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Returning Serve Against Different Types of Players
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

There are 2 main types of players you will encounter while returning serve. Those who like to serve and volley and those who like to serve the ball and stay on the baseline. Your opponent's style of play can dictate how you choose to return serve. There is also the fun (or torture) of trying to return the serve of a left handed player. Left handed players can be tough, many people are typically used to playing right handed servers since they are more common.

Returning Serve Against Baseliners:
If a player stands back at the baseline after they hit the serve then go with your strengths! If you play consistent tennis go for consistency, if you like to hit with power go for it.

You have the option to chip and charging as well. This method is affective, especially if your opponent is not comfortable with you being at the net. Usually playing chip and charge is hard off of first serves though if the player has a nice first serve.

If the server has a big first serve and does not serve and volley then you have the chance to block the return of serve back deep into the court if you cannot hit the serve with a regular ground stroke. However, if you do not block the ball deep enough, your opponent will have the perfect ball to hit and take control of the point.

Returning a second serve from a baseline player is fairly simple in theory. If you are a baseline player you obviously want to hit the ball deep into the court and try to take control of the point. If you are a serve and volley player the chip and charge is a good approach if their second serve is not very powerful. The main point is to do what you have to do to take control of the point and set yourself up for a winner. If they are not putting pressure on you with a big second serve or playing serve and volley tennis then some of the immediate pressure is off of you to hit a great return.

Returning Against Serve and Volleyers:
Going up against serve and volley players is where the return of serve becomes difficult for a lot of people. All of a sudden the serve is coming, and so is the opponent, which immediately brings with it a lot of pressure. A big server can cause you, the returnee, a lot of problems; a poor return against a good serve and volley players means the point is most likely over. There are a few places where you can cause trouble for the serve and volley players which may set you up for a passing shot. Your return does not have to be a blistering passing shot, although it is always nice. Sometimes hitting the ball at the feet of the opponent can be just as affective. A lot of tall players do not like to bend down that far, and hitting a ball that low can produce a floating volley on which you can go for a passing shot. If you have to block the serve back, try to block it back either down the line, or at the feet of your opponent. Also, do not be afraid to lob, especially if the opponent likes to sprints to the net too fast right after the serve, or if they like to stand too close to the net. Keep them honest by lobbing and the best way to do this is to lob the ball towards their backhand side to eliminate the chances of the lob becoming an overhead for the server.

Returning a second serve from a serve and volley player is where you have a chance to put the pressure back on them after the serve. Most serve and volley players do not serve and volley on the second serve unless they are on grass or are playing doubles. I personally like to chip and charge. I like this method because it gets me to the net and keeps the server on the baseline. Typically, serve and volley players prefer to be at the net, which means you may have them out of their comfort zone if you can get to the net first. However, you do not have to come to the net to keep a serve and volley away from the net; simply hit the return of serve deep into the court and keep your ground strokes deep.

Returning Against Lefties:
Playing tennis against lefties can be tough. The toughest part of playing a left-handed player (I feel) can be the return of serve. The slice serve of a lefty kind of acts like a kick serve to what we are used to hitting. The slice serve jams the returnee when you think it should spin away from you. My best advise is to adjust fast! Keep your eyes on the ball and bring the racquet back early for good preparation. Regardless if the server is hitting a slice serve, topspin, or kick serve, take the ball early if you are able. The longer you wait to hit the ball, the more it will spin away or into your body. The more you allow the serve to move sideways the harder it will be to hit because the spin is not what we are used to hitting.

The way you return against certain players will set up the point and it will also start to set the pace for the match. You do not have to hit big returns to be effective. Keeping returns deep against some players and hitting the return at some player's feet are all simple ways to neutralize attacks and stay in the point. Keep it simple, the return of serve is not a time to get flashy and try to hit a lot of winners.

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker