Receive of Serve

Rowden Fullen (2000)

This is probably one of the most under-practised of all the aspects of our sport. If a serve is long for example we should always be prepared to be positive, loop or drive and think placement at the same time. Also however we should think tactics too, some players especially in the women’s game want speed back so that they can smash the next ball. Sometimes you must be ready to change the speed, stop-block, slow roll. Equally if a player serves long chop you should always (girls too!) be looking to open. There is little point in pushing only to see the next ball looped past you. Quite often to return power with lack of power, or spin with lack of spin, or even just to return the server’s own spin to him or her, can be a very good tactic.

Short serves can always be dropped back very short to take the advantage away from the server and neutralize his or her service advantage. This too requires much training for if you misread the heavy spin and float you lose. Most top players however are good in short play and in gaining advantage in this area. Try to take the ball at as early a timing point as possible, just after the bounce to give the other player little time to react. This is also a good tactic if you have to push back long, again early timing, fast return, sometimes with spin, sometimes without, (try to use the wrist as little as possible). At top level, especially in the men’s game it is necessary to flick some balls — bear in mind you can do this at differing timing points, as the ball bounces up (very early) or drops down (quite late). This late-timed flick can often be effective as many players think you are going to push. Often the higher the level, the more there must be a certain amount of risk taking. Do you have a better than 60% chance if you are positive? It may well be worth the risk.

Unfortunately many players at the highest level, especially in the men’s game, serve just long enough to make life very difficult — the half-long serve with the second bounce on the white line or just off. If you open with a weaker stroke, you lose, equally if you push long, you give the initiative in opening and placement to the server. If the serve is so good that you must push long, then how and where you play is vital.

An important stage and one essential to the development of any good player, is how he copes with the first opening ball. It is not enough at high level just to control the first drive or topspin — the other player retains the initiative and will accelerate spin and power until he wins the point. Being just safe is a loser’s tactic, here too you must look at responding positively — force the return with either power or spin or both and put the opponent under pressure. Another alternative is to change pace and length as dramatically as possible, the stop-block has its place at the highest level. And of course always consider where to play, variation in placement (short or long, straight, body or angles) is a vital factor in top-class play.

Above all work at the strategy of receive, training against good servers, training at returning with and against the spin and playing the opponent’s spin back to him or her, varying placement and length and angles. Work at doing different things with the 2nd ball so that the server cannot have an easy 3rd ball situation. Train to do enough with the 2nd ball so that you can perhaps create an advantage on the 4th ball.