Attacking Serve Returns

(diagram below)

With weaker serves often the norm at the high school level, an attacking game can be a key to help many players, especially girls (who face the weakest serves), win more games and matches.

In addition to strong stroke skills, more aggressive positioning can make the return of serve a potent weapon. Attacking players don’t stand behind the baseline and wait for the serve to come to them. They stay on the balls of their feet, moving forward and leaving their feet with a split step just before the server makes contact with the ball. The returner can then move in either direction with forward momentum, playing the ball aggressively and continuing forward.

When you receive a serve with static balance, you have to move in two directions from a stopped, or still position: forward and to your left or right. With dynamic balance, you are already moving forward when the server hits the ball, and only have to move left or right. This is why tennis players who return serve with dynamic balance rarely get aced.

Follow the simple progression below to teach your players the positioning that aggressive returners use and the shorter the backswing that goes with this return, and your players will win more points by taking the offensive much earlier in return games.

Step #1 — Player A serves 4 to 6 second serves from his own service line to Player B’s forehand, who practices returning from the traditional position behind the baseline.

Step #2 — Player A serves another 6 to 8 second serves from the service line, while Player B returns from two steps behind the service line. Player B must work on shortening his or her backswing in order to compensate for decreased time available to make the shot. This will require a return that is hit by using an quick shoulder turn in and out of the shot, rather than an arm swing.

Step #3 — Player A serves another 6 to 8 second serves from the service line, while Player B returns by setting up behind the baseline, but timing a split-step and forward move to make contact in front of the baseline. Player B leaves her feet and makes the split just as Player A makes contact, moving forward to hit the return.

Step #4 — Player A moves halfway between the service line and baseline, serving 6 to 8 more balls, now at at 3/4 speed, with Player B following same routine as in Step #3.

Step #5 — Player A serves 8 to 10 balls at 3/4 speed or full speed to Player B, who continues to work on split and movement forward.

Step #6 — Player A & B switch sides and repeat drill.

Step #7 — Player A & B switch sides and repeat drill to backhand side.

Step #8 — Player A & B switch sides and repeat drill mixing serves to forehand and backhand sides.

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