The server is putting the ball in play … the returner is actively waiting and planning his return of serve … the server’s partner is at the net waiting for the ball hit at him or getting ready to poach … but it seems all too often that the fourth man on the court is “the odd man out,” just waiting for something to happen. But he should be just as engaged as everyone else.
Where To Stand?
In my opinion, this player should be positioned ON the service line (not inside the service box), closer to the center line than in the middle of his box, and at a slight angle towards his returning partner.
What To Watch and How To React?
1) Where is everyone else positioned? He should look to see where the server is standing; how the net man is positioning himself; and where his own partner is standing to return serve (aggressively in or defensively deeper).
2) Where does the serve land? It is his prime responsibility to call “Long,” if the serve lands out. And I believe he has the opportunity (second perhaps to the returner) to also call the center and wide line too. And if the serve really takes his partner wide into the alley, he should IMMEDIATELY slide more toward the center of the court.
3) What is the net man doing on the return? Immediately after seeing the serve as Good, his eyes should shift to the net man: is he poaching or staying? If poaching, be ready for the ball right out you.
4) His next move? If the net man is staying, his eyes then follow the ball to the server.
a. If the server stays back at the baseline, the returner’s partner should immediately move CLOSER TO THE NET to threaten to pick off the next shot
b. If the server comes in and his partner’s return is shoulder height, he should hold his ground and be ready for the hard ball right at him
c. If the server comes in and his partner’s return is down low so that the server is volleying up, he closes and goes to the middle to pick off the next shot.
Passive and waiting for the play to develop? Nooooooooooo, the return of server’s partner should be an active and critical player in the point.
What are some other tips for this position?
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