Using the return as an approach can be used as a planned tactic as well as an instinctive one. this means that the returner commits herself to approaching the net with her return, regardless of how effective her opponent’s serve and her own return is—making it a slightly more risky tactic. this differs from the instinctual approach, in which the returner gives herself the chance to see the effectiveness of her return before approaching. the planned approach, however, usually gives the player the chance to close in tighter on the net because she doesn’t wait to see the outcome of her return—she just goes for it! this closer positioning to the net reduces the space available for the opponent to hit her passing shot into.
As a rule, the return and planned approach tactic is used less frequently today because so many players enjoy having a net target to pass or lob against. However, there are still two main scenarios in which this tactic can work: the ‘chip and charge’ and the drive-in.
In the chip and charge tactic, a player returns with slice (chip) and immediately follows in to the net (charge). the chip and charge was made famous by such greats as Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, who regularly approached the net behind a sliced backhand (and
sometimes forehand) return. The short, simple technique used to slice the return allows the player to control the oncoming ball. the slice itself keeps the ball low to the ground, making it difficult to attack and forcing the opponent to hit up over the net. For these reasons, players such as Justine Henin-Hardenne and Amelie Mauresmo, who possess excellent slice backhands, will sometimes approach the net behind either a short crosscourt, or a deep-down-the-line or middle return.
Figures 2.19 and 2.20 show how these two backhand returns can prove effective from both the deuce and advantage courts. Figure 2.19 shows a right-handed returner using her backhand slice to approach the net against a second serve hit down the middle from the deuce court. Note how this shot can either be hit down the line or down the middle of the court, allowing the server no obvious space to hit into. Figure 2.20 shows a right-handed returner using the same backhand slice to approach the net against the serve hit wide from the advantage court. this serve gives the returner more angles to work with so she can play either the down- the-line approach or the short angle, crosscourt approach. Note how the short angle approach a
can effectively drag the server up the court and force her to hit high over the net (because the slice stays so low).
Players using the backhand slice could also approach the net with the drop shot return as an alternative. They are able to disguise this shot until the very last moment because the shot preparation looks almost the same as the backhand slice. In this situation, the direction of the drop shot (i.e., down the line, middle, or crosscourt) is less important than its disguise; the surprise factor usually beats the server.
The player will approach the net after playing the drop shot return because
the server is likely to be scrambling for the ball—probably hitting high and short if under pressure. this becomes an easy ball for the returner to volley against.
In the drive-in tactic, players use the topspin return (the drive) to approach the net with. Again, this planned approach requires the player to return the ball and approach the net regardless of how good her return actually is. the key difference between this tactic and the chip and charge tactic is that the ball is hit with topspin rather than slice. this means that the ball will bounce higher but can be hit with more pace also. therefore, to be truly effective, the drive-in must put the server under time and pace pressure. this tactic should be used against a server who continually defends with a high or blocked second shot (because this ball should be easy to volley against). this can be used potently when played as a surprise tactic on certain big points. By approaching the net, the returner forces her opponent to hit a winning shot immediately, this may unnerve the server enough to force her into error.
To practice the return and planned approach tactic, see drill 2.10 on page 81.
the return and planned approach is more commonly used in doubles because it gives the returning team the chance to control the net. this is a key tactic in doubles. the best doubles players in the world will approach the net with both the chip and charge and drive-in returns as often as possible. Because of the lack of space on the doubles court compared to the singles court, players must hit these returns to very specific areas of the court against both the server who stays back and the server who uses the serve and volley tactic.
Against the server who stays back, the returner plays deep crosscourt (away from the server’s partner at the net) and follows in to join her partner at the net. this return will often be hit using the slice from either the forehand or backhand side. the slice return usually travels slower through the air than the topspin return, and this allows the player more time to take up a better net position. When the returner hits with topspin she may find that the ball comes back too quickly. In this situation the returner will have less time to come in because the ball reaches the server more quickly (because it is travelling faster) and therefore is hit back to her more quickly! Also, a good slice
return will stay lower than the topspin return and will force the opponent to hit the ball higher over the net, making it easier to volley.
Against the server who uses the serve and volley tactic, the return needs to be hit short crosscourt (away from the server’s partner again), down to the feet of the oncoming volleyer. this type of return forces the server to hit her volley high over the net from a short and low position, allowing the returner the chance to move in and dominate the point with an aggressive volley. It can also give her partner an opportunity to intercept with a winning volley, hit either down the middle of the court or straight at one of her opponents.
Hitting the lob return is another option for the player wishing to approach the net immediately, this is hit down the line with either slice or topspin, over the head of the server’s partner. This shot is very effective against the serve and volley player because itforces the server to cover the area behind her partner—an area that she is swiftly moving away from as she approaches the net. The lob allows the returner plenty of time to approach with and also forces the serving team to change its formation (the server’s partner has to switch sides because her partner will be hitting the next shot from directly behind her).
The lob can also be used against the server who stays back, although it may not put the serving team under quite so much pressure given that the server is already positioned on the baseline. However, it still allows the returning team to take control of the net and forces the serving team to change its formation.
Figure 2.21 shows a second serve hit out wide from the advantage court. As the server follows in behind it, the returner hits the lob over the server’s partner. Note how the server has to change direction (from moving toward the net to moving awayfrom
the net) and cover the area behind her partner. Note also how her partner has to switch sides to cover the other side of the court. the returner simply follows her lob in to the net to join her partner.
Whichever tactic is used, the returner’s partner must know the tactical intention of the returner in advance so she can anticipate the opponent’s possible responses ahead of time and position herself accordingly. For example, if she knows that her partner will hit the lob return, she can prepare to move in closer to the net if the lob is successful, or move away from the net if the lob is short. therefore, constant communication between the returner and her partner is vital, not only between points and games but during points as well.
To practice the return and planned approach in doubles, see drill 2.11 on page 82.