What are the best tactics when playing doubles with a much stronger player? This often happens in rating doubles. Many believe that a more balanced team has an advantage over a more lopsided team, but that's mostly true only if the balanced team is experienced playing together. In general, I have found that a lopsided team that plays smart generally is favored against a more balanced team. This is because they can play tactics that allow the stronger player to make more of the decisive shots.
Tactically, there are five things the weaker player should focus on when playing. The key thing to remember is that your stronger partner will likely dominate, if given the chance, since he's stronger then the two more evenly matched opponents. So give him every chance to do so.
- Confidence. The weaker player is probably a bit intimidated, since his partner is much stronger, and he's the weakest player at the table. If his team loses, it's mostly because of his mistakes. However, this is the wrong way to look at it. Assuming this is a rated doubles event, then the only reason the strong player is eligible is because he's paired with a weaker player. So the thinking should be, "Without me, you can't even compete!" It's extremely important that the weaker player not be intimidated or he'll play poorly. His goal shouldn't be to outplay his partner or even his opponents, who are stronger players; his goal should be to play his level or better, and to play smart.
- Serving. If the weaker player's serves are easily attacked, then he put his stronger partner on the defensive right from the start of the point. This is a double-whammy - a lopsided team should be at their absolute best when the weaker player is serving, since this means the stronger player gets to make the first shot. If the weaker player’s serves allow the opponents to take the initiative, then it potentially puts them at their weakest. In the large majority of cases, the single most important thing here for the weaker player is to be able to serve low and short, with either backspin or no-spin. Ideally, he should practice in advance so he can serve short, low serves. If he does this, it stops the opposing team from making strong returns, and allows the stronger partner to dominate the point. This is the single most important thing a weaker player can do in preparation for playing doubles with a stronger player.
- Keep the ball in play with well-placed shots. Don't take your stronger partner out of play by constantly going for (and often missing) risky shots. If you are an attacking player, perhaps tone your attack down some for consistency. If you loop, focus on consistent loops, not trying to rip the ball. In general, try to keep the ball deep so your partner has time to react to the opponent's shots. In general, by keeping the ball in play without giving the opponent easy attacks or put-aways, you allow your stronger partner to dominate. And guess what? When he dominates, you get equal credit for giving him the opportunity to do so.
- Don't hesitate to end the point. This may seem contradictory to the idea of keeping the ball in play, but it is not. The stronger player will often force easy balls to put away, and the weaker player shouldn't hesitate to end the point when he gets one of these. The key is that he must focus on keeping the ball in play until he sees an easy put-away - and then unhesitatingly put it away.
- Get your strengths into play. Whatever your best shots are, if you don't use them, your level goes down. Therefore, you should work with your stronger partner to find chances to get your best shots into play. Sometimes this will contradict some of the above, so you have to find a balance.