The return of serve is probably the most underpracticed shot in the game. Returning practice often becomes too static if the server keeps missing the serve! Also, it is difficult for the coach to serve to the player and watch her returning technique at virtually the same time. Coaches, therefore, need to work hard at engaging their players when developing this shot. For example:
- The player could be given the chance to play out the point after her third effective return in a row.
- Players could play a set using only the serve and return. The server wins the point if the return is missed, whereas the returner wins the point if she makes the return. Specific serve and return targets could be used to increase or decrease the difficulty of the task for each player.
- Coaches could serve from inside the baseline to improve the consistency and accuracy of their feed, and to allow a closer look at the player’s returning technique.
- Coaches could feed the player alternate serves and groundstrokes.
This will give her the chance to feel the difference in technique between a normal groundstroke and a return (e.g., using a shorter swing on the return).
Returning the Left-Handed Serve
the left-handed first serve will often cause the right-handed returner problems because its movement is less familiar. this means that the slice serve (the most common serve in women’s tennis) will naturally move to the returner’s backhand side rather than forehand side. this ‘turn’
on the ball makes it very difficult for the right-hander to run around her backhand side to attack with the forehand. In many cases the returner will be better off letting the ball come to the backhand rather than getting caught up trying to create space for the forehand—especially when returning the first serve.
the wide serve hit from the advantage court, in particular, can be difficult to neutralise. Not only does the movement of the serve take the returner out of the court, but the natural instinct to return crosscourt (having a high margin of error) may also play into the lefty’s hands! this is because the crosscourt return allows the server to hit her forehand down the line into the space that has been created. Many left-handers enjoy hitting this type of forehand because they have spent years rallying crosscourt against the right-hander’s backhand and are used to moving to this side. Figure 2.8 shows how this serve can open up the court for the left-hander.
A more effective alternative can be to hit down the middle of the court against the wide first serve from the advantage court. With this return the server is no longer given a
natural space to hit into; R
instead she has to create a space with fewer angles available to her. Also, she now has to move around the ball instead of moving to the ball—a movement pattern that she may not be comfortable using.
In figure 2.9 the lefthanded server hits the same wide first serve from the advantage court. This time, the returner hits directly down the middle of the court rather than crosscourt, forcing the server to move out of the way of the ball. This middle target reduces the angles available to the server and gives the returner a better chance of neutralising the server’s dominance.
The right-handed server will often try to expose the left-handed returner by hitting her first serve out wide from the deuce court. The server will try to pull the returner out of the court using a slice serve that naturally moves to the backhand side. However, returning the backhand crosscourt from this position can often prove more effective because many right-handers prefer to move around the ball when hitting aggressive forehands ratherthan move to the ball (as opposed to the left-hander’s preference).
In this situation, left-handed returners with a strong running forehand often lure their opponents into a counterpunching trap when receiving the wide serve to the backhand from the deuce court. By returning crosscourt, the returner tempts the server to hit her second shot down the line into the space. This pattern sets up the returner’s favourite running forehand to hit as her second shot! Figure 2.10 shows how this pattern works.