DRILL 2.1 Developing the Middle Return
To develop the middle return; to neutralise the threat of the strong first serve.
The coach (or practice partner) serves a variety of first serves to a player who must return down the middle of the court into the target area. The player keeps score as to how many returns are able to neutralise the threat of the serve (through a combination of accuracy, pace, and spin). If there are two players, they should switch serving and returning roles frequently because asking one player to continually hit first serves will cause injury.
The server or returner judges whether the return is good enough to neutralise. This will increase each player’s general tactical awareness. The target should stay on the court during points play (using nonslip markers), and the point should continue only if the return lands inside the target area.
The coach should point out the returning side the player hits from most effectively and whether she hits this return from a middle, body, or wide serve. This will CO help her to understand which types of return need fur-
The target area used for the ther improvement and which ones she should look to
middle return. use regularly in a match. The coach should also watch
how quickly the returner perceives the flight path of the ball and where she contacts the ball in relation to her body (i.e., is it comfortably in front or too close to her body?). Her contact point will often give a big clue as to how well she reads the game generally. If she continually hits the ball too close to her, then she probably doesn’t perceive the oncoming ball in enough time, causing her to prepare too late for the shot. More work will be needed on her receiving skills if this is the case.
DRILL 2.2 Neutralising With the inside-Out Return
To neutralise the threat of the first serve by developing inside-out returns from the forehand and backhand sides.
Returning targets (measuring 1.8 X 1.8 meters [6 X 6 feet]) are placed on the court for the player to aim for using the inside-out return from both sides. The coach (or practice partner) hits a number of first serves down the middle of the court for the player to practice against. Again, the player(s) should keep a score regarding the number of returns that neutralise the server’s advantage.
As they develop this shot, players play practice points using only first serves hit down the middle from both the deuce and advantage courts. The returner is allowed to play the point out only if she manages to neutralise the serve completely using the inside-out return—that is, if she has at least a 50:50 chance of winning the point after the serve and return have been played. She is awarded three points if she manages to turn defence into attack by winning the point within her next two shots. The server should hit the occasional wide serve to prevent the returner from anticipating the middle serve too early.
the server should catch the ball immediately if she thinks the return is not effective enough. this is an excellent drill to test her perception skills because she must recognise the characteristics of the return quickly (i.e., its direction, height, depth, spin, and speed) and make a decision instantly, coaches can increase the ratio (e.g., from 50:50 to 70:30) if the returner is dominating too often, or decrease the ratio if the server still holds too much advantage. This tool allows the coach to balance differences in playing standards between players while still maintaining a challenging environment for everyone. (These ratios are only approximate and subjective, of course, but they can be the source of lively debate between players and coaches!)
This drill helps to further develop the across-the-body return and encourages the player to dominate the server by maintaining a strong, central court position.
To move the server away from her central court position; to turn defence into attack immediately.
Intermediate to advanced
The coach (or practice partner) hits a number of first serves down the middle of the court. The returner plays the point using the inside-in return from both her forehand and backhand sides. However, the point is played out only if the return forces the server to move two steps or more to the side. The drill is completed when the returner successfully moves the server five times from both returning sides.
Bonus points are awarded to the returner if she manages to win the point using a maximum of two more shots after the return. The server should be allowed to hit the wide serve occasionally to prevent the returner from anticipating the middle serve too early.
The coach should encourage the returner to contact the oncoming ball in front of her body with a strong lower- body base. This strength prepares her for a strong ‘collision’ with the ball (i.e., a strong contact point) and will allow a more balanced recovery into the centre of Inside-in returning targets hit the court— Developing such strong technique will give
against the middle serve from the returner the best chance to dominate her opponent
the deuce and advantage from a first serve situation,
DRILL 2.4 Using the Blocked Return to Turn Defence into Attack
To neutralise the threat of a strong first serve; to turn defence into attack; to develop a feel for the ball.
The coach (or practice partner) hits a mixture of first serves to a returner, who practices the blocked return using three specific targets to aim for. The main one is the deep, middle target, but there are also two short angle targets to aim for if she can control the threat of the wide serve well enough.
The player tries to hit two types of pace with her return: (1) the very slow paced block that forces the server to generate her own pace for her second shot and (2) the block that stays low and moves through the court at a faster pace, allowing the server less time to prepare for her next shot.
Experimenting with different paces will help a player develop a feel for the ball. The coach should encourage the player to use the short angle block against the wide serve because there is more angle available compared to the middle serve. The coach should also note the position of the returner after the serve and return have been played. Has she neutralised well enough? Is she in a position to attack? Can she approach the net if her short angle block has forced her opponent out of court? this information can help the returner understand what her next move should be—that is, whether she should defend, build, or attack with her next shot.