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SERVICE RETURNS – CHOOSE ACCORDING TO YOUR OPPONENTS
Doubles Play by TennisTom 2010
Returning serve is more interesting than you might think. At the 3.0 level or below most opponent net players do not poach on the serve return, and, servers do not usually come in to the net after their serve. This makes it easier on you, the returner. Beyond the beginner stage, you have four service return choices.
Statement of fact: It doesn’t make much sense to always use the same service return. In doubles you want to avoid predictability in your service returns so that your opponents do not know where you are going to hit the ball. Also, you want to return the serve in a way that will make your opponent work to get to your shot. You should practice all options so that all four of the following are within your repertoire.
The four service return options are:
1) Return serve crosscourt directly back to the server. This may feel like the safest choice when the server does not come in and the net player does not poach. If the server hits a hard serve and gets it In (unusual) you can block the ball back with an “abbreviated swing.” An abbreviate swing means to shorten your backswing. This saves time, which in this instance as they say, is of the essence.
2) LOB over their net player with a medium high lob. This is a good choice if your lob is fairly accurate. It is also a good choice if their net player plays belly-up (close) to the net. You do not need to take a full swing when you lob. (Full swing lobs tend to cause a higher lob than necessary and gives their server more time to retrieve it.) In general, service return lobs are underused at all levels.
3) Hit a SHORT, SOFT angle shot near the inside line (singles line) in front of the server. This will make their server have to run in wide to make their return. This is a particularly good choice if the server is a little slow in reacting or running forward. If they are able to return your shot they will usually hit the ball back to you and you can then hit a groundstroke "down the middle" between the two of them.
4) Hit DIRECTLY AT their net person (but not down the alley, which is a low percentage shot). This is a good choice if their net person does not have a good volley, or if you want to surprise their net player. If you choose to hit directly at their net player, you have to be really on your toes in order to get their return if they happen to get it back.
When the server does not have a hard serve (most 3.0s and below), you can decide AHEAD OF TIME which of the four returns you want to use. This makes it easier on you.
IF you pre-choose any shot other than directly back to the server, you can tell your net partner what you plan to do. The following adjustments by your net player are slightly advanced but apply to you and your partner working together as a team. Talk to your partner. (Smart tennis.)
Net Player Adjustments. When you are returning serve, here are the court adjustments for your net player according to which return you tell your partner you are pre-choosing:
If your receiver hits a Crosscourt return directly back to the server, no special adjustment is needed by your net player.
If your receiver hits a Lob over their net player with a medium high lob, the net player should reposition to a couple of feet laterally toward the center line.
If your receiver hits a Short, soft angle shot return near the inside line (singles line) in front of their serve, the net player can move one step towards the alley, but be ready to jump on a crosscourt return if it comes near you.
If your receiver hits a Return directly at their net person, the net player should move several feet towards the center line in order to block a possible shot their net player might hit near your center court area.
COMPETITIVE TACTIC. If you, the service receiver, chooses to hit either the 2) lob, or 3) short angle shot, the competitive response for you is to come in to about 1 or 2 feet behind the service line. (3.5s, or 3.0s that have been coached to do this, will often come in because this is a good way to control the net.) When you come in, this will put you into a good court position to intercept their return, with either a volley or an overhead. If they are able to lob you then you still are far enough back to retrieve their lob fairly easily. In both of these cases (lob or short angle shot) , when you hit your return volley or overhead, aim your shot down the middle between them. Hitting down the middle is the safe choice, the choice which is the least likely you will miss. (This is part of the Smart Tennis strategy. See the instructional “PLAYING SMART by TennisTom.”)
How to Decide Which Return Option to Choose. Firstly, for you to make an intelligent decision about which of the four service returns you want to make, practice all of them in practice games and you will find out which of the choices work best for you. Secondly, if you have played your opponents before, use your experience to decide which returns to use. Against slower or less accomplished opponents, use the lob or short angle return most often. Against unknown opponents, watch them warm up and make a mental note as to their tendencies and weaknesses. Of course you will need to note their same tendencies in the early games of your first set in order to gain an advantage.
Postscript: The basic two styles of playing tennis are either Playing Not To Lose, or, Playing To Win. Although no player completely plays in one style or the other, choosing to play to win usually wins more matches. Not-to-lose doubles is characterized by minimal strategy, by reacting to most of the opponent’s shots in a safe way, and by hanging back at the baseline most of the time. Virtually all beginning players choose this out of necessity. Playing to win is characterized by using tried and true tactics, by controlling the point using those tactics, and by appropriately closing in to just back of or inside the service line. Whether it’s recreational tennis or more competitive tennis, I think that winning by outthinking your opponents is a lot more fun. Printing a hard copy of this instructional and reviewing it later is a good idea if you can’t remember everything.
[14-Service Returns – Choose According to Your Opponents] [Rev 7-1-11]