When your partner is serving in doubles, it is customary to position yourself in the middle of the service box opposite the receiver. The main reason for this is to force the receiver to return the serve either back to the server or over your head. This reduces the space where he can hit the return safely. If he hits the return at you, there is a good chance that you will hit an offensive
Poaching is a term for when you (the net person) move over in front of the server to cut off the return. If done successfully, you will hit a winning volley. If the receiver fears your poaching, he must pay attention to you as well as the ball served to him. A good poacher can pick off the easy balls and make the points short.
When should you poach? If you are a poor volleyer the answer is: almost never. Poaching and missing tells the receiver that you are weak at net and invites him to drive the return right at you. An exception is when the receiver is floating high returns down the middle and you can hit an easy volley by taking just one step. If you are a good volleyer, you should poach early and often. If your partner’s serve is giving the receiver trouble, you might poach every time. If the receiver’s backhand return is weak and his forehand return is strong, only poach when the serve is going to his backhand or you get a weak return that you can take the offensive and put pressure on your opponents.
How to poach when the receiver can return the ball anywhere he desires? If you go tooearly, he can easily hit a winner by hitting the return where you vacated. The general rule is to go when the serve bounces. This doesn’t work if the serve is slow. If the receiver has already made up his mind to return crosscourt you can get away with going early. This often happens on game point or when you haven’t poached for awhile.
My advice is to experiment with poaching. Once you have done it successfully, you can jump on weak balls. When my doubles partner is returning serve, the first question to be answered is: where do I stand? In the past, I stood where everyone else did – 5 feet from the baseline. The plan was as follows. If my partner returned high to the server rushing the net, I would stay put so I wouldn’t be clobbered by the opponent’s volleying or smashing down at me. If my partner returned low to the server, or lobbed it over the netman’s head, or the server stayed back, I would move forward looking for a volley.
Then a game changing event occurred. Playing at Wimbledon, Gardner Mulloy stood onthe service line when his partner returned serve. Perceiving this as a threat, the opposing server tried to hit him with their serves. If they had hit Mulloy or his racquet with the serve before it bounced, the server would win the point. They found that that they couldn’t hit him. Soon everyone stood on or near the service line, so that today it is unusual for one to stand back near the baseline. (Some of the top pros are staying back on the first serve).
So, now I stand on the service line when my partner returns serve . I don’t stand closer to the net because the server could now hit me more easily with the serve and his partner at the net would have a huge opening should my partner hit the return right at him. If the net man poaches, I would completely at his mercy.
The next question is: What do I do now that I am standing on the service line? If mypartner’s return bounces before the server hits it, I should move forward and across (toward the net strap in the center) looking for a volley I can hit down on. This is called drifting. You could call it poaching by the receivers. If the server starts hitting it in your alley, then mix up staying and drifting.