Poaching With UCLA Tennis

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For all you singles players out there, it's time to stop being one-dimensional and step up your game. That might sound like dating advice, but if you plan on scoring a scholarship, you'd better find a partner and get to work on some doubles action.

When evaluating talent, UCLA women's head tennis coach Stella Sampras Webster says, "We look for players who have more of an all-court game. All-court players can volley and come forward and are able to do more things than just stand at the baseline and hit groundies. Not being so one-dimensional will make for a better player overall, because she'll be able to play doubles."

The problem is that most high school and junior tennis players have little or no experience competing in doubles action. But as Sampras Webster points out, "Doubles are so important in college. Most good singles players can play doubles." And she knows this from firsthand experience. The Bruin alumna was an NCAA Doubles Champion during her playing days. Since taking the coaching reins at UCLA in 1997, she has guided two NCAA Doubles Champions, most recently in 2008.

If you want to be successful in doubles competition, your team has to be active at the net and willing to take chances. One scheme Sampras Webster encourages her Bruins to execute is the Poach, an interception of the return of serve by the offensive doubles net player. This is a surprise tactic that requires excellent timing, like the steal in baseball. It is a move that is relegated to the more advanced player.

a strategy where an offensive doubles player moves toward the net to intercept a return of the serve. Below, she serves up instructions for the traditional Poach formation, followed by the Circle Drill, which the Bruins use to warm up before every match.

Your team serves the ball. As the returner starts to swing, your volleyer is looking to take the return and poach.

The returner is about to bring her racket back. Before she makes contact, your volleyer commits to moving to the other side of the court to take the return. You don't want to leave too early, or your opponent will be able to see you and could take the ball down the line.

When poaching, the volleyer will be moving diagonally across the court, essentially pinching up the middle at the net.

Circle Drill
• With partner at net on ad side, begin at baseline of deuce side
• As coach feeds ball to you from opposite deuce side, attack net to volley ball back
• As coach immediately feeds lob over partner's head, partner will retreat slightly and hit overhead shot
• As coach feeds third ball toward partner's original position, move to ad side of net to poach while partner shifts to deuce side along baseline
• Coach will feed ball to partner on deuce side, and drill begins again as partner attacks net to volley ball back

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock