Good receivers have consistent returns but are also able to
add variety to keep their opponents guessing. A good receiver
should have at least four different return options.
The most basic return you should master is the deep
crosscourt return. Hitting the ball deep usually requires
more net clearance and therefore it's a shot used against
a server that stays back at the baseline and whose net
partner does little poaching. The purpose is to play a
safe shot crossing the lowest part of the net and to keep
the server pinned to the baseline while providing an
opportunity for you to join your partner at the net.
With the power serves in today's game, it's important to
add the lob return to your arsenal. When the server has
made you stretch or thrown you off balance, the defensive
lob is a much safer shot than going for a drive return. An
offensive return over the server's partner will allow you
to take control of the net as well as keep an aggressive
team from dominating with forceful net play. I personally
feel the lob is the most underutilized return and I stress
it with students at all levels.
Another good way to throw off your opponents is to go down
the line. This is great as an occasional change up against
an aggressive team. Once you attempt this shot (even if
you're not successful), your opponents will be less likely
to leave their alley open. I encourage my players to try
this shot when they are up by a couple of points in a game
and they get a wide serve.
The fourth return is the one the pros make look so easy--the
low, sharp, crosscourt angle. You're going for a small piece
of the pie but what a payoff if you make it! It forces the
server way off the court and forces him to hit up to your
net partner. You can hit it with rolling topspin or as a chip
shot. Get consistent with this shot and you will want to
return more than you will want to serve!
Every team presents different returning challenges. By
mastering these four returns, you should be ready to master
any challenge they throw your way.