Doubles Tips For Table Tennis/Ping-Pong Beginners

Becoming a Dynamic Duo

Ping-pong paddles and ball on a table

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Do you like to play doubles? Most ping-pong players enjoy a good game of doubles now and again. Playing and winning in doubles competition can be just as rewarding and fun as singles play—after all, there's two of you to share the glory and celebrate!

There are some important differences between the tactics used in doubles play when compared to singles, so let's have a look at the basics of playing doubles well.

It Takes Two

Often, a doubles team of lesser singles players can beat a combination of two stronger singles players. Just like the old saying, a champion team will beat a team of champions. Two weaker players that know each other's game and play to support each other can be a tougher team than two players who are strong individually. There are also some players who are known as excellent doubles players, simply because they know and apply many of the tactics mentioned below. So if you can understand and use these tips, you should be well on your way to becoming a much better doubles player, regardless of who you partner with.

Serving

  • Serve Diagonally: In doubles, you have to serve diagonally to your opponent, from your right-hand half of the court to your opponents' right-hand half of the court. This reduces the amount of deception you can get from placing the ball well and allows most opponents to cover the whole half court with either their forehand or backhand side, virtually eliminating the strategy of aiming at their playing elbow. This, in turn, lowers the effectiveness of longer serves, so most of the serves you perform in doubles should be double bounce serves that bounce low over the net and are difficult to attack.
  • The Third Stroke: When serving, it is important to remember that it is your partner, not you, who has to make the third stroke. In order to improve your partner's chances of making a good third ball attack, you should try to use services that will help set up your partner's best attacks. Short, low topspin/sidespin or float serves that your opponent can flick (but not with too much power) will give your partner a better chance of making their attack.
  • Signals: A series of signals can also be used when serving to allow your partner to know what serves you will be using, without your opponents overhearing. One simple method is to use two separate signals, the first to indicate the spin on the ball (i.e., pointing your finger in the direction the ball will go from your opponent's racket) and the second for the length of the ball.

Return of Serve

The return of serve is often the key to being a winning doubles combination. Since the amount of deception is reduced when serving, a good receiver can often dominate the point, stopping their opponents from attacking and setting up their own partner's attacks.

  • When receiving, you can treat it much like returning serve in singles, with a couple of extra provisos in that you should be trying to force play towards the type of game your partner favors.

Doubles Rallies

  • One of the most important parts of playing doubles is staying out of your partner's way. Take notice of where your partner prefers to play from, and over time you will learn to automatically move out of the areas they like to hit the ball from.
  • Playing the ball towards the person who just played the last stroke is often a good tactic since it makes it that much harder for their partner to get an unhindered stroke. If one player is noticeable slower than the other, you might also want to play the ball wide to the slower partner to make them move, then play the next ball straight at them, so that they tend to get in their quicker partner's way.
  • Take notice of the playing strengths of your opponents. If your opponents consist of one good player and one weaker player, attack hard at the weaker player whenever possible. If you can't make a good attack, then try tempting the weaker player to attack balls that are just a little too difficult for them to do successfully (a little too much spin, or into their playing elbow).
  • If you are a good player teamed up with a weaker player, your job is to make as many strong attacks as you can so that your partner hopefully will get a weak return that they can handle easily. If you cannot attack strongly, you must place the ball with care, trying to make it difficult for your opponents to attack your partner. Make sure you are forcing play into the patterns that your partner can handle, so don't push a lot of balls if your partner is weak at pushing, or flick a lot of balls if your partner does not have a good block to handle your opponents' attacks.
  • If you are a weaker player teamed up with a stronger player, your job is to keep the ball on the table wherever possible, so that your better partner gets another chance to make a good attack. 

    Return of serve is one area where a weaker player often tries to overdo it, attempting to place the ball too tightly or even attack balls that they shouldn't. Get the ball back somewhere on the table consistently, and if your partner gives you some advice on how to return the serve, make sure that you listen to what they are saying!

    Likewise, when you are serving, you don't need to make incredible serves, just keep them simple and error free, so that your partner can start trying to attack the third ball. If you are serving faults you are preventing your partner from using their expertise.

  • Encourage your partner, rather than criticizing them. Nothing makes a person get tense faster than their partner giving them a hard time about their mistakes. Accept that both you and your partner are going to make some mistakes along the way, but as long as you are both following your overall strategy that's fine.
  • If your partner is having a particularly bad day and is making a lot of mistakes, the question arises as to whether you should try to compensate for it. This usually means playing more aggressively and taking more risks by trying to hit stronger attacks than normal, in the hopes of getting back into the game. This is not easy to do, so it is usually better to give your partner more time to get their game together, but if they continue to make errors, at some point it will be up to you to try to lift your own game up to try to win the match. Give your partner plenty of time to try to get back on track, but don't wait until you are several match points down before starting to get aggressive! Also, make sure you let your partner know what you are going to try to do, so they can be ready for your more aggressive attitude and adjust their game accordingly.