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THE BIG SERVE

Service Strategy

On important points, all points, it is important to keep the pressure on your opponent. The initial way to do this on serve is to get the first serve in. It is psychologically very important in practice to warm up and maintain consistency on first serve. It is quite intimidating to face a player that hits relaxed first serves in five or six times in a row. You are consciously aware that you will not get free points. It is important for you as well to hit your practice returns in and get a real feel for the shot now as well.

The serve is interesting because you have two chances. There seems to be no pressure on the first but inordinate pressure on the second. The odds are still the same it will go in or out but the psychological pressure is weighted against you in that you have just failed at your first attempt. If you have a good serve you are still in total control of the point even though you feel defensive now.

Once you get ahead in the match and build confidence then mix up your serves. A hard flat serve to the backhand may be good but you may still need to hit down the middle or slice it wide to keep the opponent honest. You must keep your opponent off balance and guessing your next move. Like a pitcher you need to understand the batter or the receiver. Here are some critical things to think about before serving the first ball and before you even get ready to serve.

Where does this player set up to receive the service.

Is the player right on the service line.
Is he ready with his arms out watching your every move.
Does he look aggressive and seem to read your mind.
Does he have a compact backswing and long follow through.
Does his return come back low and hard and at your feet
On the deuce court for a righthander

Is he off to his right leaving the backhand or middle open?
Is he guarding the center line protecting his backhand?
Is the player back behind the baseline?
Is the player playing inside the line?
Does he hit with a two handed backhand.
Can you tell what kind of grip he holds to return with?
What happens when he returns the serve on the deuce court?

Does the player take a big swing?
Does he hit good angle returns?
Does he slice the return and stay back on the backhand?
Does he have problems with kick serves?
Does he run around one side or the other?
Does he back up to return a wide ball?
Does he try to chip and charge against your serve?
Does he hit flat out trying to win the points on returns.
On the Ad court for the righthander.

Is he off to his left leaving the middle open?
Is he protecting down the line leaving the wide shot open
Is the player way back behind the baseline?
Is the player playing inside the line?
Does he hit with a two handed backhand?
Can you tell what kind of grip he holds the forehand with?
What happens when they return the serve on the ad court?

Does the player take a big swing?
Does he come forward and hit angled returns?
Does he slice the return and stay back?
Does he have problems with kick serves on the backhand?
Does he run around backhand to hit inside out forehands?
Does he back up to return a wide ball?
Does he try to chip and charge against backhand serve?
Does he hit flat out trying to win the points on returns.
In order for this to mean anything you must possess the talent to serve to any of these areas effectively and consistently. What is your best serve? If you have a good slice serve and can position it competently then that will be a starting point and something to build upon.

With a player that returns with with a big swing get the ball to drive into his body on both sides. Do not give him the opportunity to open up and punish your serves. One side will be slightly better than the other so get the ball to come into that weaker side.

On the deuce court serve into the body with the slice serve landing on his backhand side and move directly into his left side. Even if he can hit it with a long swing he probably will be late and hit it back down the middle protecting you from the angle returns.

On the Ad court use the same strategy but bring it into him by hitting a bit wide and the spin will bring it straight into him. Don't be afraid to go in after this type of serve as you will find him miss- hitting a lot of balls and unable to get his timing.

A player that protects the backhand and slices backhand returns is generally weak on this side and it must be exploited. If you have a flat serve utilize it on this player. The slice unfortunately will trail off into his strengths and he may be able to hit it back quite well using a natural inside out motion that will drift away from your forehand groundstroke and take you off court or he can hit low balls that force you to come to the net or hit back defensively. A hard flat serve will force this weakness and make it very evident as you come forward and put easy volleys and overheads away. It is always good to mix this player up with a wide serve to the forehand since you can catch him leaning to protect the backhand. Always punish a weakness.

If your opponent is behind the baseline and stays back or moves back further is extremely defensive. Your attitude here is to attack wide first. He will be unable to cut off the angle under almost all circumstances. Until he moves to cut the angle down do what works. Serving down the middle will allow him time to get the ball back however defensively but this player might have brought his lunch and do not give him the opportunity to eat yours. You do not have to his hard if fact hitting hard flat serves would be a disadvantage to you because he would have time to set up and hit it back harder than you hit it. Work on the angles to either side until he gets the message then go for the flat stuff and body shots to reveal his weak returns.

The player that plays inside the lines generally wants to get to the net. His method is chip and charge. With this type of player sharp, hard hit angles down the line or wide are effective but can be cut off by an excellent player and it assumes you can hit them consistently. Missing the first serve is a dangerous situation with this type of player because this will feed his confidence and you will lose your momentum. Certainly keep him honest with the hard flat shots to get him to play back on the baseline but also hitting slice into the body will provide you with sufficient opportunity to get miss hits and set up for solid passing shots or get him in no man's land for strong deep ground strokes. This applies to both the deuce court and the ad court.

A player with a two handed backhand return appreciates nice hard flat serves or serves that stay in the strike zone. In hitting to the two handed backhand return try to get the ball to kick up taking the two hander out of his power zone. Another difficult shot for the two hander is a wide ball to the ad court or a low fast ball down the center line on the deuce court. One point to remember is that the forehand might be weak because of the the grip. Check to see the type of grip and if he is using a continental grip or a western grip both of which for different reasons produce many errors on returns. The continental produces errors because the of lack of strength against hard serves and racquet head play opening up too soon and having to arm the ball over. The western or even semi western unless you hit with excellent timing creates problems with high balls and low balls. Generally the player has and exaggerated swing that takes more time than is allowed on a service return.

A player that hits out against every serve will miss enough to give you the game. More shots are missed on return than any other single shot. The percentages are definitely against the returner if the server gets the ball in. Why is the return so difficult?