Megan Moulton-Levy blog: The importance of doubles

February 22, 2017 10:47 AM

Megan Moulton-Levy competed on the WTA Tour in both singles and doubles, advancing to the round of 32 at all four Grand Slam tournaments and reaching a career-high ranking of No. 50 in the world in doubles in July 2013. Moulton-Levy was a four-year standout at the College of William & Mary from 2004-08, where she earned All-America honors six times and reached the 2006 NCAA singles semifinals and the 2007 NCAA doubles final. A two-time recipient of the National ITA/Arthur Ashe Jr. Award for Leadership and Sportsmanship, Moulton-Levy currently serves as a senior coach at the JTCC in College Park, Md. In her latest blog, she talks about the importance of doubles, how it can help a player's singles game and more.

By Megan Moulton-Levy

In tennis, doubles is the unloved step child. It is not televised enough, there isn't enough value placed on practicing/learning doubles, the format is being shortened to lessen its importance even more, and players are being told they shouldn't play if it will have a negative impact on their singles. Has anyone ever thought about how learning the game of doubles will help your singles game?  

I am commonly referred to as a "doubles specialist," yet I reached 58 in the world in the ITF junior rankings, was ranked as high as 7 in the ITA collegiate rankings and as high as 237 in the WTA rankings... always a hair behind my doubles rankings but not too shabby. I owe a large part of my success on the singles court to my doubles.

As I mentioned in my first blog, I spent a lot of time at net as a child, indirectly honing my volley skills. This is why my hands are the best part of my game and always have been. In spite of my great volleys, I never came to net as a junior. Being a good volleyer and understanding the art of transitioning to the net are two TOTALLY different animals.

I won't reveal my height, but those of you who know me are aware that I am short. As a junior, at my size, the idea of covering the whole court while at net seemed impossible. In college, under the tutelage of Kevin Epley, I learned how to play doubles. When I started to understand the court through the lens of a doubles player, transitioning to the net in singles became simple to me. Suddenly the giant court seemed small. Having a clear understanding of my court coverage (territory) as server's partner and returner's partner showed me how to close out space to shrink the court.

Shrinking the court was never enough. If I put myself in the right position, I then needed to want to hit the ball flying past me at high speeds. Poaching in doubles has never come easily to me. By nature, I am not very aggressive. Kevin often had to coerce me into being brave enough to poach while at net. Through this, I learned how to be fearless, push through barriers and get comfortable with putting myself in very uncomfortable situations.

Megan Moulton-Levy in action with partner Lindsay Lee-Waters (right) at the 2012 Kremlin Cup.

As a server in doubles, you have to be accountable for your service placement and quality. In college we ran a lot of plays, which meant the play would only work if I hit my serve to a precise location. Serving with a purpose took on a whole new meaning, as I could put my partner in a lot of trouble if I didn't hit my serve well enough. When one hits the serve well, you can begin to predict with more accuracy where and how the return would be hit.

When you are at net in doubles, your reaction time is greatly diminished. To protect yourself, you have to be acutely aware of what is going on across the net. That is the bare minimum you have to do to ensure you don't get hit.

If you want to be a great doubles player you have to seek out information from your opponents to exploit their weakness/fears and use your skills to manipulate them into hitting the ball where you want. For example, a player might only go cross court with their slice backhand and down the line with their topspin, or one of your opponents might not like to volley. If you can predict their behavior/tendency/pattern, you can easily put a body in the path of the ball.

This sounds easy, but it is extremely difficult, only because most of the time I was so consumed with my own fears I wouldn't pay attention to what was going on across the net! In singles I could get away with it because I had the speed to play reactive tennis, but doubles really showed me how to tap into my opponents' fears and weaknesses. Too often, we as tennis players only pay attention to what we are doing and forget that we are playing against another human. It should be your goal to stay one step ahead of them.

I would not hesitate to say understanding the game of doubles made me a MUCH better singles player. But don't take my word for it. Let's look at Jelena Jankovic as an example. In 2008, she was No. 1 in the world. She dropped out of the Top 10 in 2011 and had a year-end ranking of 22 in 2012. In 2013, she played 18 doubles tournaments, including a title won at the Canadian Open in Toronto. She ended the year back in the Top 10 in singles and No. 20 in doubles. I don't have scientific proof that they were directly related, but I believe they were.

At JTCC, a fellow coach, Mira Vlcek, and I have instituted doubles Thursdays. We take two hours out of the week to teach the kids fundamental doubles concepts. Not only do they get more volley reps than usual, they are completely engaged, filled with energy, smiles and fierce competition.

We as a tennis culture have to place more value on doubles. If kids are TAUGHT how to play doubles, the skills that can be transferred to singles are countless.