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Hardscrabble Scramble
October 1999 Article

Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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Mastering The Return Of Serve

Mike Whittington Photo
Mike Whittington

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.

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This column is copyrighted by Mike Whittington, all rights reserved.

At the time at which he wrote this column, Mike Whittington was a USPTA pro in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he served as director of tennis at the Hardscrabble Country Club.


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