Josh’s Thoughts: Return of Serve

Mar 21, 2016 by

Chris MillerThe most challenging and important shot in tennis is returning the serve.  In the most basic form, the server has two opportunities to be successful, and two requirements: stand behind the baseline and hit the ball into the proper service box.  The returner however, receives one chance to get the point started with no pre match warm up for the return.
Recently, I’ve taken stats during 10 sets of competitive matches, juniors and adults.  During those sets there were 58 missed serve returns.  On average that is giving away a game and a half every set.  Are you good enough to win giving that much away?
There are 3 keys to returning serves well; footwork, positioning, and less is more. 
The proper footwork is important to have your body weight moving into the ball.  When your opponent tosses the ball, take a step forward.  When your opponent starts swinging up at the ball split step.  Then move forward into the return hit.
Ideally, there is no designated position to stand when returning serves.  During the match warm up pay attention to where your opponent hits their warm up serves, that is likely their favorite place to serve.  Save that information for important situations, break point, set point, match point.  At those times shade a little towards their favorite return place.  Every point change your positioning slightly, moving a little forward or backward, little left or a little right.  The constant changes in position will create more pressure on your opponent to hit different specific targets.  That is how the returner can effect the serves decisions and targets.
What is the goal of the return of serve, to hit a winner, set up your partner at the net, to get the ball back in play?  The primary goal of the return is start the point, just getting the ball back in play.  Utilizing the footwork pattern and positioning above there is little needed of your upper body.  A slight shoulder turn and a 2 inch back swing is all that is necessary to redirect the ball back into play.  It’s wise to hit to different targets but the key is less is more, it does not need to be an aggressively hit winner.
It can be tricky to practice the return, it takes at least one other player practicing their serve for proper training unless you have access to a ball machine that can be raised high enough to replicate a serve.  At Forest Crest we have a ball machine that can replicate a serve.  Take a little time to refine your return game and there will be a big difference in your ability to break serve!

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