Paul has been playing tennis since he was a teenager in England. He now lives in Florida and competes in various USTA leagues.
I am a big fan of both tennis singles and doubles and have always played both types of tennis over my 40 years of involvement in the sport. Many people play both, although singles tends to be favored by younger players and doubles by older. This is due to the physical stress and exertion involved in singles.
I am sometimes asked by people which version of tennis is the most difficult. There is no simple and straightforward reply that is satisfactory in my opinion, as the skills required for each are very different in some cases. I am therefore going to approach answering by listing the areas where I think singles is more challenging, followed by the areas where I believe that doubles is harder.
4 Things That Make Tennis Singles More Difficult Than Doubles
Here are reasons why playing singles can be a tougher endeavor.
It's More Physical
In singles, you are essentially playing constantly, plus you have to cover the whole court. In doubles, for much of the time your partner is playing the point, so you are not running and hitting as much. Yes, the doubles court is slightly larger and you may have to reposition yourself while your partner is involved in the action, but it's still far less physically stressful. The physical exertion and stress of singles is why most players do less or completely stop playing singles as they age.
You Need to Be More of an All Round Player
Singles demands that you are competent at a variety of shots and types of play. In terms of attack, in order to keep your opponent on their toes, it helps to have a variety of weapons in your arsenal. For instance, if you deliver the same serve every time, your opponent will adapt to it, so it's good to have a variety.
Also, perhaps more importantly, if you have any obvious weaknesses, a good opponent will exploit them. For instance, if you have a very good forehand, but a weak backhand, you will likely struggle more than you would at doubles, as an intelligent opponent will consistently hit balls to your backhand. Generally speaking, the fewer the number of chinks in your armor, the stronger you are as a singles player.
You Need More Mental Strength
Singles is much more psychologically strenuous than doubles in my experience. Without a partner to give you useful suggestions and encouragement, it can feel very lonely out on court at times, especially if you are losing, or your opponent has lots of support from spectators. There is also something particularly intense about a one-against-one situation.
In addition to having your emotions working positively, it also helps if you can be simultaneously thinking in an analytical way. Unless you have a coach to instruct you during the match, you will have to figure out your own strategy and tactics, and adjust them according to what's happening on the court. There's no partner to talk them through with.
You Need to Be Organized
Being a singles player means that you have to be more practically self-reliant. For instance, you have to prepare and pack everything that you need for a match. You don't have a partner to supply you with a piece of equipment that you forgot to bring along, such as grip tape, sun block, or new tennis balls.
4 Things That Make Tennis Doubles More Challenging Than Singles
Here is how playing doubles can be more demanding.
More Complex Strategy
Generally speaking, doubles strategy is much more complicated. That's because you have two players trying to cover the tennis court and coordinate, rather than just one. There are many strategic issues to consider that just aren't an issue in singles. For instance, there are three different doubles formations to think about (two up at the net, two back, and one up and one back).
How the players work together during service games, how they each use their individual skills to maximum overall effect, how they each position themselves when attacking and defending, and how to exploit the individual weaknesses of opponents are all things to consider,
Communication is Important
Communication between players is a key element of the doubles game and can make the difference between winning and losing. As well as partners communicating during points, they also need to discuss strategy and tactics in down times to maximize success. For service games, many players have secret codes and signals that they employ so that the net player is aware what the server intends to do. None of these elements are issues in singles, where a player can be a terrible communicator, have weak social skills, and it doesn't matter.
How players are paired up and the resulting dynamic can be a complicated thing. The differing playing skills and weaknesses have to be considered, as well as how well the players gel psychologically, and it can be a difficult thing to get right.
Partnerships generally have to be worked at, partners who are experienced at playing together generally work better as a unit over time. Social skills are also important in doubles. You may need to encourage a dejected partner during a match, or tactfully persuade them to alter their tactics.
Another complexity of doubles is that players can have very different skills and weaknesses, and partnerships have to reflect this. You may have a great serve and be good at the net, but weaker at the baseline and a slow mover, your partner may be the complete opposite. This can and should influence how you co-ordinate, as well as the strategy and tactics that you employ. It's much simpler in singles, as you don't have to deal with such elements.
Tennis Shots That Are More Important In Singles
- Modern singles is generally played from the baseline, so groundstrokes are very important. Consistency is a high priority. Having a range of shots with few obvious weaknesses that your opponent can easily exploit is important too.
- In singles, your opponent is usually at the baseline, so you can play shots that clear the net comfortably, as there's no net player around to poach, like in doubles.
- Serving is generally more important in singles because you are serving every other game. There is also scope for dragging your opponent off court, which is an effective tactic when there's only one opponent. Having a variety of serves to keep your opponent on their toes is desirable.
- Drop shots can also be more effective in singles than doubles. The general tactic is to push your opponent back deeper and deeper with groundstrokes, or wait until they're out of position, then surprise them with a shot that lands very short, typically with some back or side spin on it. Drop shots can be particularly effective against opponents who are slow, tired, or don't like playing at the net. In many situations, it's also useful to move into the net straight after playing a drop shot in order to put further pressure on your opponent. The reason drop shots aren't used as much in doubles is that the net player (or players) can often get to them relatively easily.
Tennis Shots That Are More Important In Doubles
- Generally speaking, the main strategy of doubles is to get both players into an attacking formation at the net, so volleys and overheads are relatively more important than they are in singles.
- Lobs are much more of a feature of doubles play, as they can pull opponents out of position, or even win points outright.
- Certain shots, such as low slices and chips can be used as approach shots, as they give time for a baseline player to come into the net and gain a more attacking position.
- Groundstrokes generally have to clear the net at a lower height than in singles, as there is usually an opposing net player to attack any weaker shots.
© 2021 Paul Goodman
Liz Westwood from UK on May 26, 2021:
I have sometimes wondered which is easier. This article makes good use of your experience to give a balanced and objective analysis of singles and doubles tennis.