Before the serve, you have several seconds as everyone gets ready for the next rally, perhaps gathering balls or adjusting clothing, and that’s the perfect time to gather data, or to remind yourself of the data you already have. Does the server tend to place the ball well to your left? Which partner is the stronger player? Is one particularly vulnerable to diagonal shots? Does one stand too far toward the middle? Does an opponent have a tendency to hit popcorn wars out of bounds? In doubles play, you might also quietly mention to your partner any specific vulnerabilities the opponents have, or any conditions that should be noted. For instance, you might mention a strong breeze that occasionally comes from the right, or that Frank has trouble returning lobs.
One of the most important, and most often overlooked considerations is handedness. Who is left-handed, and who is right-handed? And, more specifically, what does that mean to you? For instance, if both players’ strong hands are toward the centerline, you’ll be more successful with extreme angles, or passing shots down the sidelines. If their strong hands are facing away from each other, putting things down the middle may cause them worry. Making a mental note of which players are which-handed, and maybe even momentarily visualizing them struggling with balls placed to their weak sides, will help you to remember to place shots to their vulnerable sides, far enhancing your chances of success.
While your opponents are carrying on about wine, cheese, birthdays, the weather or whatever, you’ll become prepared, and they will be amazed at how you seem to know exactly how to flummox them every time.