure of feeling the pain that Fred Robinson, Tom Smith, and Phil Landauer can dish out. The combination of precision and consistency from those guys is just mind boggling. I’m still having nightmares from Phil making me look like a monkey – over and over and over on the doubles court.

    Oh, and please put up some videos of Tom playing some “good” points. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Morning Kev.

      These videos give an almost unreal perspective of what it’s really like out there against the top boys.

      In a real life on court match situation, it can be a big world of hurt 😉

      And OK, I’ll put up some vids of the great Tom Smith kicking my butt …



  19. Great video! Have you thought about showing the whole match or a set with commentary – maybe stopping in parts to go over key points in detail? I think that would be an awesome learning video. I would pony up a little cash for that short course.

    I use a two-handed backhand drive in baseline rallies, but have found my one-handed slice to be a much more consistent and effective shot for returning serve, especially in doubles. Interestingly, recently I have been experimenting with a one-handed drive that is nearly flat with just a little bit of top for control. Almost identical shot as the slice which is also hit nearly flat but with a little under-spin for control. The slightly top drive is also super consistent and puts a bit more pace on the ball. Allows me to mix pace and depth by using both and both feel great. I only use the two-handed backhand on return if someone is serving total sitters on the second serve. Very fun to hit the one-handed drive effectively.

    • Good suggestion Richard.

      Let me think about how I might format that kind of a video.

      Remember, your return of serve should always be for your partner.

      What return can you play ‘consistently’ that will help set up your partner?


      • Great point on setting up my partner! Just started playing with a new partner; 2 league matches so far – lost the first and won the second. We are still learning what will set each other up best, but we were much better doing so in the second match. He is aggressive at the net. The slice can force my opponent to hit up which is perfect for my partner, and the drive can elicit a weak return, especially if it is a surprise and not overused, which also works well. So my approach right now is that the slice is my bread and butter return and the drive is mixed in every so often.

  20. Agree with Mitchell.Was amazed to see the guy at the net turn round to watch the ball.As he was slow turning round again he was a liability if Tonys shot wasn’t perfect.You would only see this in the lower reaches of social tennis.
    Seems to me the trick is correct spacing and to lean into the ball.

    • Morning Harry.

      I disagree with Mitchell and you on the looking back.

      Unless I’ve got a consistent poacher across from me, I want to get info (direction, type, speed, height, etc.) on my partner’s return of serve by seeing it and not having to figure all of that out by watching the server’s partner.

      If looking back doesn’t work for you, then so be it …


  21. Good tips, Brent. However the pace and depth of the serves leave much to be desired. A good player should be able to handle those. They arrive pretty much in Tony’s hitting zone around waist to shoulder level. I would like to see his technique on a good first /kick serve where the conditions are not ideal. Of course the opposing net player is always half or one full step off in his commitment to poach standing too far back and not splitting with a forward momentum at the crucial moment.

    • Hi Nicolas.

      You’re right, we’re not watching a pro level match.

      These are all 4.5+ rated players.

      And as such, the video doesn’t show the degree of difficulty of the incoming serve.


  22. Hey Brent,

    I’ve found that I can use the slice return off both wings up through the 5.0 level of play. However, in men’s open doubles, the opposing net player is just too darn quick and picks off my slice return too much. There is only one player in the men’s open division, Todd Stanley, who I have seen that can consistently slice his backhand returns hard and low enough to evade a top notch poacher. Granted, Todd was #1 in the men’s open doubles rankings for ten consecutive years.

  23. Brent,
    That was odd. I was just listening to the Super Session CDs last week. I was really confused when “Season of the Witch” came up with your video – I thought I had opened itunes accidently or something. Glad to hear that there is someone else out there who still remembers Al Cooper.

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