Next Generation Tennis

"Coaching & Management Beyond The Obvious"

Tennis Tips

By Stephen Peterson                   

Make It Happen

“On the return of serve”

The return of serve today has become one of the most important shots in a player’s arsenal. With today’s huge serves and power game, you can’t afford to be put on the defensive every time you receive serve. An attacking return can turn the tables on your opponent, take the pressure off you, put it on him and spell the difference between victory and defeat.

The key to returning serve today is anticipation and technique. Read what you opponent is going to do. Know how to counteract different serves and sharpen your skills to return even the fastest deliveries. A short back-swing with good head and shoulder rotation is essential.

Andre Agassi during his playing years, undoubtedly had the best return of serve, built his game around this potent weapon. With a few basics, you too can raise the level of your game with an effective return of serve.

Back to basics:

Here are some basic techniques to keep in mind when returning serve: -

  • Set up in a solid ready position to respond quickly to any type of serve
  • Never, never, take your eyes off the ball. The majority of all ball tosses will give you a clue to what type of serve you’ll be receiving.
  • Have an idea of what you want to do with the return before you hit it. You can always  react instinctively to the serve if you are fouled. Visualize hitting the type of shot you want before you get to the line.
  • Reduce your backswing to a simple pivot, hip and shoulder rotation.
  • The more difficult the serve coming at you, the shorter your back swing should be.

The Serve-and-Volleyer:

Against the serve and volleyer, it is imperative that you only play the ball – not the player. The balls your target!

Try to establish a few early, bold returns right off the bat. A few big returns will put some doubt in the mind of the server and possibly make him more tentative.

You would also do well to remember that it is sometimes better for you not to always try and hit a passing shot winner on the return against the serve-and –volleyer. Instead, put a good return right at him and force him to volley. Not only will he miss a fair number, a weak volley will set-up your passing shot on the second shot.

Another effective tactic if you are not trying to pass the serve-and –volleyer outright on the return is to put the ball down at the server’s feet as he comes in. This can be done with heavy topspin if you can come over the ball on the return, or you can take something off the return and chip it at his feet.

This is a very difficult ball to volley aggressively and will force your opponent to hit up to clear the net, giving you a good ball to hit for a passing shot. Also vary the position you take to return serve, keep the serve guessing where you will hit your return from and, what kind of return you will actually hit.

Second-Serve Returns:

The very best players are always looking to attack a weak second serve.

Keeping in mind that the second serve is sometimes the shortest you will get during a match. So take advantage and hit an offensive return whenever you can.

The second-phase attack can include an inside-out forehand, going down-the-line with a run-around forehand, chipping and charging the net, as well as moving in closer to catch the ball sooner, hitting on the rise to throw you opponent off-guard.

After teeing off on a few weak second serves, you can even try the drop-shot as the server drifts back to protect himself. No matter what level of player you are, you should always be geared to attack the second serve.

Lastly, remember that breaking serve is one of the best ways to improve your own serve.


Shorten The Court

Today’s game of power tennis is all about putting pressure on your opponent. However, many players are just content with banging the ball out from behind the baseline without much thought of any real strategy. They just hit big and hope for an easy winner. This hit-or-miss approach is devoid of any real understanding of how to systematically exert pressure on your opponent, thereby forcing him to play defensive tennis.

One of the best ways to achieve this is by shortening the court. This can easily be done through tactical pressure and court position. By giving your opponent less court to hit in to, less time in which to hit the ball and, less options on his shots, you force him to hit from defensive positions where there are few opportunities for him to win the point. Players such as Andre Agassi, Jim Courier or Michael Chang don’t just blast their way past their opponents, they hit with purpose, using angles, pace and positioning. They exploit the dimensions of the court to dominate play and force their opponents to play defensive tennis.

Generally speaking, there are five ways to shorten the court. Each one requires excellent court position and good movement. They will help you keep your opponent off balance, give him less options on the court on the court and give you more opportunities to play offensive tennis. These are: -

  • Be aggressive on the return of serve
  • Take the ball on the rise
  • The approach shot
  • Serve and volley
  • Hitting through on the backhand

Be aggressive on the return:

Capitalize on your opponent’s second serve by positioning yourself well inside the baseline and going for a big return or, charging the net behind your return. In this way you make the court smaller for your opponent by forcing him to hit better second serves or go for safer first serves. Otherwise, he’ll find himself pushed into a defensive position or forced to hit a passing shot from deep in the corner. Even if you don’t win the point, you send the message to your opponent that you’ll step up the pressure on his serve.

Take the ball on the rise:

One of the best ways to shorten the court is to hit the ball on the rise. You give your opponent less time to react to your shots by doing this and give him less court to hit into by cutting off the angle of his returns. Even if your opponent hits top-spin, slice or flat balls, you should position your feet on, or inside the baseline to effectively take the ball early thereby forcing you’re opponent to be on the defensive.

The approach shot:

The most common approach shot is to hit down the line and follow the ball to the net. This puts enormous pressure on your opponent to pass and shortens the court into which he can hit. There are however, two variations on this tactic that are worth taking account of. If your opponent is hitting sharp cross-court passes with topspin, try approaching deep down the middle of the court to take away his angles. Secondly, when the opportunity presents itself, pull your opponent wide of the court with an angled cross-court approach. This is especially effective if your opponent is slow, or has a hard time moving wide.

Also make sure that you use the different types of spins when you hit your approaches. Hit cross-court and down-the-line approaches to keep your opponent off balance and always remember that when you hit an approach down-the-line, you will have less time yourself to get into the net. Cross-court will give you more time but also give your opponent more time to make a passing shot.

Serve and Volley:

Even if you are a back-court player, shorten your opponent’s court by occasionally coming to the net behind your serve. This puts pressure on his return of serve so that he can’t just block it back anywhere in play without giving you an easy volley. A particularly good tactic is to approach behind a wide serve and cover down-the-line pass. By forcing your opponent out wide, you severely limit his passing shot options by forcing him to hit a defensive shot down-the-line or an even more difficult shot cross-court. Either way, you’ll be in position to volley the ball into the open court. Withal, by choosing to serve and volley more you place yourself in a position to force your opponent to hit quicker and subsequently, weaker returns.

Hitting through the slice back-hand:

An opponent who slices his backhand gives you opportunity to shorten the court because the slice is a vulnerable shot that give you lots of time measure and hit through the ball. When your opponent floats a slice that you run, or run around to hit a forehand, hit out hard and deep to his backhand side. That forces him into a defensible position that affords few options with the slice, and may produce a weak reply that you can put away or, hit an effective approach shot.


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