Using the blocked return is another common way of defending against the strong first serve. this shot requires the returner to absorb the pace of the serve by using a short swing and by contacting the ball in front of her body with a firm wrist, similar to a volley technique. this short swing gives her a better chance of timing the ball correctly and, therefore, hitting to a more accurate target on court. AIso, the slower pace of the blocked return gives her more time to recover to a central court position.
the blocked return can be used effectively in three main tactical scenarios:
- against an opponent who dislikes the slower pace and bounce of a blocked return. this is becoming an increasingly relevant tactic in the women’s game today because most players are now comfortable playing against the fast, flat ball. Because opportunities to play against the slow ball are fewer, the blocked return can now be used as a weapon! the counterpuncher, in particular, who uses the pace of her opponent’s ball to attack with, may become frustrated at having to generate her own pace against this shot. In a similar way, hitting the blocked return to a short, wide target may force the server to move in to the net against her wishes—allowing the returner to hit
an aggressive passing shot or lob as her second shot (this tactic is illustrated in drill 2.4). Being able to reduce as well as increase the pace of the oncoming ball is a key skill to acquire for tennis.
- When the returner needs a high percentage of returns in court. Very often during a match the returner simply needs to make her opponent play in order to put pressure on her. this could be when the server is struggling with nerves, anger, fatigue, or injury, for example. Using the blocked return in these situations will force the server to hit more balls and to concentrate for longer periods of time.
- When the serve puts the returner under extreme pressure. the blocked return is often played against a strong and accurate first serve, especially with a wide serve that threatens to drag the returner completely out of court. the aim here is to play the return as deep and as centrally as possible, giving the server little space or angle to use for her second shot. this tactic is particularly relevant against an opponent who relies on hitting a lot of unreturnable serves. Making her work harder for her service games could make the difference between winning and losing a close match.
To practice the blocked return, see drill 2.4 on page 75.
the blocked return is a very common tactical tool used in doubles. the simpler technique used to play the block allows for a greater degree of control, enabling the returner to play to more specific areas of the court. (this is important in doubles because there is less space on the court.) In general, the blocked return has three main tactical uses.
the first use is against the serve and volley player. the aim of the returner is to block the return down to the feet of the oncoming server, forcing her to play her first volley (or half volley) up and over the net from a low position. this provides the returner’s partner with an excellent opportunity to intercept with a winning volley or may allow the returner to approach the net herself if the server is under extreme pressure. the blocked return is ideal to use in this situation because control rather than pace is the key to this tactic’s success.
the second use is as a lob, either over the server’s partner or down the middle of the court. this shot is often seen in women’s doubles and is typically played against a strong, wide serve. the lob over the server’s partner forces the serving team to change its court
positioning. It is especially effective when played against the serve and volley player, who has to change direction and quickly cover the area behind her partner. the lob down the middle allows the returning team time to regain a stronger court position, and may allow the returner the chance to approach the net if the server stays back.
the third use is when the serve puts the returner under extreme pressure. As in singles, this shot may give the returner the only realistic chance of making the ball in the court. In doubles, if the return is weak, the returner’s partner must quickly readjust her position by moving backward. this gives her and her partner the best chance of defending against the serving team’s aggressive second shot.