Pro Tips: Return of Serve

Chuck Kinyon returning serve (Crootof photo)

Where you stand to return serve says a lot about what you intend to do – or want your opponent to THINK you intend to do.

“Cock-eyed” return of serve position

From Naples teaching pros Phil Landauer and Mark Vines … they say, “On the first serve, show them you are ready for your weaker return side. They will automatically serve more to your stronger side (which you want anyway).  Make sure you move forward with your back foot to get the ball on the rise.”

“On the second serve, move more to your weaker side and show them you are ready to crunch the return off your stronger side.”  This, by the way is a basic Roy Emerson teaching principle.  He says, on a big point second serve “show them your forehand.”

Standing Back or In Close?

If you are facing a huge server, don’t be afraid to stand back behind the baseline to return serve.  And it is not a weakness to also ask your doubles partner to start back with you – so that they don’t get creamed after your short and weak return of serve. 

This positioning also has the strange effect of changing the server’s visual when they look across the net, getting ready to serve.  I believe the returner’s partner provides a touchpoint for the server; and when they are not there, that throws them off.

And conversely, when facing a server with a short, soft serve, don’t stand too far back and have to run in to return serve.  The added impact of all your body weight rushing forward will throw off your return and have you asking yourself, “How in the world did I miss that puff ball serve?”

By starting well inside the baseline, you not only avoid the body-weight-forward problem, but you also send a message to the server that you are going to attack that weak second serve.

What are YOUR return of serve principles?

P.S. Tomorrow morning i go in for heart MRI #2 (!) and then over to Naples Hospital for pre-op meeting. (Heart cath next Friday).

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7 thoughts on “Pro Tips: Return of Serve

  1. George, best of luck with your medical procedures! One year at Newk’s Mark Woodforde suggested that my partner and I move further back to return against a hard server and also play two back. It turned our match around. I then recalled that Roy Emerson had told me the very same thing a couple of years earlier. Apparently I’m a slow learner, but eventually I get the point. I now try to vary my return position during doubles and singles matches, especially when the server seems to be getting “in a groove”. The same applies for my own serving position if the returner appears to be getting too comfortable.

    Joe, i too learned the two-back from the Great Emmo! thanks, george

  2. Best of luck with your heart procedures, George! All of your many readers will be awaiting a full report on the outcome.

    My September right knee replacement initially left me with diminished leg flexion, but four physical therapy sessions per week are helping to improve the knee’s flexibility to the point whereby I can now hit balls from a stationary position.

    My New Year’s Resolution is to be able to play a tournament match by the end of 2021.

    Tom, and newk camp? Let’s hope. Thanks. George

  3. Hi George -Good luck with your upcoming procedure . One important thought on the return is that practicing your ground strokes , is not practicing your return of serve ! Sure its going to be a ground stroke , but the incoming angle of attack and flight shape (spin ) are in no way equivalent to processing and responding to an opponents rallying stroke . Do YOU practice your return of serve ? I’m willing to bet that most of you don’t do it as a separate , dedicated , skill developing practice module . Set aside time in your practice to have a friend or teaching pro serve balls to you at different speeds, spins and with varying placements . The server gets two chances you get only one! If you want to be a great competitor practice your returning skills twice as much as you do your serve and check out my book NET NOTES( common sense ideas to lift your game) available on Amazon

    Howie, I must be one of the rare play who DO practice returns. Thanks. George

  4. George, hope all goes well with your medical procedures and that you may find the answers from your doctors. The receiver has to learn to “read” the serve early and to react quickly. How far back or forward in relation to the baseline, your start position should be depends on several factors. 1) How hard the opponent serves 2) How much spin is used 3) Whether you are returning a first or second serve 4) The tactical situation at a given time during the match There are times when the receiver should also force the server to try something better, which in turn will result in more faults. The receiver might try running around short serves to the backhand, come in behind second serves, or dink/ spin/ lob a few returns. Just don’t get into the habit of playing every return the same way, making it easy for the opponents to see the pattern. Wishing everyone a happy, healthy New Year!

    Glenn, yes, Variety is the spice of tennis life! Thanks. George

  5. George, good luck with your heart procedures, and great photo of the Dartmouth legend, Chuck Kinyon! One key for service returns is Get the Ball in Play!!!….even if it’s a fairly pedestrian lob…make your opponents hit another shot.

    Scoot, thanks and my Legend mentor, Roy Emerson says “Never miss a return of serve.” george

  6. George,
    All the best in you medical procedures and for the New Year!
    Regarding return of serve, I always remember the advice of the great Jim Whiting who said, particularly on a hard court, when someone is consistently serving a big serve: “think half volley, not a full stroke. You don’t have the time and just getting it back, short and low, can be a way to throw your opponent off.”
    Again, all the best.

    Phil, good perspective. thanks, george

  7. George, Hope you are doing well and recovering rapidly! On a return of serve I agree with previous comments, but especially Phil Rockwell’s. Many times I’ve played some young, big-serving player who seems to think he is going to knock me off the court with their big serve. By just blocking the ball back and making them play some mid-court ball without much pace, they are thrown off and usually try to hit a big shot which they usually miss ’cause they never practice it. So predictable! 🙂

    Mike, i used Phil’s advice the very next day! thanks, george

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