Playing the Net Rusher

Chuck Serving
Chuck Serving
You’re playing doubles vs. someone who serves relatively softly; but charges to the net to attack your return of serve – typically crushing it at your partner standing near the service line. What can you do?

Today’s Match

That is what happened in our doubles match today at the Colonial Country club. Chuck Kinyon and I were playing against the solid team of lefty Don Keenan and net-rushing Rick Wright (both who live at World Tennis in Naples).

We naturally had trouble with lefty Keenan serving; but thought we should be able to attack the softer serve from his partner Rick Wright. But they dominated their service games and were able to break us (me) twice to cruise to an easy first set 6-2 victory.

What did you do about it?

So Chuck and I decided for both of us to stand back on both of their first serves. Chuck primarily lobbed very effectively over their heads; and I stood back and primarily hit heavy topspin forehands at (or more often, between) them.

We were able to totally change the momentum of the match and take the second set at 6-1.

That brought us to the deciding Match Ten Point Tiebreaker. We were on serve at 3 points each when my FitBit alerted me I had reached my goal of 10,000 steps for the day; but it must have also alerted Rick Wright to raise his game.

Because, he must have hit five or six winners for them to take the tiebreaker 10-5. We are now done. (next week Chuck teams with Don Long and I team with Ted Underwood).

Any other ideas how to handle the net rusher?

Yes, i see that Chuck is foot faulting in this older picture; but match-watchers told us that the net rusher was too!

For full results and remaining draws, click HERE.

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5 thoughts on “Playing the Net Rusher

  1. lose the fitbit and play tennis

    Bill, you might be right. More to come on this another time. George

  2. You must get the ball to the feet of the net rusher on his weak serve – then you close and drive the ball down the middle

    Bill, that was my first plan, but he rushed the net so quickly I could not get the ball down at his feet. Thus we went to plan B

  3. Heavier returns effective, but not in my toolkit. Lobs, yes, definitely. You said softer serve so returner should be able to step in and take the ball earlier to take time away from the net rusher. Remember, they can only crush it at your partner if it’s above the height of the net, so my favourite tactic is to dink to their feet and make them hit up.

  4. George…. be careful about posting incriminating pics. Your partner Chuck is a pretty gross foot faulter!

    Tom, it was just a practice pic! thanks, george

  5. George,

    Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I used to play tennis with a guy in New Jersey who regularly beat up on all of the good players in the area that we played in, although his game did not look all that impressive until you had to play him. This guy was very fast, had consistent ground strokes, excellent volleys and a strong overhead, but he also had probably the slowest serve that I think I had ever seen. In fact, his nickname was Francoise Durr – for the French pro who reportedly had the slowest serve ever in the women’s game and whose serve speed probably never exceeded 50 mph. However, he almost never missed a first serve and he kept his serve very deep in the service box, normally only an inch or so from the service line if not right on it.

    At the same time, he was a net rusher and he possessed very good reaction time plus great foot speed. In fact, we used to joke – with some validity – that his serve was so slow and his foot speed so fast that he literally could beat this own serve to the net. (Of course, this is really not physically possible, but it certainly seemed to be the case.)

    It made for quite a difficult combination to return against. Literally, by the time a receiver even could put a return in play, this guy was already on top of the net and had the foot speed, reaction time and volley skills to be able to knock off erstwhile passing shots for volley winners. At the same time, it became very difficult, bordering sometimes on the impossible, even to drop a service return at his feet because he could get so close to the net so quickly that he could intercept the ball above the height of the net before it had a chance to dip down lower. And if you tried to lob him on the service return, he was capable of “reading” that stroke in mid charge to the net and he could stop moving forward quickly enough that his excellent overhead allowed him to regularly smash winners.

    However, over time, I started to develop a several step strategy to try to neutralize this guy’s service game: First, I would stand way in – almost on the service line itself – when returning his serve. Because his serve was so slow this was not a suicide strategy. By reducing the distance that his serve had to travel before the ball reached my racquet, plus also taking the return on the rise whenever I could, I was able to take a few milliseconds away from his normal ability to get right on top of the net for his first volley. Second, I gave up trying to pass the guy to the right or the left on most returns. (I would still go for such a shot if the serve was short in the service box, or as a surprise tactic.) Instead, on most returns, I would just hit the ball right at him as he was coming into the net. This had the advantage of forcing him to hit awkward volleys that he sometimes missed because the ball was jamming him and also reducing his time to react, and it also took away his angles to hit volley winners out of my reach if he did manage to get his racquet on the ball. So, more typically, his volleys would come right back at me and this gave me a better opportunity to hit a winning passing shot off the next shot. Third, in order to facilitate the second strategy, I would try imagining that the opponent was not even there when returning his serve. That is, I would just pretend that I was hitting a deep return drive intended to land the ball on the baseline, which had the effect of causing my ball to hit right through the incoming server with controlled pace but not land too short or too deep. In other words, he could not take the chance of letting the ball go with the expectation it might be long; he had to go for the awkward volley. Fourth, when this return strategy had the intended effect of upsetting his routine – and it usually did – then I would also occasionally throw in a service return lob just to keep him guessing. I found that his reaction time in covering a surprise lob got much slower when he was anticipating returns hit pretty hard right at him, and I was often able to get the ball over his head for a lob winner if I used the surprise lob tactic sparingly.

    Even when I applied the above strategy, I cannot say that I recall ever beating the guy, because he remained that good and dominant over me and most of the other players in our area. But whereas he used to beat me pretty easily at first, I do recall winning sets against him after I started using this strategy and even the sets that I lost became much more closely contested. My guess is that a strategy similar to this could be adapted to returning the serve of a similar style player in doubles. – Marty

    Marty – I did try standing in and taking it early; but this guy was so quick he could still take the ball before it dropped at his feet. Next time, try the “standing back and blasting the ball” option! thanks, george

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