How to improve on return of serve?

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by Doctor of Tennis, Jun 30, 2013.

  1. Doctor of Tennis

    Doctor of Tennis Rookie

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2013
    Messages:
    149
    How do you get more consistent at ROS? I don't mean to attack it, but just get the ball back into play. Seems like its not a shot that comes naturally and can't be practiced much. Do some players just have that extraordinary natural ability of hand eye coordination like Agassi or and some just don't so they consequently suck?

    My return of serve is atrocious. I'd have trouble with any slightly well-hit or well placed serve. Mostly, I'd miss-hit it or hit it out, with a shank being the usual reply. I'm not talking about returning huge bombs here, but maybe just serves at the 3.5 to 4.0 level (i'm probably a 3.5, 4.0 on a good day). Kinda frustrating for me cuz I'd screw up the ROS and not even get the point started and lose to players I should be more competitive with.

    I do hit with a teaching pro and I do practice returning his serves but I just do the same thing continue to struggle with no improvement. I've tried to stand far behind the baseline but my shanking problems continue.

    Any suggestions? Thanks.
     
  2. Jeepers

    Jeepers Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2010
    Messages:
    1,453
    Location:
    England
    Roger ?
     
  3. Doctor of Tennis

    Doctor of Tennis Rookie

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2013
    Messages:
    149
    haha, unfortunately for me, that is not the case.
     
  4. Lukhas

    Lukhas Legend

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2013
    Messages:
    6,437
    Location:
    France
    I call a guy who train on serves, and I put myself on the other side to return. And everybody is happy. The courts at my club are so bad that the fence is very close to the baseline, so I can't return à la Nadal, far behind.

    I stay one or two meters behind the baseline, but as the server start to toss, I step forward and split-step when I'm around the baseline and he's about to hit. Most of the time, I'm inside the court to return. Jack of all trades grip that allow hitting both FH and BH since I'm a one hander, conti for first serve, SW for second serve. Feet must be on the ground when I hit, so the split step has to happen before the ball is hit. I concentrate on the ball and try to read the toss.

    That video is pretty simple IMO and goes over most fundamentals.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XKrV2j2cOQ

    But once again, there's nothing better than training and a good hitting partner.
     
  5. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2008
    Messages:
    35,688
    As said, practice is the only cure.
    And when you stretch your limits by practicing against a really good serve, you find you can return the easier serves that you USED to have problems with.
    Keep working your way up, until you can return serves from higher levels than you are.
     
  6. boramiNYC

    boramiNYC Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2011
    Messages:
    2,337
    much of consistency in tennis is result of the consistent balancing ability. for ROS, you need to quickly change balance and stay balanced and only lose balance in extraordinarily stretched situation and that shouldn't be often. quick movement of feet is one factor, flexible and strong core is another factor. to improve balance first start with the standing balance. on your barefeet try standing on a medicine ball. if you can balance yourself indefinitely you have very good standing balance. if you can balance on one foot you have very very good balance. be warned and be careful. grab something at first so you won't land on your head somewhere or break your wrist.

    strong and flexible hip rotator, abductor, and adductor muscles will help you move precisely and in large steps in all directions. so work on that. a lot. more flexible than strong.

    techinque-wise, always focus on the contact point of your stroke and the amount of backswing should depend on how much time you have and how much confidence you have. you can try freezing super firm at contact point with just racquet head control to block back serves at first. then start swinging little by little.
     
  7. barringer97

    barringer97 Rookie

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2012
    Messages:
    377
    Agassi would put a ball machine 10 ft high from the opposing service line and hit returns for hours, so you can do that.

    These things aren't "natural", its practice.
     
  8. Overdrive

    Overdrive Legend

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2012
    Messages:
    5,301
    Location:
    Garden of Gethsemane
    It's all about timing.
     
  9. Doctor of Tennis

    Doctor of Tennis Rookie

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2013
    Messages:
    149
    uh...do the heck do I put a ball machine 10 ft high? Wow, that's interesting. I didn't know he did that, no wonder he's so good.

    So any of you guys actually go out and practice ROS?

    LeeD: yes, trying to return serves of a great server should make returning serves of lesser players seem easier...however, the serves can be way too good that I have almost no chance. For example, I practice with a 5.0 player and he has a great serve, and he "takes it easy" on me by hitting this kicker that I can barely handle, so it doesn't do much good to get 1/10 in play, and when it does go in, its a weak reply that gets dealt with appropriately
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2013
  10. lightthestorm

    lightthestorm Rookie

    Joined:
    May 8, 2013
    Messages:
    314
    Just some tips... Remember to keep moving. When you are waiting for the serve, don't be caught flat footed.

    Hand eye coordination and shot selection will come with practice.
     
  11. 5263

    5263 G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2008
    Messages:
    10,390
    very good comment above ^^

    Also have a friend serve at your box from the service line area instead of the BL.
    Have him use moderate pace, but even that from closer range will really get you
    moving, reading and reacting.
    Also gives his arm a break with easier effort from the svc line. He may even
    serve better when he steps back to the BL from the work...I know I often do.
     
  12. tennis_balla

    tennis_balla Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2006
    Messages:
    3,666
    Location:
    Here and There
    So tell him to help you, that's what he's there for instead of asking strangers online who've never seen you play. If he doesn't or can't, find a new teaching professional.
     
  13. Doctor of Tennis

    Doctor of Tennis Rookie

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2013
    Messages:
    149
    I will ask him to help me, but I don't hit with him everyday and I wanted to get some tips before the next time I have a lesson with him.
     
  14. Topspin Shot

    Topspin Shot Legend

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2009
    Messages:
    5,013
    I don't know if this is your problem but it could be. Think for a second. Is returning serve your only problem when it comes to returning shots? That is, do you have a problem returning hard-hit groundstrokes or hard-hit passing shots? If not, then you may just be too tense on the return of serve. Treat the serve like a big groundstroke; stay back, wait for the ball to come to you, and hit it back. Sometimes I see people get into these elaborate crouches preparing to return serve, and as a result, they can't actually hit the ball straight.
     
  15. newpball

    newpball Legend

    Joined:
    May 28, 2013
    Messages:
    5,245
    Location:
    Northern California, USA
    Something that may help you with your service returns is to practice on a grass field. Have someone smash on a grass field to you. Because the surface is not even you can train your reflexes to respond to the angles of the ball.
     
  16. morandi

    morandi Rookie

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2008
    Messages:
    168
    Here are a few things that help me:
    1. The most important thing is to find the ball. I think most people suffer from taking too big of a back swing, or moving their arms too soon before there body is there. I like to keep the mental image of fast feet, quiet hands.
    2. To "find" the ball keep your racquet in front of your body with the tip of the head at eye level. That will keep everything compact, and allow you to, at the very least, block the ball back.
    3. Stay low, and bend your knees. Good things happen when you bend your knees. Keeping your knees bent allow you to stay agile and move up into the ball giving you more margin for error, and prevents you from staying static.
     
  17. Cheetah

    Cheetah Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2011
    Messages:
    3,847
    Location:
    San Diego
    You have to practice more. You've probably hit 1000 times as many fh's as returns right?

    That and you have to do the ros fundamental things too.
    perfectly timed split step. this is a must.
    cutting off the angle
    short backswing
    move forward
    face the server. (which is not the same as during a rally)
    stay loose and be quick
    watch the ball w/ eyes open wide
    learn to read a server
    stay low

    and also a good ros requires an 'attitude'.
     
  18. RetroSpin

    RetroSpin Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2011
    Messages:
    1,854
    I have always found returning to be difficult. One day I realized I had no trouble just stopping the serves with my racquet during warmups. I had plenty of time, and when you think about it, catching a serve on your racquet is about as hard as actually returning it. I was just getting way too tense on actual serves. As a result, my body more or less froze and I didn't move well or get my racquet in position.

    Even with that however, there is no substitute for practicing returning serves that are better than you will face in a match. Either find a better player who wants to practice their serves or pay someone.
     
  19. spaceman_spiff

    spaceman_spiff Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2005
    Messages:
    1,496
    Location:
    The crappest town in Britain
    Here's the best short video I've seen of returning that shows all the fundamentals http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rzksJ0uehA (Agassi of course).

    Notice in the setup that his left hand is set for a backhand but his right is set for a forehand. This minimizes the swing time on both sides so he can execute either shot as fast as possible.

    Also notice on the swing that he simply turns his shoulders and drives through the ball. There's no whipping, flicking, excessive topspin, etc. This minimizes the chances of a mis-hit.

    Even though he'd anticipated a backhand, he still had time to react, turn his shoulders, and drive through the ball, all because of the setup and simple swing.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2013
  20. goran_ace

    goran_ace Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2009
    Messages:
    2,829
    Location:
    At Large
    Funny thing about the return of serve. It is probably the second most important part of the game (after serving) but is one that gets the least practice.

    In a match, etiquette dictates that you don't practice returns when your opponent is warming up his serve before the match, but on the practice courts I think of every serve as an opportunity for someone else to practice a return. When I was teaching I never liked to put 4 people on one side of the net with the cart and have them all serve into empty court. I preferred to have 2 on each side so everyone gets a chance to warm up both serves and returns (returners go cross court). Then you can either rotate one position clockwise after a certain number of serves or just call out time to swicth sides.
     
  21. chunlimeyers

    chunlimeyers Rookie

    Joined:
    May 5, 2004
    Messages:
    162
    1. Buy the best(stiffest/stable) shoes you can buy. I have the asics resolution 4'rs, but also surely the barricades will work also.(if someone told me earlier that buying expensive stiffer shoes would make me much quicker reacting I would have got some YEARS ago!).. don't let anyone tell u different after this post, just GET THEM!

    2. Stand 4 feet minimally behind the baseline. This is something i didn't also do for years, actually robbing ME of time, verses my opponent. At this distance only the best serves won't run out of steam and be waist high to hit. And, if they can't hit an angled serve to save their life? Move back a couple feet more! You want to move back far enough to give you time and to have that ball in your power zone around your waist.

    3. Start in a very bent, crouched position with your legs fully loaded and simply minimally bounce. You can either split step forward or do this. I find doing this(watch Roger), is easier and allows me to STAY LOW and react quickly for the return. Your feet should be about shoulder width or a little bit wider, but legs fully loaded, ready to move.

    4. Simply take a shoulder turn and drive through the ball, but you have to STAY LOW!.. This is something that needs worked on, moving and staying low so you can DRIVE the ball without it popping out because you stood up on your return.

    5. Watch the ball from the HIGHEST PART OF THE TOSS. So, your eyes should be focused on where he/she is going to toss the ball(not the person). Within a foot of the strike of the ball, you should a)determine which side it is going to, and b)MOVE EXPLOSIVELY AND LOW TO THAT SIDE!(I am a big guy, for tennis, at 6 foot 2, 195-8 pounds, so I also from time to time, work on agility movement in off season.. think agility ladder(you really don't need a ladder.. haha))

    Being farther back now allows me to hit a bigger swing verses a blocked return on anything but the biggest servers. And, because I have given myself more distance to their baseline, the ball will just drop in to their baseline, giving me the advantage on the start of the point. It will seem you gave them too much time and are staying too far back, until you realize how much harder you can hit the ball, and even if you can only block it back, how much more margin and distance to float it back deep you have.

    For a weaker or second serve I move to about a foot behind the baseline, and again, same form. I have turned what used to be the worst part of my game, to where I hardly miss a return in about a year or two focusing on these things. Good luck.
     
  22. bhupaes

    bhupaes Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2007
    Messages:
    957
    I have been practicing watching the racquet face to ball contact. Seems like this makes it easier to time the split step and to pick up ball direction. It is kinda non-intuitive, however, and took some practice for me to get it right.
     
  23. thehustler

    thehustler Rookie

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2004
    Messages:
    308
    Return of serve is simple

    I've been playing for about 10 years now and the one thing I've always been good at is return of serve. Maybe it's natural to me, but I've improved it over the years. Here are a few tips to help you out.

    1. Plan your return before the serve is ever hit. What I mean is if you're on the deuce side and it's out wide hit a cross court return. If it's to your backhand hit it down the middle or down the line. If you're on the ad side maybe just hit both cross court. At least for me these are natural angles to hit back. Once in a while change it up, especially on a weak serve and crush one down the line, but a simple pattern like this will help you out.

    2. Make your first step to the ball with your outside leg. If it's going to your right start moving with your right foot, if your left use your left foot. This can give you an extra moment you need to get into better position.

    3. Take a couple steps back from the baseline to return. I don't mean stand 6 feet back, but just a couple. I find I hit my best returns when I step into my returns. I can struggle when I don't have time to move my feet, especially on a body serve. These couple steps allow you to have a little extra time to move and get into a better position to whack that return.

    4. Understand the wardlaw directionals. Look them up. Sure you might chase a serve out wide, but is trying to crack one down the line the right move? Well if you're good at it and can hit a winner each time go for it. But for us mere mortals cross court is safest and allows you time back into the point.

    5. Mix up your returns. So your opponent knows that your forehand returns are going cross court. So what do you do now? Mix them up. If you can, start by hitting them deep to keep your opponent on the baseline. Then mix a couple short ones in, then some angled, then some short angled returns. Throw in a high return as well, maybe one with lots of spin so it kicks up on them. The more you can vary a return off of one wing the more it will confuse your opponent and force them to stay back.

    Now my last rating was a computer rated 4.5, but I made most of my 'living' at the 4.0 level. I faced guys with high powered serves, but because I had this plan and used simple angles I was able to take 100mph serves and turn them into return winners while the server stood there dumbfounded. It really is that simple and I swear (every darn day) it will make your life easier and take a lot of pressure off of your serve as well.
     
  24. NLBwell

    NLBwell Legend

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2004
    Messages:
    7,068

    The main thing is not to swing. Details above.
     
  25. millardus

    millardus Rookie

    Joined:
    May 20, 2011
    Messages:
    117
    Spaceman, that is an excellent observation.

    That tiny racquet movement to the backhand side, and then adjustment to hit the forehand with a short swing.

    That tiny movement to backhand is very interesting.....
     
  26. andrehanderson

    andrehanderson Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2012
    Messages:
    468
    This may have been said here (haven't read all of the posts yet), but I would check to see if you are standing too close to the baseline. While at the higher levels you want to pounce on the ball to take away the opponent's time, I think the rest of us can take a few steps back to allow ourselves more time to view the ball path and move forward into it to return the serve unrushed.

    I was having a really hard time returning serves (granted it was against guys with great serves), but then I realized that my toes were nearly touching the baseline. I stepped back a few steps and now I'm hitting solid returns from both wings, the T, etc.
     
  27. spaceman_spiff

    spaceman_spiff Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2005
    Messages:
    1,496
    Location:
    The crappest town in Britain
    Agassi often anticipated serves to the backhand if an opponent was following a pattern. So, when someone would go to the forehand by surprise, you'd see a return like the one in the clip.
     
  28. MarinaHighTennis

    MarinaHighTennis Professional

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2011
    Messages:
    984
    Location:
    Huntington Beach, CA
    When im working on my students ROS i would serve from the T and they would try returning the serve from the baseline as normal. It really teaches them to shorten that backswing and to hit with their body
     
  29. millardus

    millardus Rookie

    Joined:
    May 20, 2011
    Messages:
    117
    I think that backhand return approach would be very good for doubles, where I find serving to backhand (At my level) seems to be the default.

    A last minute punch forehand return would be fine as an adjustment shot.
     
  30. spaceman_spiff

    spaceman_spiff Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2005
    Messages:
    1,496
    Location:
    The crappest town in Britain
    The key is to not set up in such a way that it makes a forehand return difficult; otherwise, you'll waste the chance to hit a good return when someone does go to the forehand.

    You want a setup that lets you hit off both wings as well as possible.
     
  31. Manus Domini

    Manus Domini Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2010
    Messages:
    4,853
    Location:
    Jersey
    1} Short swing and split step.

    2} Get someone to serve to you. But make sure you're doing everything correctly technically (split-stepping, staying aware, not taking too large swings, watching the ball, etc.). Don't worry if you aren't as good as you'd like to be automatically; assuming that your opponent is varying up the serve, you're going to be guessing a lot, so don't get discouraged. The split-step and short swing are key.
     
  32. RetroSpin

    RetroSpin Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2011
    Messages:
    1,854
    Very good point.
     
  33. RetroSpin

    RetroSpin Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2011
    Messages:
    1,854
    Good advice.
     
  34. hgar

    hgar New User

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2013
    Messages:
    4
    Location:
    Hallandale Beach, FL Broward County
    I'm a 3.5 and had a lot problem with the ROS. In fact, I'm still not consistant with the ROS when it comes flat and specially to my bh side. But the best advice I got was the hit-bounce-hit technique (I think that's what is called). Basically you just got concentrate on the ball coming out of your opponent's racquet. And hit the ball out in front. But I still suck at returning first serves to my bh side which I just end up slicing them back.
     
  35. newpball

    newpball Legend

    Joined:
    May 28, 2013
    Messages:
    5,245
    Location:
    Northern California, USA
    Like this:
    [​IMG]
     
  36. Doctor of Tennis

    Doctor of Tennis Rookie

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2013
    Messages:
    149
    Thanks for all the excellent advice. I think I returned a little bit better since reading this but did not face any big servers.

    Yes I am very tense when I'm returning, that's why lots of errors happen for me...usually it's a shank or the ball flies long. I also get caught in the wrong grip a lot, I wonder if my opponents can see that I've got a backhand grip while awaiting serve. I often have to attempt a slice return on the forehand because I was expecting a backhand but got a forehand instead.

    Should I still stay low on 2nd serves? Because often I will encounter kickserves that go above my head! I'm not that all, like 5'6" so high kicking serves give me a heap of trouble. Should I stand 10 ft behind baseline if I know a kicker is coming?
     
  37. spaceman_spiff

    spaceman_spiff Professional

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2005
    Messages:
    1,496
    Location:
    The crappest town in Britain
    On the backhand, do you use one hand or two?

    If you use two, try setting your strong hand for a forehand and your weak hand for a backhand. That way, if it goes to your forehand, you're already set, and if it goes to your backhand, your weak hand can control the racket while you turn your shoulders and change your strong hand grip.

    If you use one hand, you can try setting up for a forehand grip and have your weak hand on the throat. When it goes to your backhand, change your grip during the shoulder turn.

    Against kick serves, you can either move in and catch them on the rise with a short stroke or back way up and wait for them to drop. Moving in is more difficult in terms of timing, and moving back opens up more angles for your opponent's serve. Pick your poison.

    And yes, your opponent can see which grip you're setting up with.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2013
  38. TimeSpiral

    TimeSpiral Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2013
    Messages:
    1,291
    Location:
    Gotham City
    Second most important shot in tennis: the Return of Serve (RoS).

    Tons of good advice in this thread, so I'm not going to reiterate the good stuff. I'll try and add to it.

    1. Hybrid Grip -- You mentioned that you might be giving your grip away. Yes, assume your opponent is reading your grip (I do, or try to). Since you're actively working on RoS, you may as well commit to the Hybrid Grip for return of serve.
      1. This is a ready position grip. Put both hands on the racquet. Put your dominant hand in your FH position, and put your off-hand in the BH position.
      2. Note: This grip only works if you use a 2HBH.
    2. Bait and Cover -- When returning serve, you can communicate with the server. You can tell him, "I know where you're going with this one." Or you can deceive him, "Look, I think you're going here."
      1. Baiting and Covering is a great tactic, and can be employed subtly, or overtly. If he is serving to your BH exclusively on the deuce court, he probably doesn't have a great wide serve. Cover the T in your ready position.
      2. Maybe you want him to hit a specific serve ... Bait the serve by leaving that serve just a little bit open, in your ready position. When he is looking at his toss, hop into position to hit the shot you just baited.
    3. Once you're getting the ball back on virtually every RoS, then start worrying about tactically setting up your break opportunities. Is he serve and vollying? Is he baselining you? Where do you want to play your RoS? Are you trying to hit his BH every time? Do you want to draw him in? Etc ...
    Hopefully this helps!
     
  39. Nostradamus

    Nostradamus G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Messages:
    12,880
    Location:
    In the future
    Good advice. but How do you read the serve before he hits the ball,,other than reading the toss. everybody knows how to read the toss. but there are many other ways to read the serve. Can you tell us some of these ???
     
  40. TimeSpiral

    TimeSpiral Professional

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2013
    Messages:
    1,291
    Location:
    Gotham City
    I think a lot of "reading" a server is actually anticipating moreso than actually reading. Unless the server has obvious tells--which some do--they will have a similar ball toss every time, not giving away much.

    Cataloging his 1st serve selection helps with anticipation.
    • Where does he go at love?
    • When he's up?
    • One pressure points (30-all, ad-out, etc ...)?
    • Is he hitting his spots, or missing?
    Maybe I'm wrong, and you can glean more from grips, feet position and toss, but I've found these things are usually well disguised, or largely meaningless. Baiting, covering, and anticipating with shot cataloging are what seem to work for me.
     
  41. Nostradamus

    Nostradamus G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Messages:
    12,880
    Location:
    In the future
    Agree with you. Higher the level better disguised the motion is. reading the tendency at certain points or situations is good to do and professionals do this as well. but I tend to forget.....lol:)
     
  42. Doctor of Tennis

    Doctor of Tennis Rookie

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2013
    Messages:
    149
    Just a little background, I use a 2HBH and I would say I'm about 3.5 level, 4.0 on my best day.

    thanks for the tips guys. I adopted the hybrid grip today and I did pretty well against serves that were bothering me before especially on forehand side. Against a big server (for me), I stood like >10 ft back, only got aced once and he had several service winners, but I got the ball back into play more times than not.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2013
  43. The Isomotion31

    The Isomotion31 Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2013
    Messages:
    484
    Location:
    The Bay Area, California
    I approach return of serves similar to how a hitter in baseball would.

    1) assess the situation (what is the score? First or second serve? etc...)

    2) As soon as the ball is made visible by the server my eyes instantly watch it.

    3) as the toss goes up, i get low and on the balls of my feet.

    4) I am usually in the backhand grip as I found it is very easy for me to quickly find my forehand grip from any position (this is just for me though.) this way I am not caught with my pants down on backhand serves.

    5)if it is a hard hit serve, very little backswing and keeping my momentum forward hit the ball back. If it is a serve I can coil and hit normally, then I do just that.
     

Share This Page