the inside-in return, hit down the line (as opposed to the inside-out return, which is hit across the court), is another recognised shot that is played against the middle serve from either the forehand or backhand side. although this shot is a lower-percentage one because it is hit over the higher part of the net and into a shorter length of court, it still provides the returner with a large margin of error in terms of target area. this is because a late return hit across the body will drift farther inside the court. this contrasts sharply with a return hit down the line from a wide serve, where
the ball, if caught late, R will drift farther outside
Figures 2.3 and 2.4 demonstrate this crucial difference in margins between a down-the- line return hit from a middle serve and a wide serve. In figure 2.3 this right-handed returner has hit a backhand down the line against a serve hit down the middle from the deuce court. This shot, hit across the body, carries a high margin of error because a late return will drift farther inside the court. In figure 2.4 the same right-handed returner has hit a forehand down the line against a serve
hit out wide from the deuce court. This time, any type of late return will drift farther outside the court.
the inside-in return gives a player the chance to manoeuvre her opponent away from the centre of the court. the key to its success lies in the returner’s court position because the wider the position on the court the returner plays from, the more exposed she becomes to her opponent’s second shot into the space. therefore, this return must be played from a fairly central court position. In figure 2.5, a strong first serve is hit into the body of this right-handed returner from the deuce court. She chooses to hit the backhand inside-in return down the line. With her body weight moving out of the court, she has created a big space for the server to hit her second shot into. From this position, the returner would be better off playing the backhand inside-out return, which at least forces the server to hit her second shot into the space down the line—a lower-percentage shot that she may be less comfortable executing. the inside-in return, therefore, is hit more effectively from a central court position (see figure 2.6) because the net is lower and there is more space to hit into. the returner
maintains a more central court position because the serve has been hit straight down the middle of the court, preventing her from having to move toward the sideline to hit her backhand. As a result, less space is created for the server to hit her second shot into. the inside-in return hit from the forehand side, shown on the previous page in figure 2.7, is also used more effectively from a central position for the same reasons.
To practice the tactics discussed in this section, see drill 2.3 on page 74.
the inside-in return is not used often in doubles because, as mentioned before, the primary aim of the returning team is to make the server play as many second shots as possible. In other words, the crosscourt (inside-out) return is used far more often than the down-the-line (inside-in) return against a first serve. However, it should be used as a surprise tactic on occasion, as well as against a net player who moves across the net too early when trying to intercept. It can also be used effectively against a particularly weak net player (in the same way that the serve and groundstroke attack tactic is used; see chapter 1).