The return of serve is a critical part of tennis as it is one of two ways to start off a point. That being said, the most challenging part of the return of serve is that you cannot control what is being hit to you by your opponent. These four tips will help you get the most out of your return of serve, giving you an increased chance of starting off the point more offensively and neutralizing a good serve.
Court Positioning – Court positioning should be adjusted between the first and second serves. Positioning yourself slightly behind the baseline when returning first serve allows forward movement to take place and gives you more time to react. The big thing about the second serve is to read the change of pace/spin. You want to make sure that you aren’t too far from the ball due to not moving forward to a second serve.
Moving Forward – This technique falls into the footwork category of the return of serve and improves timing. It is important to take a forward step before making your split step as it allows you to get closer to the ball. You’ll have a better chance of hitting your return of serve cleanly.
Split Step – The timing of the split step is crucial for the return of serve. Ideally you want to be in the air as your opponent contacts his or her serve. Try and time the landing before the ball crosses the net.
Preparation/Back Swing – It is imperative, especially on the first serve, that you shorten up your swing and make it as compact as possible. This will allow you to take the return on the rise, giving you the best chance to hit it out in front. This is especially important in doubles as it allows you to keep the return low at the feet should the server decide to serve and volley. The bigger your backswing on a faster serve, the more likely you are to hit late and pop the ball up. This puts you on the defensive from the get go.
To summarize, try and take the return of serve as early as possible to put pressure on your opponent. The idea is that you want to take control of the point as early as possible.