The tennis serve return is key when attempting to break serve during a tennis match. Learning the correct tennis serve return technique is the first step to mastering this shot.
The tennis serve return is usually a weak point in the club player’s game.
If we watch the pros, they use the tennis serve return to begin the point on an aggressive note. The return of serve can make or break your tennis game. Most players’ return of serve falls into one of three categories:
- an effort to simply make solid contact with the ball;
- a frequent slice as a player barely reaches the serve;
- an effective counterpunch to even the hardest of serves. Taking a look at the technique of a good tennis serve return can help you stay consistently in category 3.
The Tennis Serve Return Becomes More Important As You Improve
It should be noted that as you progress as a player, you will find that your opponent is more easily able to hold serve, as are you. When you watch a professional match between top players, it is fairly rare that a player breaks the other’s serve. So, if you are playing at a very high level, you need to figure out how to break your adversary’s serve once or twice a set.
For most recreational players, though, your foe’s tennis serve can be more easily broken. Thus, even more attention should be paid to the tennis serve return so that you can win many easy points and games when you are not serving.
Incorporating a “Killer” Mentality for the Tennis Serve Return
The first issue to address when discussing the tennis serve return is the mental aspect. I think that this is where many players have problems.
When you are serving, it is easier to focus because you know that you have to execute the serve. When you are receiving serve, however, it is very easy for your mind to wander as you stand in an extremely passive position.
Take mental notes the next time you play and analyze all of the strokes where your mind wandered and you mis-hit the ball. I am willing to wager that a majority of those strokes were executed as you returned serve.
Blocking Out Distractions to Improve Your Return of Serve in Tennis
Thus, you have to commit to being 100% focused as your opponent tosses the ball into the air to begin his service motion. If your mind has been on the previous point, your sore toenail or the leaf that just blew onto the court, block it out as the ball is in the air. The player who is ready to pounce on the serve is the player who will win a healthy share of points through the tennis serve return.
That brings up another mental point: do you view the service return as simply an effort to get the ball back or as an opportunity to impose your will? That will make a tremendous difference in how you approach this shot. If you are in a passive, defensive mode, your shots will show that. If you are in a focused, offensive mode, your returns will fire like lasers into the opponent’s court, shocking and surprising him and leading to many easy winners for you.
Now that we have the right mental outlook regarding the tennis serve return: focused and ready to hit the ball hard in an offensive manner, let’s discuss the technique needed to produce return winners:
Adopting the Proper Tennis Serve Return Positioning
Depending on the strength of your opponent’s serve, stand either just outside the baseline or several steps behind it. Players at an advanced level are often three steps behind the baseline.
Now, try to guess where your opponent will serve the ball. If he or she serves it in the corners, stand in a position near there.
If he or she prefers serving down the “T”, stand more towards the center of the court. You should be taking mental notes throughout the match to calculate the percentage of serves that land in the corners, near the “T”, right at your body, etc.
That will enable you to position yourself properly. With some people who either have great control and mix up their placement or no control at all, standing at a point that could be drawn out from the center of the service box is advisable.
Preparing for a Tennis Serve Return – Footwork and Racket-Work
As you are stationed in the proper place, hold your racquet in front of you with your free hand lightly holding the throat and bend your knees, resting on the balls of your feet. Some players like to bounce up and down as they await the serve. This helps them with their concentration. If you need that to focus on the tennis serve return, then you can bounce, too, but you will need to move quickly in just a moment.
The Importance of the Split Step on the Return of Serve
As the serve is made, take a step forward and do a split step to ready yourself for the return. In a split second after the ball hits strings, you should know if the ball will be coming to your backhand or forehand side. If you are half asleep at this point, as some players are occasionally, you will not even notice to which side the ball is coming. Anticipation can really help you with your tennis serve return.
Taking the Tennis Serve Return on the Rise Vs. Letting it Drop
As you are on the balls of your feet now, you will need to make a crucial decision, namely: will you hit the ball soon after it bounces (on the rise) or will you wait until it bounces and hit it as it re-descends? Perhaps the greatest service returner of all time, Andre Agassi, consistently chose the first option. That was a key to his greatness. If you have very quick reflexes, try to do this and see how it goes.
Try to hit the ball soon after it bounces and flick a return well before your opponent expects it. Take a few risks and determine if they were worth it. With this tactic, you will often be inside of the baseline and able to use the ball’s full speed in your return. You will not take a full backswing but will quickly punch the ball back at a high rate of speed.
Most players, however, wait until the ball lands and bounces and is on its way back down, using a normal complete backswing and full stroke. The choice is yours.
Dealing With a First Serve in Tennis
Points 1-4 apply to the first serve. If a second serve is coming, you can be even more prone to take a risk and attack the ball while it is still on the rise. If you still choose to be a bit cautious and take a full backswing and stroke towards the second serve, be sure to not over-hit. With less power being supplied on the second serve, you will not be able to return it with as much speed as the first serve.
Tennis Serve Return for a Second Serve
Don’t get overly excited about crushing your foe’s second serve. You will hit it out most of the time. However, do take the approach that any second serve will be weaker and you will have much more time to make a well placed shot, greatly increasing your chances of winning the point.
As you return either the first or second serve, make an intentional effort to hit the ball to your opponent’s weakest side. If your adversary has a Roddick-like serve, you might be lucky just to get a racquet on it, but most players do not possess such firepower. Again, think of the tennis serve return as a weapon and plan beforehand to which side of the court you will direct your return.
Avoid Over-hitting on the Tennis Serve Return
Your return of serve does not have to be powerful. A well-directed shot that takes a difficult angle can do even more than a blast right into your opponent’s forehand alley. If you are ahead in the game and have a little wiggle room, aim for a line and a quick winner, especially on the second serve. For the umpteenth time, this is related to your mental approach. If you understand that the tennis serve return can be an offensive weapon for you, you will seek to hit winners off it, particularly on your opponent’s second serve.
The tennis serve return is one of the most important strokes in the game because so many points are lost unnecessarily on it. Your opponent does not have to hit a bushel-full of aces to dominate during his service games; he only has to hit solid serves to a player whose mind is wandering in order to pile up service winners, which also earn one point, the same as an ace.
You need to turn the tables on your foe as he or she serves. You need to be ready, approaching the ball, deciding when to hit it and where to hit it even before it arrives. In this way it will be you winning points in heaps as your opponent gets more frustrated and discouraged, his best serves used only as weapons against him.
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