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CAN WE TALK? COMMUNICATION KEY TO DOUBLES

To really enjoy playing doubles, you need to communicate with your partner. You should both have strengths that complement your styles of play. Whether the team is winning or losing, you should both look forward to playing together again. Some of the following tips may be helpful in improving your doubles game:

Vary your serve -- A good doubles player must have a good serve and volley. The serve should be either a top spin or twist serve, with an occasional slice thrown in. You should be striving for depth and consistency.

A few years ago, 90 percent of all serves were hit to the backhand. Today, when serving to the deuce court, some teams serve almost 50 percent to their opponent's forehand. Why? This serve pulls the receiver far off the court. It is very difficult to hit an effective return from that position. A word of caution: Warn your partner to cover the alley if you are going to try this serve.

Serving directly at a receiver is a good ploy. This type of serve "jams" the opponent. Regardless of the type of serve, you must be prepared to follow your serve to the net.

Try different serving formations -- Most teams use the conventional system of having one player serving and his partner covering the alley at the net. However, all teams eventually play against someone who kills them with one shot; for instance, a cross-court backhand. In this instance it would be wise to use the Australian formation, in which the net person stands on the same side of the center service line as her partner. This takes the receiver's cross-court shot away and forces him to go down the line.

If you're playing against someone who is returning consistently off both the forehand and back-hand sides, you may be wise to go to the "I" formation. That is, the server's partner practically sits on the center service line. This type of formation could make your opponents uneasy when returning and take them out of their groove.

Focus on your return of serve -- Many players wait to see where the serve is hit before they decide where to return the serve. This type of strategy could lead to errors. A better way is to pick a spot where you want to return the serve. Regardless of the serve, you should be striving to hit a return as low as possible, preferably at the server's feet. If all else fails, don't be afraid to throw up a deep, high lob. This will allow you time to get ready for the next shot and will often move the serving team deep into the court.

Learn to volley from different areas -- You must have a good volley to be an effective doubles player. To be part of a good doubles team you and your partner must keep moving forward after each volley. You should be able to volley effectively from just inside the service line, in the middle of the service box, and close to the net. With the power that is generated from the extra-long and graphite rackets, you will often find yourself dealing with service returns that will take you farther away from the net than you would like.

Become an aggressive poacher -- To be a good poacher -- someone who cuts off a shot hit toward your teammate -- you must realize that you're going to be passed occasionally. You must also make sure that your partner knows when you're going to poach in order that he or she may cover behind you. When you're ready to poach, wait until your opponent's eyes are on the ball, not on the court. Try to be as close to the net as possible to make an easier volley. To really keep your opponents on edge, occasionally fake or move a little bit even when you're not going to poach.

Decide on who should cover the middle -- Before you commence play, it is imperative that you discuss with your partner who will be taking shots down the middle. Generally the person closer to the net or the person who has the shot on his forehand should take the volley. If a person has volleyed two shots in a row and is moving in, he should take the next shot, even if it is on his backhand, as he is going with the flow of the point. If you and your partner are still not sure who should take the middle shot, one of you should yell "Mine!" and take it.

Take your own overheads -- The correct way to cover an overhead is to take the ball that is hit to your side, regardless of how far it is hit over your head. For some reason, many teams yell "switch" when a deep lob is hit over the net person's head. When you do this you give the opposing team the benefit of rushing up to the net and taking the offensive away from you. Some of you may be saying, "I have to yell switch. I can't hit a deep overhead." The answer is to practice, practice, and practice some more. You'll soon be surprised to see that hitting an overhead past your service line isn't really that much different than hitting an overhead that is close to the net.

Communicate with your partner -- Before each point you should discuss with your partner the type and location of each serve or the serving formation you're going to use, who is covering which side if the team is starting in the "I" and if someone is going to poach. After a point is over, always be positive. Never say an angry word or give a disturbed look to your partner if he or she missed a shot or made a tactical error. Always be supportive.

Second serves

Kori Grasha, 20, and Adam Priamo, 28, staked strong claims for the area's No. 1 women's and men's racquetball rankings in last weekend's New York State Racquetball Championships at Albany.

Grasha, a junior at Canisius College, defeated Lorraine Galloway of New York, 15-7, 15-2, in the semis, and last year's New York State singles champ, B.J. Erghott, also of New York, 15-9, 15-11, in the finals. Priamo lost to Ruben Gonzalez, formerly the world's No. 1 player, 15-6, 15-12, in the men's finals.

Grasha and Priamo then teamed to win the mixed doubles over Fabian Pedrazza and Mindy Hartstein of New York, 12-15, 15-14, 11-8.

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