Playing the Short-hopper

Today was the first match of our 4.5 Senior (55 and over) team; and my partner today, Rich Whale, and I faced an interesting challenge: an opponent who returned serve by standing literally just two feet behind the service line and taking the ball on the short hop to return serve as a half-volley.

He was very, very good at this technique; so the return game back so quickly, either to the net man or the server, that we had real trouble handling it. Serving him wide (he was in the ad court) or down the middle helped a little, but not much.

So after being crushed in the first set, 6-2, we changed tactics in the second set.

When serving to this opponent, the net man played Australian; thus taking away his natural cross-court shot. And the server STAYED BACK. This forced him to go over the higher part of the net; and his natural return was a chip that would have been at the server’s feet; but instead, just sat there as a simple groundstroke, allowing us to keep the offense.

Then, he tried to adjust and put his return longer; but that was very difficult to do while starting with a half-volley return below the level of the high part of the net. He sailed many of them long.

We won the second set in a tie-break; and ended up winning the ten-point Champions Tiebreak, 10-8 to win the match.

Sometimes, it is better to be smart than good.

4 thoughts on “Playing the Short-hopper

  1. Your on court counter tactics ,against the short hop return, might also include more poaching at the net. Given the australian setup, the right handed netman should have easy access to a return on the rise. Timing is key. Well done!

  2. George, I think your doubles tactic was spot on to neutralize this fellow’s return. Other options that I would have considered include trying to hit a topspin kick serve and trying to hit more pace on the serve, in that order. I have played against people who can half volley a serve like this gentleman can do. (In fact, I can do it myself but maybe not with that level of precision.) It is hard to adjust. But a good topspin serve is a strong antidote because people who return like this rely on the ball staying fairly low to catch it on the rise — usually against a fairly flat and, thus, stead and predictable serve. It can still be caught on the rise with a kick serve, mind you, but the timing is quite different, and if the receiver can adjust at all, it is usually so far into the match that he/ she has already squandered most of the match. Alternatively, there is a limit to how fast even the best returner can adjust to the pace of a fast serve. (Picture Jimmy Connors struggling to return Roscoe Tanner’s boomers in the old days, for example.) So that is an option too. But I think the kicker is a better choice because it has a much greater margin of error than a big fast serve, especially in doubles. Of course, if one cannot hit either serve, then neither option is available. In that case, taking a lesson from a good server pro might not be a bad idea. With proper technique, I think that anybody can learn to hit the kicker, although a hard fast serve is, to some degree, genetic. Just my $0.02.

  3. I just noticed that there is a pictorial instruction article in the most recent edition of Tennis Magazine (I think it is March 2008) on how to hit a kick serve. Just in case anyone is interested…..

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