No matter what your level of play is (in both singles and doubles,) your opponent’s style of play tends to dictate how you choose to return a serve, and knowing how to handle the three main styles will give you the upper hand during your next match.
Tennis players typically encounter opponents who either like to serve and volley, and those who like to serve the ball and stay on the baseline. There’s also the occasional yet frustrating lefty, whose spin is the opposite of what we’re used to.
So take these tips to heart, and you’ll not only find yourself more confident in your return game, but winning more matches, as well.
If your opponent stays back at the baseline after they hit the serve, this is a good indication that they don’t like coming into in to the net. This gives you some options to take them out of their comfort zone.
In singles, the best return option is the chip and charge. When you come in to net, you not only cut off much of the court for a good passing shot, but you’ll set yourself up great opportunities for put-away volleys. This is not a good shot choice, however, if your opponent likes to lob.
Again in singles, another great shot choice is down the line (especially to their backhand.) They will have to hustle and take that next shot on the run – if they can get there in time.
In doubles, you can also block the ball back short, forcing them to come into the net. Your follow up shot could be a lob, which would force both opponents back to the baseline, giving you and your partner a chance to move in and take control of the net AND the point.
A Serve And Volleyer…
Going up against serve-and-volley players is when the return of serve becomes difficult for a lot of people. All of a sudden the serve is coming, and so is the opponent, bringing immediate pressure. A poor return pretty much means the point is over; however, there are some things you can do which may set you up for a passing shot.
Most club level players have difficulty hitting from their shoestrings, so hit your return with lots of topspin so that it drops at your incoming opponent’s feet, and make sure to follow it in. This will likely result in your opponent hitting a soft, high ball that you can volley or smash for a winner. If the serve is a bullet, just block it back at the incoming opponent’s feet. I don’t recommend lobbing a bullet, as you risk the ball being short or going out.
Another option is to lob, especially if the opponent likes to sprint to the net right after the serve. Keep them honest and lob the ball deep and towards their backhand side, eliminating the chances of it becoming an overhead gift for the server. If you’re playing doubles, lob deep over the person already at the net and force both opponents back and away from the net.
Playing against lefties can be rough. I know this because my doubles partner is a lefty and I’ve seen her intimidation in action.
One of the biggest weapons a lefty has is the serve. Most of the time, it has TONS of spin, and the rotation is the opposite of what you’d expect from a righty. Their slice spins into you rather than away from you, making it more difficult to return.
Just keep your eyes on the ball and get your racket back early for good preparation. Regardless if the server is hitting a slice serve, topspin, or kick serve, take the ball on the rise whenever possible. The longer you wait to hit it, the more it will spin into (or if it’s a kick serve, away from) your body, making it harder to return.
The way you return against certain players will set up the point and start to set the pace for the match. You don’t have to hit big returns to be effective, you just need to hit smart. Returning deep against some players and hitting the return at other player’s feet are two ways to neutralize attacks and stay in the point.