Tennis 101: The Return of Serve
Without being able to start off a point well, it would be pretty hard for a tennis player to compete. There are two ways for you to start a point: either with a serve or with a return of serve. It isn’t uncommon for players to ignore the importance of the return. Tennis greats like Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport had amazing returns, often dominating opponents’ service games. Having an asset like a good return, is definitely something we should all strive to add to our tennis game. Here are some tips for the return of serve:
-First, you need to make sure that you are ready for the incoming serve. The best way to do that is to keep your feet moving (remember, standing flat-footed is never a good thing to do in tennis). I like to teach tennis players to do the “step, split step, step” method. It goes along with your opponent’s service motion. When the ball is being tossed up, you take one step into the court. As contact is made, you “split-step”, which is where you do a hop, and plant both feet on the ground (on your toes/front of your feet of course, never flat-footed). And then you make a final step left or right, either for a forehand or backhand. The next time you watch a tennis match, watch the feet of the players, as they do the “step, split-step, step”, or some variation of it. Once you get it down, it will definitely make you more ready for an incoming serve.
-Watch the ball. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but we all do it, we all forget how important this is. Any slight deviation from concentration or from keeping your eyes squarely on the ball, can throw off your shoulder, arm, wrist, hand, and racquet. Keeping your eye on the ball ensures that the ball hits the strings and not the racquet frame. Federer and the Williams sisters do this perfectly. They continue the keep their eyes on the ball and contact point even after the ball is hit! Watch for that too.
-Go for depth rather than pace. Keeping your opponent pinned back behind the baseline is usually a best bet. Focusing on hitting your return deep in the court, rather than smacking it as hard as possible, is a higher percentage/less risky play. It also prevents your opponent from dictating play from inside the baseline and from attacking the net.
Remember these three tips while practicing or playing matches. And don’t forget to keep your eye out for professional tennis players using these tips as well.