Update - 2/11/06
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Serving For IT!
On important points which equals 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 a unique shot in tennis 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 on the second.
In order to play at a higher level you must be relaxed which gives you the abilty to move with quickness and ease. Your first priority is to get ahead in your service game by winning the first point. As you build momentum you build confidence which is more important than shotmaking. An important point here is when you are serving you must always direct your serve to the weaker side until your opponent adjusts to your serve. There is no need to mix it up at the club level or even higher levels of junior or adult tennis if you are winning points easily and staying ahead in points and games.
If and when your opponent starts to get your serve back into play and win points you may find it necessary to 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. The better your opponent the more you are required to keep him off balance and guessing your next move. Like a pitcher you need to understand the batter or the returner. Here are some critical things to think about before serving the first ball and before you even get ready to serve.
Where and How does this player set up to receive the service?
Where does the player set up to receive?
What shot does he want to hit as a return?
Does he look aggressive or defensive?
More in depth questions for the Server
Is your opponent protecting the Forehand or Backhand side?
Is your opponent behind the baseline, on the baseline or inside it?
Does your opponent hit with a two handed backhand.
Can you tell what kind of grip your opponent has?
Experience with Typical and Hypothetical Returns?
Does this player take a big swings with topspin on returns?
Does this player attempt to hit sharp angle returns?
Does this player slice the return and stay back on the backhand?
Does this player have problems with kick serves to the backhand?
Does this player run around the backhand and hit forehands?
Does this player back up behind the baseline to return hard serves?
Does this player try to chip and charge against your wide serves?
Does this player his flat shots out trying to win the points with winners?
In order for this to mean anything you must possess the talent to serve to any of the area of the service box 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.
ith 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. This type of player will generally be hitting top spin so it is a good idea to be prepared to attack the net off a good body serve and put away the volley.
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 can be very dangerous. A slice return can be tough depending on the players quickness and coordination. The forehand is usually stronger in a player like this so it is best to attack this side but it must be exploited correctly. The best serve to use is to attack with a high kick serve into the backhand corner. It needs to be followed up with an aggressive net game. Its a simple 1-2-3 formula where the Server must hit a high kicking ball wide and come in and you will find a fairly slow slice that can be placed in the open court. If you have a good flat serve you may utilize it on this player into the corners. 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 hit it back defensively. A good 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 blocks the shots or stays back or moves back further then he is extremely defensive. Your attitude here is to attack wide first. The best shot to use is a strong slice. He will not be unable to cut off the angle under almost all circumstances. Hit wide shots and pull him off the court until he moves up to cut the angle down do what works. Serving to the center of the court, no matter how hard will allow him time to get the ball back in play 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 hit hard if fact hitting hard flat serves would be a disadvantage because your opponent 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. This is also a way to stop a players wide shots by taking them early and cutting off the angle. With this type of player sharp, hard hit angles down the line or wide are effective but only if they are perfect. An excellent player can cut off this angle and put you in a very defensive position. He is hoping you overhit and assumes you can't hit the corners consistently with power. 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. The most effective serve for the Attacker is to hit Kick Serves directly at the Attacker. With a Kick Serve the ball will bounce up with spin making it very difficult to control. It is best to be prepared to come in and force the player away from the net. Depending upon your comfort zone this may be challenging but it is the best tactic when you are being pressured by an attacker. 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. When facing a Hitter it is best to go right at them with empasis on the backhand side of the body if you have a strong enough serve. If your serve is a bit weak then this tactic would be quite dangerous. With a Hitter you are dealing with an opponent who is seeking to end the point immediately. They are seeking to take advantage of your Serve and pound a winning return back. There is one side the returner likes better so you should be aware of which one and avoid that side as much as possible. If you have a slower serve and it is not possible to cause the returner any damage by hitting at them then you need to learn to use the net to your advantage. The next best way to give problems to a Hitter is to hit serves that stay low by using slice or flat serves wide or up the line. You will need to get the returner to move a step or two to avoid disaster.
These are some of the things to think about when dealing with your serve. This concerns the first serve primarily and the second serve will need to keep in line with this strategy yet the overall goal of the second is to get the ball in play. The first service strategy is to win the point by exploiting a weakness in the opponent. Aces are created not by power first but by placement and disquise and then power.
Why is the return so difficult? Check the articles on Returns...