07 December 2022 / 3-Min Read / Translate↗
The first thing you should understand is “Purposeful Practice” should be your mantra. Playing great shots comes from practicing, not from simply reading the tips below. Yes, they will help, but nothing replacing being on court and hitting shots. Not reading articles, not watching videos, not visualisation (although that is very good), not chatting with other players, not playing video games – nothing is better than practice.
Right, with that out of the way, let’s look at some things to change your approach.
Stand just behind the service box corner and a little towards the centre line. This will give you enough space to move forward towards the serve AND allow you to adjust if the serve comes at you or down the centre. Depending on your ability to twist quickly, have your back facing the server’s side wall. If you are slow to twist, for example, if they hit a serve down the middle and you can’t turn quickly enough, then have your back facing the door – that way you are not so committed to the side wall.
I generally recommend moving towards the side wall or forwards. At beginner level, the moment you move backwards, the server almost certainly has the advantage. I know that’s easy for me to say, but harder to apply on court, but by moving backwards you are just giving yourself less room to swing.
The counter-argument to not moving backwards is usually because players have such weak volleys, especially when the ball is played above their head. My response is that you will never improve if you constantly move backwards and let the ball get into the corner. In addition, you run the risk of an unlucky bounce, giving the server an easy point.
Yes, sometimes you *have* to let the ball go into the corner because volleying it would be more risky than not, but that decision should be based on each case, not because you can’t volley.
Volleying means hitting the ball before it bounces. It does NOT mean hitting the ball harder than it comes to you. A simple solid block, with a very short back swing is often enough to “push” the ball into the back corners. Ideally, you should play a straight volley, but the reality is that can often come back at yourself, meaning it’s not effective, but that’s why I started by talking about “Purposeful Practice”! The follow through should be short too and the racket head should finish high, above your head. Pretend that the ball goes where the racket head goes – it’s not always true but it’s a good way of ensuring the follow through is controlled.
As I just said, deep straight is often better, perhaps 60% of the time, with 30% going deep crosscourt and 10% something short to keep your opponent guessing. Your objective with the return is to limit their options and to stop them volleying. Make sure you aim high on the front wall for your deep returns and keep you crosscourt wide. If they can volley, make sure it has hit the side wall first.
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Don’t think that sneaking up of servers when they serve forehand from the right side if they are right-handed will give you easy points. It rarely works, but if it really does, do it. They the servers don’t start hitting high lob serves, then they are silly. Next, don’t think that a quick volley into the nick will win you lots of points. I mean it might against lower-level players, but against better players it won’t and you will be building bad habits. Keep it simple and keep it effective.
Here are two simple drills for you to improve your service returns; one solo one with a partner.
Solo: Stand behind the service box and hit high volleys to yourself. If you can hit ten consecutive shots without errors, well done. Depending on your ball control, you may have to stand in front of the short line and start there. Don’t do too many as it stresses the shoulder joint. try to make contact above your head.
With a partner: Each player stands in the normal service return position and tries to hit a high crosscourt to the other player. Only volleys count. How many can you do with no mistakes? If that feels easy (it shouldn’t) hit one straight volley to yourself and then one crosscourt. Score it for added fun!
A lot of points are won and lost at beginner level on the serve. Recognise that with some thought and purposeful practice you could be the one winning most of those points. Build good service return habits now and reap the benefits in the future.