Returning serve should not be treated like a ground-stroke swing – the ball from your opponent’s serve travels faster and you’ll have less time to react to it.
Therefore, when I teach the return of serve, I tell my students to imagine they have a wall or fence behind them. In this way, they should avoid taking the racquet back otherwise they’ll hit it against the imaginary fence / wall. A slight shoulder turn and abbreviated backswing should be enough to handle fast coming serves (see picture below).
Shorten your backswing by imagining you return the serve having a wall / fence behind your back. That will help you make contact with the fast coming ball further in front of you.
The two types of serve returns (first and second) should not be treated the same in any way.
While returning first serve is just a matter of avoiding being on a defense as the point begins, on the second serve return the player should think a lot differently:
1. From a psychological perspective you must understand that your opponent is tense getting ready to deliver the second serve. He now realises he just missed the first serve and failing to deliver the second one will cost him the point. Not only that but if his serve does not have enough “juice” on it (spin, depth) you could be taking control of the point.
2. From a technical aspect, pay attention to your opponent’s tendency of delivering the second serve: is he hitting it hard or slow? is he applying good spin on it – what kind? does he usually hit it deep or short into the service box? This kind of information can help you decide where to position on the court for the second serve – inside the baseline or on the baseline? Also it can give you clues whether you can attack it with your strong wing or not.
3. From a tactical point, is he trying to deliver the second serve to any of your weak sides, deep into the court or is he just…. getting it in?
Try taking these notes during the first two receiving games.
As a general rule, be aggressive with your second serve return. That doesn’t mean you should try to hit winners off of a return; instead take the ball as early as you can (move forward) and preferably hit it to your adversary’s weak side.
By being aggressive and attacking the second serve you will put a lot of pressure on your opponent every time he will miss his first serve.
Mentally you should realise that an upcoming second serve is your chance to take control of the point from the start of it. Use your strong wing to hit the second serve return as often as you can.