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.
Returning against a serve-and-volley player can be a difficult task mostly because this type of opponent possesses a good court coverage knowledge, has a great serve (some of them are master at spinning the ball) and because the following rally is played at a faster pace due to the short distance between the baseline and net players.
The following tips will help you understand how to play and eventually to control the point against this aggressive player:
– When serving with the intention of moving up to the net the server takes some pace off of it so he can have more time to get closer to the net. Considering the slower serve, you will have more time to step into the ball and attack it either cross-court or place it short into the service court (to server’s feet).
– You will have to hit the ball aggressively to counteract the spin that is usually imparted on the serve by the approaching player. A smart serve-and-volley player knows that a spin serve will buy him more time to advance and it is more difficult to control by the returner. You, as the returner, should not try to block the serve as the player charges the net. Contact should be made early and hit through it with confidence to counteract the spin.
– Don’t rush into finishing the point too early – avoid going for winners on the first two shots. Build the point to where you get the net player either off balance, stretching or you get a short ball.
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.