Go For It?

On a big point, is it better to put something more on your second serve and double fault … or have your opponent hit a winning Agassi-like return?

In a recent match with teaching pro Eric Uthgenannt (son of Ernie), he double faulted to me and said, “I’d rather go for my second serve and miss, than have you tee off and hit a big forehand winner.”

Hitting big forehand returns is exactly what I had been doing; so is Eric right? I think so.

If he goes for something extra on the second serve, he will sometimes make it – and send a message to me, “Watch out, I am playing aggressively!” And even if he misses, he sends that same message. And I am somewhat psychologically neutral.

While if he just spins in a slow serve and I cream it… he feels bad at his “whimpiness” and I feel good about MY aggressive play. So it is a double-whammy loser.

From the returner’s point of view, he has the same passive-aggressive choice … on the big-point second serve, do you just put the ball back in play and “make the opponent play the ball,” or do you step around and take a chance on missing a big return?

I think the answer is the same… being aggressive sends a message, wins some points, and sets the tone you want for the match: you are in control.

5 thoughts on “Go For It?

  1. George, I somewhat disagree. I think the answer depends on the percentages, what the game score is, what the set score is, what has been happening in the match earlier, whether somebody has an injury, etc. In short, there is no one size fits all answer to this situation.

    For example, if I have been serving well all match and getting a high percentage of my first serves in, then I may be inclined to agree that going for a big second serve — essentially playing a first serve — is a high percentage play. Also, even if I have not been hitting my first serve above average in speed, placement and consistency all match, BUT my opponent has had significant more trouble returning my first than my second serve (I.e., he has really been wailing on the second serve), then this might be a good tactic.

    As noted above, the score also makes a difference. If I am serving in the game at 40-0, or 40-15, then I say go for it. But it may be a really stupid tactic if the score is 4-5, 30-40, and I absolutely MUST hold serve to stay in the set. In that case, why risk a double fault? Better to take your chance the return may be strong, but at least you have a fighting chance of returning the return and staying in the game.

    Also, injuries are a factor. Several weeks ago, I was playing a USTA seniors match at first doubles and the other two doubles matches had split. The captain informed my partner and me that the entire match rested on us, and we were in a third set super tie breaker at 6-6, having lost the first set but won the second set. So we absolutely needed to get to 10 points first for the team to win. However, I have pulled my achilles tendon during the second set and I was literally hobbling on one leg. I hit out on a hard forehand return in the deuce court at 6-6 straight at the net man, and it surprised him and he flubbed his return. Score now 7-6, we were up, and it was my serve. I knew I couldn’t back up any of my serves with good movement to the net with my injury so I told my partner I was going for an ace. I did, and I hit an ace. Score now 8-6, us. I told my partner I was going for another ace on the deuce side, but this time my first serve nicked the net and flew a few inches long. So I was faced with the exact scenario on my second serve that you posit — go for a spin second serve and probably lose the point because the opponent will get the return back cross court and I will not be able to cover the return, or go for a big second serve and maybe hit an ace or a service winner? I chose the latter, and hit a clean second serve ace right on the T. Score now 9-6, match point for our team. (My partner then hit a service return winner and we won the match.). I recount this because it is an example of how an injury can also dictate this tactic. – Marty

  2. Some second serves are better than firsts if one developes a high bouncing spinner like Marty Fish especially when spun out wide.

  3. This is a great topic, George.

    But I think Eric was addressing the situation far too narrowly. No server should have to put himself into defining the problem-situation this narrowly.

    First of all, recreational players — and even pros when you look closely — rarely punish second serve returns ala Agassi. And even when the second return is hit forcefully, it’s important to ponder:
    + did this BIG return happen at least three times? only after the damage is inflicted AT LEAST this many times should a server ponder an option that could make him double-fault

    OK, so let’s say it did, and that George’s fine forehand is inflicting repeated pain on Eric’s second serve. What if Eric does things a little different, such as:
    + hit more spin on first serve so that it’s more likely to go in and preclude facing George’s whopper forehand return?
    + take a look at where George’s big forehand returns are going and move to that spot rapidly?
    + aim his second serve either to George’s backhand or WIDE to his forehand so that George can’t run around and smack it?
    + surprise serve-volley on second serve so that George’s drive is now a high, volley-read shot?
    + Eric alter which part of the court he serves from so as to give George a different look?
    + take even more pace off the second serve and see if George can still inflict pain off an even slower serve.

    All of this speaks to the essential interactive aspect of the game.

    Keep asking those great questions, George!

  4. I agree with Marty and Joel; let me put our match in proper context. Marty, I am coming off a ruptured achilles tendon injury. Like in your mentioned situation, I went for hard serves because I could not back up a spin serve with good movement. Plus, I think it takes more work in the achilles/calf muscle to create the desired strong spin serve vs a flat hard serve in which I can favor my recovering leg. So, I agree with Marty and Joel. I perhaps should clarify my reasoning with George even though he brings up a good point. Love to hear back from you. Thanks, Eric

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