In February 2001 I did a study on the position of the woman in mixed doubles when the man is serving from the right-hand side of the court (the box that he serves from on an even score). Sounds very obvious when in fact there are two possible options for the woman. Firstly the 'orthodox' stance of the mixed pair, where the woman stands on the same side as her partner, see below:
Secondly, you have the more 'unorthodox' stance of the pairing, where the woman stands on the other half of the court, see below:
When the initial study was carried out, I found that 8 of the top 12 mixed doubles pairings in the World utilized the orthodox stance for the woman, this included the English combinations of Simon Archer/Jo Goode and Ian Sullivan/Gail Emms. However, the other 4 pairings consisted of World Champions Kim Dong Moon/Ra Kyung Min, and Olympic Champions Zhang Jun/Gao Ling used the unorthodox stance. This posed a number of questions for me:
In the orthodox formation, can the man cover service returns to both the left and rights courts?
You will need to try this for yourself and I understand that there are always individual differences, but a good accurate return of serve into the left-hand side of the court can cause the pairing huge problems. You only need to look at the space available to appreciate this. This big gap does not appear in the right court, where both players are already standing.
In the unorthodox formation, can the woman cover the service returns to the left court, with the man covering the right court?
In the unorthodox mixed formation, both sides of the court appear to be better protected. It is still very difficult for the woman to intercept a good return of serve to the left court; however, her presence there does not put added pressure on the receiver not to return there. The return may need to be pushed higher and deeper into the corner as opposed to a shorter return. The man can still cover the right-hand court effectively.
What is the best return of service against these two formations?
As mentioned in question 1, I feel that a safe and highly effective return of serve to the orthodox formation is a push into the space of the left court.
In the unorthodox formation there appears to be less freedom in which to return the service. However, a short cross-court return to the net into the area vacated by the woman has proved to be a possible area of vulnerability, but this return of serve is much more difficult to execute.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of the orthodox and unorthodox stances?
The orthodox formation has the advantage that the woman can intercept the return of serve down the middle of the court; this is more difficult with the unorthodox stance. A disadvantage, as mentioned previously is the susceptibility to the return into the left court.
In the unorthodox formation, the serving pair cut down the perceived space on the court, therefore adding to the pressure on the receiver to play an accurate return. A disadvantage of this stance though is that in order to cover one space, the serving pair then leave themselves open to a cross-court return to the net.
How are we as coaches encouraging our players to stand, or have we never thought about it?
Personally I think it is very difficult for me to give a definite answer to my players on which formation is the most effective to use. Both have strong and weak points to support their case and often it is down to the individuals on how they feel. However, players and their coaches need to try both formations and work out which is best suited for the pairing. All we can do as coaches is inform them of the options and help them make educated decisions.
When I asked some of the players their thoughts on the unorthodox formation they believed that:
- It cuts out the vulnerable return to the left court, as it forces the receiver to push the shuttle through the lady at the net.
- It forced the receiver to return the shuttle more often to the man, therefore gaining in the initiative.
- It confused opponents.
The men also believe that it is easier to serve in this formation, as they are given more space and room to serve.
Opinions can often be divided in these small tactical areas within the game, and World Class mixed doubles is becoming increasingly strategic where matches are won and lost in the first three shots of the rally. I feel that any small advantages that can be gained in this area need much investigation. Does it also make a difference if the serving man is left or right handed? I will leave you with one thought, currently 7 out of the top 12 mixed doubles pairings utilize the unorthodox formation when the man is serving from the right court.The four pictures above includes 2 pairs who have changed over the past number of years, so they obviously believe that there is some benefit to it.
So which do we believe is the orthodox and unorthodox formation now?
Article by National Coach, John Quinn.