About Us

CAtennis is a passionate discussion for serious tennis players, parents and coaches looking for something different. No talk about technique, no talk about useless theory, no gimmicks; just practical advice from first-hand experience on how to improve your tennis. Kick back, drink the content, bounce ideas, and pitch articles (or friend us on Facebook).

Unless otherwise noted, all articles are authored by the founders of CAtennis.  Enjoy!

« Practice Approaches From Deep In The Court | Main | Practicing For Mental Toughness »

Keys to Good Returns

Returns are the most difficult shots to execute. The primary reason for this is because at the higher levels of the game, the players have usually mastered the service motion and turned this stroke into a weapon. Also, this is the only shot in tennis where you, as a player, have ZERO say in how the server is going to execute his stroke. In other words, the returner does not (i) toss the ball to the opponent, (ii) make the opponent move to the ball, or (iii) influence the server's heart rate. As a result, all the factors are really in the server's favor. Nevertheless, too often the returners attempt to do more with the return than is necessary. Now, going for a flat out winner ONCE IN A WHILE is different than attempting the same low percentage shot over and over again. Everyone remembers Djokovic's return down match point against Federer at the 2011 US Open. What they don't recall so easily is the number of steady, mediocre returns that Djokovic hit throughout that match (or the following match against Nadal). 

In my opinion, the primary goal of the returner should be to neutralize the server's advantage. In order to understand this, the returner should know the server's primary motivation: opening up the court and creating some sort of imbalance in the returner's positioning. As a result, the returner's duty is to not allow this to happen. The returner should do this by pounding the middle of the court (preferably 4-5ft inside the baseline). This way, the returner (i) hits over the lowest part of the court; (ii) hits to the relatively "long" part of the court; (iii) does not change the trajectory of the ball at all (i.e., returner acts, simply, like a wall); (iv) forces the server to react immediately (perhaps being jammed); (v) creates no angle for the server to capitalize on the next shot; (vi) does not fall off balance; and (vii) remain in the point if the ball if 10ft away from intended target (not the case if you're aiming for the sidelines). There's nothing more disconcerting for a server (especially a "good" server) than having to grind and fight for every point. Conversely, there's nothing more that a server enjoys than getting free points (even if the returner gets lucky once in a while, the percentages are in the server's favor). 

 Here are some tips to improving the returns:

 1. Cut back on the stroke. Pretend that they are volleys and don't swing at the ball. Generate power with simple shoulder rotation. If possible, try "hand-cuffing" yourself with a belt or a rope in order to keep your hands in front of you. Even on a kick-serve, the power generated by the server is sufficient for the returner to utilize the same. Punch; don't swing. 

 2. Light feet. The returner should be light on her feet and ready to react for all potential serves. Light on your feet means weight is on the balls of your feet and you are softly bouncing up and down. Practice timing the landing of your feet with the bounce of your serve so that you are ready to split step in all directions. One way of doing this is by practicing returns while you're barefoot. This teaches you to stay light and stay in motion on your toes.

3. Practice pounding the basket. The server/coach should serve from half-way between the service line and the baseline and the goal of the returner should actually be to hit the basket with every return. For live-ball exercises, mark an alley by placing strips of athletic tape or plastic lines within 5ft on both sides of the center line. The players should play points where the server gets one serve (or 2 serves, but in a designated area) and the returner has to return every ball in that zone (otherwise it's out). 

4. Practice returning from different places in the court. You never know, you may actually have a better reaction time from 2ft inside of the baseline that 6 ft behind the baseline. Experiment with return positions and figure out what works best for you. Adapt and Survive? 

5. Another great drill is for the returner to have her back turned to the coach when practicing serves. The coach should toss the ball for a serve and concurrently yell "Now". At this point, the returner turns around and tries to pick up the serve. This is a great drill for working the hand-eye-foot coordination by training the eye to immediately pick up the pace, spin, trajectory and angle of the ball. If the player's getting better at this drills, have him start either 6 ft behind the baseline or to the side of his return position. When the coach says "now", have the player back-pedal, turn and return. What we're doing is trying to train the eyes to pick up a moving object while the player is slightly disoriented (maybe even dizzy). 

6. Lastly, another favorite drill is the machine-gun drill. This is where the coach starts at the baseline with 5-6 tennis balls in his hand. With each serve, he move closer and closer in, delivering the ball in rapid succession (coach gets paid extra for this drill - j/k). Again, the purpose of this drill is to work on reaction and adjusting to different pace, angle, spin and trajectory. 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>