Having an effective return of serve strategy can help you win a lot of matches. Usually at the club level of tennis, we see a lot of service breaks. This is mostly because recreational players do not have a consistent or fast-enough first serve that can present a weapon. So, why not exploit this weakness by working on your return of serve technique and strategy?
Here are a couple of pointers that will help you define your return of serve strategy, and therefore be able to win more points when you are the receiving player.
This is one of the safest targets you can choose when returning the serve. Returning down the middle of the court gives you a nice opportunity to start off the point. When you return down the middle, the opponent does not have any angles to work with. This gives you enough time to recover and prepare for the next shot, as there is very little chance your opponent will hit an offensive shot from the middle of the court. This is a safe strategy that puts you in a neutral position. You can also try to hit straight towards your opponent, to put him in an uncomfortable position.
All statistics indicate that the deeper you place your shots, the more chances you have of forcing a mistake from your opponent. Same goes for the return of serve shot, you should try to place the shot deep, close to the baseline. It’s much better to miss long than to hit the ball into the net. Try to have a longer contact point with the ball and focus on your swing path. You should drive the ball longer to place it deeper in the court. If you are having trouble hitting deep shots, imagine that you are trying to hit at your opponents feet or even try to hit the back fence.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try hitting angles when you get a weak second serve. This will automatically put your opponent in a defensive position, but be aware of the counter attack as if you don’t hit a good enough angle, then your opponent will have a chance to attack. Place a short cross-court forehand shot from the deuce side or backhand from the ad side. The ball should land inside the service box and go over towards the sideline. This kind of return effectively throws your opponent off the court and you have two options to end the point, when he gets to the ball. You can hit an easy rally shot towards the open court or you can approach the net and finish up with a volley. In both cases, you are on the offence and likely to win a point after such a return.
When you are returning the serve, you shouldn’t think of the shot as just the one to start the point. Why not see it as an opportunity to put your opponent in trouble? When you get a weak and short serve, you should try to attack the ball and approach the net. In this case, it’s a good idea to play down the line shot, from both deuce or the ad side, as you’ll be in a good position to close the remaining angles and to end the point with a volley. When you hit the ball, follow its path towards the net. Not only your opponent will need to play a great passing shot or a lob to win the point, but you’ll also put on the pressure which can weaken your opponent in a long run.
We all know that playing tennis is a tough mind game. This means that we can do a lot just by visualizing and having a focused mind. When you are setting up for the return, imagine being aggressive on the shot. Play a point in your head before it even happens. You can use this opportunity to decide where you are going to place the shot. Once the server sends a ball your way, step into the court and play an aggressive return. This kind of return works really well when played down the middle as it surprises the opponent and he gets very little time to set up and react to a fast paced ball. You can also just go for the winner from the return. It’s crucial that you do step into the court and move towards the ball in order to transfer all your energy into the shot. Do not wait for the ball to come to you, as you are more likely to make a mistake or send a weak return at best.
As you can see, there are lots of strategies that you can try out when looking for ways to break your opponent. It’s interesting that many club players simply underestimate the importance of the return of serve shot. This is a crucial shot as it defines how the point is going to be played out. You can start the point with a neutral shot, you can try to move your opponent to a defensive position or be very aggressive - it’s all up to you.
It’s interesting that many tennis players rarely practice their return of serve technique and strategy. Next time you hit the courts, ask your sparring partner to serve while you practice your return shot. Your partner should serve randomly, both to your forehand and backhand sides so that you can’t anticipate where the ball is going to land. With just a bit of practice you’ll start feeling much more comfortable on the return. This comfort will give you an edge in the matches as you’ll be able to win more games and not rely solely on your serve, as you never know when it might fail you.