This is a question that has many answers depending on several factors, such as the skill level of the players, recreational play vs. tournament play and the age of the players sharing the court. I am going to give you several options to help you learn how much of the court you and your partner should take. I will also explain the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options.
You simply divide the court in half using the service line. I’ve seen this done often with beginners. You will hear one player tell the other “I will hit everything on this side and you hit everything on that side.”
The only advantage of this system is that it is an easy way for beginners to determine if they should hit the ball or if their partner should hit the ball. This is probably the least effective way of playing. This method of dividing the court will cause too many backhands to be hit and it does not take into consideration the location on the court from where your opponent hit the ball.
Pretty much the same as option 1, but this time you hear one player say “forehand has the middle.” Now, even though this is a small difference from option 1, it can have much better results. The advantage of this method is again simple, and allows both players to cover a lot of court. This is a popular way to play in recreation play and it doesn’t cast the better player as a ball hog. Now, if this is a serious recreational game, this may not be the best strategy for your team to win.
The forehand player still has the middle, but the middle isn’t determined by the service line, rather the middle is the area between the two players with the players moving side by side together. So, all the top teams move together side by side depending where the ball is. They also make sure not to create a gap between themselves and their partner. This is what you will see with top teams where both players have equal athleticism. The disadvantage of this formation is that it doesn’t take full advantage of the higher skilled player, if one player is weaker than the other.
This is the situation where both you and your partner have determined that one player is stronger or quicker than the other. In this case the stronger player covers more than half the court. This is how you should play in tournament play or serious recreational play, if this describes your team. Most top teams get the most out of each player’s skills by covering the court in this way. Remember that in tournament play and serious recreational play, the weaker player will be hitting most of the balls anyway because the other team will probably be isolating their shots to this player. It makes no sense in that case for each player to cover the same amount of court. The stronger player needs to try and disrupt the other team by being unpredictable and taking a lot of the court. This might not be your choice if you are playing drop in recreational pickleball and you are the stronger player.
This is where the stronger player tries to cover almost the entire court. With this strategy, the weaker player will only be guaranteed to serve and return serve and the dominant player is going to try and hit everything
else. This method of dividing up the court has even won quite a few tournaments in the past. This method has even won national championships in mixed doubles. Now, remember I said the past.
In today’s top-level doubles, usually the balanced teams have the advantage. You will most likely always see the man covering more than half the court at the professional level, and you will see the woman hitting most of the shots and being the dominant player when given the right opportunity.
I would never play this style of play in drop in or recreational pickleball unless you want to be a very unpopular player.
The best players and partners recognize when they are the stronger or weaker player and are willing
to cover the amount of court that gives their team a better chance of competing. Even though I am still a 5.0 player I am also 62 years old. It would be silly for me to attempt to take half of the court if my partner
is Wes Gabrielsen or Simone Jardim. And, don’t be the male player who assumes that you are the stronger player when you are playing mixed.