There is no doubt that serve can make a big difference in the final result of the match. Players train this stroke a lot because every point starts with the delivery. It is crucial to be able to serve with proper speed and accuracy, but we have to remember that every odd game we have to respond to our opponent’s serve. Respond with return.
Returning looks quite easy — all you have to do is cover half of the court and hit the ball over the net to start the rally. But, as you know, theory is always easier than the practical side. At lower levels of performance, both servers and returners don’t have solid technical skills, so just putting the ball in the court can be a challenge. At higher levels of performance, players struggle a lot while returning, because power combined with pinpoint precision are deadly executed by servers. However, at all levels, you should never give up and focus just on your serving games, because breaking your opponent’s serve won’t only give you a better score, it will also have a big impact on your opponent’s mindset.
To return effectively, you need many hours of practice and proper knowledge in hands. If you know what to do and the reasons for doing it, it is easier to get on the court and maintain focus while working with hundreds of opponents’ serves. Every point starts with serve and return, so it is not the best option to prepare yourself just in 50%. Always pay attention to both sides of the tennis court and make sure that you possess skills that will let you win many games in a row.
Why should you work on returns? Because you can get a bigger lead. Because you can still win even when your serve is not working well. Because when you put pressure on your opponent’s mental side, it will be much easier to dominate in other aspects too. It is not just about one point. It is not just about one given stroke. It is about the positive chain of actions that you can get just by having a return of good quality.
If you want to return like top stars of our sport make sure you work on:
Return is played while reacting, because we can never be sure where the opponent will serve. It means that many times we will be surprised by the power, speed or direction of the ball. That is why players have to work on technical adaptations in order to be able to play shots with shorter/longer backswing, more or less follow through, as well as with topspin or backspin. Being able to maintain good consistency while responding to different serves is a must-have for players who want to get some break points.
We have many stances that can be used in tennis and every stance provides specific opportunities and limitations. Most of the time, the goal of the server is to put pressure on the returner and pressure can be related to different aspects of stroke execution. Ability to hit returns while using different stances is a big benefit that will allow you to hit quality returns while responding to really challenging balls.
We all have favorite serves. We can prefer slice serve to kick serve or our most comfortable serve while being under pressure can be related to our opponent’s weaknesses. Tennis match can last a few hours, but only about 20-25-% is used for playing. The remaining time should be directed towards resting and analyzing opponent’s game. With knowledge about favorite schemes, the returner can predict the intention of the server and increase chances for a successful return.
Failing to prepare is a preparation to fail. There is no better rule than this one that applies to tennis. If you want to achieve great results, you have to prepare for challenges that you are going to face during matches. The same happens over the course of a single match. With knowledge taken from the previous points, you should always plan your actions in advance. It is especially important when you play returning games, because when you make a decision before you hit the ball, you are not in danger of rushing your decisions while moving and responding to a fast serve. Think about direction or depth and make sure that you play with automated mode that will guarantee solid consistency.
Return. One of the two strokes that start every point. One of the two strokes that gives you opportunity to put pressure on the opponent. Every time you are on the court, make sure you treat return as an important weapon that you can use to dominate your rival. Train this skill with proper focus and you will see that the serve of your opponents is not as dangerous as they think it is.