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Returning the 4 Different Serves
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

There are four different types of serves (see above). Knowing how to return each type of serve proves to be helpful in many ways. When I first started playing tennis I played people with only one type of serve, the "please God just let the serve land in the box serve". As time went on, I started playing people with a flat serve and then a slice serve. I found out quickly that there is a difference in returning the different serves. Next the topspin serve was thrown at me a couple times, and it bounced high and made it very difficult to return because I did not know how to deal with the serve. Then in my Sophomore year in high school I made sectionals. I saw my first kick serve hit at me for the first time ever. Needless to say, it bounced high, and right at my face! I had to literally jump out of the way. The ball came closer to my face then it did my racquet.

Learning how to return each type of serve is important as you will most likely face each type of serve. The better competition face the tougher the serves will be. Once you get to 4.0+ tennis you will be playing against all the serves. Below we will explore how to return each type of serve. To read in more detail about the 4 different types of serves click here

Returning a Flat Serve:
The flat serve is usually the serve we all see first as we begin. So naturally shouldn't it be the easiest to return? Well, when we were learning to play the ball wasn't coming at us at speeds of over 100 mph. I find that the flat serve now to be very difficult to return when the opponent is hitting the serve over 100 mph. As the returnee, your time is limited. When your opponent hits big serves you must react quickly. A big flat serve can jam you or stretch you out before you know it.

When you play against such a big server it is hard to get a big swing on the ball. Since you have less time, it means you have less time to bring the racquet back for a return. Many players returning serve make their swing more compact. Do not bring your racquet back like you are going to smash the ball, because by the time you would get your racquet back, the ball is already 10 feet behind you. I like to bring the racquet back about 1/2 way and swing from there when facing big servers. You do not need a full back swing to get any power on this return. If the ball is coming that fast, you will generate enough power on the return for just getting your racquet on the ball. If you do not feel like you have enough time to even get your racquet back half way, just try blocking the ball back. In order to be successful at this, keep the racket up in front of you and when you see what side the serve has been served to, get your racket to that side and step forward (not backwards!) just punching the ball over the net. If the person is a serve and volley player and is eating your blocks back for dinner, try aiming your blocked returns back at their feet or try and guide them down the line.

Returning a Slice Serve:
The slice serve is a good way to pull your opponent off the court, or jamb them from the other side. Remember, reading the server can help you to react to this serve. If they toss the ball out wide to hit a slice serve out wide, you have a head start and can move to the ball and be prepared. The slice serve bounces lower than the flat serve and is usually moving towards you or away from you as you go to hit the return.

Staying low with the ball as it bounces is very important. The slice serve is fairly easy to return with topspin and/or a slice return. You can block back this serve too if you are having problems taking a full swing at the ball. Blocking back serves with spin is a little tougher than blocking back flat serves, but of all the spin serves, this is the easier one to block back. Moving towards the ball to cut it off early and not allow all of the side spin on the ball to push you off the court or jam you is a good plan of attack. The quicker you can cut it off the less the spin can do it's damage.

Returning a Topspin Serve:
The topspin serve bounces higher than the flat serve. If you try to hit the ball at it's peak you most likely will be swinging out of your comfort zone. You do not want to try to return this serve from far behind the baseline if you can help it. Being deep behind the baseline (unless on clay) can get you in trouble. The speed of the topspin serve is slower than the flat and the slice serve. This gives a serve and volley player more time to get to the net but it also gives the returnee more time to wind up with a full swing. If you are far behind the baseline hitting returns, this gives the serve and volley player more time to get closer to the net.

The best approach to returning the topspin serve, in my opinion, is to take the ball off of the rise. Do not let the topspin serve get to a height where it is uncomfortable to hit! But it takes a great amount of practice and timing to hit the ball on the rise. Hitting the ball off of the rise is very difficult, but effective! This gives your opponent less time to react, and less time to get to the net if they are serve and volleying. You will also get more pace off of your return of you take it off of the rise. But this takes practice. If you are not skilled enough to take the ball on the rise you will need to position yourself on the court so that when you swing at the ball it is not over your shoulders. Step back and hit the ball when it is on it's way back down from it's peak height. Your return will not be as offensive but can still be effective.

Returning a Kick Serve:
Returning a kick serve is very similar to that of returning a topspin serve, so I will only stress one thing. Since the kick serve not only bounces high like the topspin serve, it kicks the opposite direction of the slice serve once it bounces, which can jam you, or move away from you after it bounces. To eliminate the effect of the kick serve, like that of the topspin serve, take it off of the rise. This will keep it from getting to an uncomfortable height, and it will also keep the ball from moving too far away or into you, thus erasing the threat from the kick serve. To do this, it is very helpful to read the server, it would give you a chance to move into the court a foot or two when you see what type of serve he/she is about to hit. This will allow you to take the ball early and off of the rise!

The best practice to become comfortable returning all serves is to face as many different players as you can. This way you will see all types of serves. The return of serve can be a huge weapon for you if you are good at it. Be sure to practice the return of serve in practice too. Let someone else work on serves while you work on your return. Have them practice all the serves and all the placements.

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker