Returning VERY FAST serve

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by 0range, Oct 18, 2008.

  1. 0range

    0range Hall of Fame

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    Well I have this "pleasure" of playing this guy who just serves big bombs.

    My old coach had told me that while receiving I need to learn to change grip fast after the server serves so I can return the ball with proper forehand/backhand grip. But back then I was playing with other intermediate players who's serve I can return easily because they don't serve with much pace.

    Now that I get to return very, very fast serves, I just don't believe changing my grip in the last second anymore. There's just not enough time!! So now, I usually have a grip in mind (either continental or forehand/backhand), and after the server toss his ball I change into that grip immediately and either chip the ball back if I have continental, or move my body quickly and try to hit a forehand/backhand if I have a forehand/backhand grip.

    Am I doing this correctly? This guy does not double-fault that much anymore and his 2nd serve is just as deadly... the only chance for me to even win a point is to get the serve back.

    (And trust me, when I say "fast", I really do mean fast.)
     
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  2. Carlito

    Carlito Semi-Pro

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    I just uses the continental grip on serve returns. I just slice it back on the bh usually and take a short swing on the fh, but I have a one hander
     
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  3. 0range

    0range Hall of Fame

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    You always use continental? then wouldn't it become predictable?

    I don't always use continental because I want to be aggressive on some of the return just for the sake of mixing it up; if I always chip it back and he picks up on this he would easily come into the net and put those returns away with smash/volleys. (As this is what I do with weaker players; as soon as I sense that his often produces weak return I immediately change my game plan to serve and volley... and with a lot of success.)
     
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  4. Mansewerz

    Mansewerz Legend

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    You can back up more.
     
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  5. 0range

    0range Hall of Fame

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    I'm always a few feet behind the baseline when returning his 1st serve, but of course he's smart he'd serve wide if I'm too far back.

    Anyways I am not super fast super athletic or have super long arms; I just want to know if there's a special trick of returning fast serve when it comes to grips?

    Anyone who plays at high level and have good success returning hard serves?
     
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  6. bet

    bet Banned

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    In a word: NO. You're most definitely not doing it right. There really is time to change your grip even if Andy Roddick is serving and your friend is not Roddick! Some experts have even argued that there is time to change grips on volleys! I don't quite buy that one, but there is ample time on serves.

    Now it's possible that your reflexes are simply too slow for this level of tennis BUT BUT BUT the dead give-away is that you state sometimes you go with a forehand or backhand grip and then move your body to try to insure you hit that stroke. If you can even attempt to do that, (or if you can chip a return with the continental) there is MORE than enough time for you to change grips. Taking even 1 step should take more time than moving your an inch or 2. If the serve is so fast, you cannot react at all (in other words, it's simply beyond your ability/reaction time, then indeed maybe you can't change grips, but that's the least of your problems in that case ;-)

    What I would suggest is:
    1.practice your grip change, particularly, forehand to backhand practice sitting on your couch, 50 times a night for a couple weeks. This will take about 5 min! Do it quickly and without thinking

    2.always prepare with a forehand grip, why? Most people are a bit faster going from forehand to backhand than vice versa. But if you really feel mentally better going with backhand (one argument is that you will likely get more serves to your backhand) then, fine go with it. Make the practice from #1 backhand -> forehand then.

    3. Remember to practice with non-dominant hand on the racquet, giving support and aiding the turn. For the forehand to backhand switch. The non-dominant hand is bringing the racquet back(although you aren't really taking much of a backswing on the fastest serves, just trying to turn sideways to get to the ball, so the non-dominant hand is just holding the racquet while you turn/go after ball), the other hand then is free to instantly slip around to the backhand grip in the blink of an eye.

    3.Once you have done this practice faithfully, stop thinking about it. If you think about it too much, you won't have time on a fast serve. You can't consiously think "oh, where's this serve going, oh, the backhand, I have to switch grips!". It must happen subconsciously and if you are at least an intermediate, let alone advanced, it will if you let it. The change happens simultaneously and without thought along with taking a step or a lunge or a small backswing or a shoulder turn or even just sticking your racquet out there.

    4. There are other drills that can be done, email me if you want some. But really, this problem should solve itself with just a bit of work!


    P.S.
    Between your 2 solutions, the one grip continental method is the best. But it's not necessary!
     
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  7. Carlito

    Carlito Semi-Pro

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    You can hit it flat or you can chip it with a continental grip. You can even hit with a little topspin. From both the FH and BH side. Obviously I would like to hit it harder with my regular semi western grip but I though we are talking about really really hard servers. If I can read the serve well enough and have enough time to take a regular swing I would. But sometimes all you can do is react.

    That is why when I am preparing to return, I always have a continental grip ready. IMO it is the most versitile grip that I can hit a bail out shot with if I have to. But if I have enough time then I switch to a regular forhand or backhand grip.
     
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  8. Tennisman912

    Tennisman912 Semi-Pro

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    My best advice is too shorten your stroke and just hit through the ball, using your opponents pace against him. There are a few schools of thought as to what grip to start with but I wouldn’t recommend just using the continental as in the long term that will be a liability, especially as you advance in tennis level. How you do it may also depend on your normal backhand type, whether it is one or two handed (topspin obviously ). Some like to start continental and switch to FH or BH on the short back swing. You do have time for it you just have to get used to making the grip change automatic. I have a one handed topspin backhand so I wait and start with a forehand grip. If it comes to the BH hand side, as I take the racket back, I automatically adjust my grip to my standard backhand grip, letting the grip twist in my hand on the way back, with no real thought on my part. Whatever method is most comfortable for you is the way you should do it. I know so very advanced players who in the ready position always start continental, in a baseline rally or returning serve, and just switch to FH or BH grip when they take the racquet back.

    It just takes practice to get used to switching. You could try practicing your grip change at home watching tv. Split step like you would to return serve, then prepare to hit a return so you can practice your grip change. Back up a bit at first if you must but I consider it essential to your development to step in, shorten the backswing and crack the return, especially as you advance as a player.

    Good luck

    TM
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2008
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  9. 0range

    0range Hall of Fame

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    Thanks for the good tips/drills! I will do email you if you don't mind.

    Yes I admit that my reflex isn't good (at least when it comes to grip change... lack of practice/experience I guess?), and the other guy is playing at several levels above me.

    Also when I said I attempt to move my body to hit with a particular grip... I often done it with absolutely no success (as the serve is just too fast) unless I guessed right.

    So grip change can actually be done when receiving very pacy server? Then I should be practicing hard changing grips then.

    [EDIT: hi your email function is not turned on....]
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2008
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  10. 0range

    0range Hall of Fame

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    Thanks for all ur replies so far but I gotta go work i'm late will read when back thx!!
     
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  11. BobFL

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    You have to be able to anticipate serve. That is crucial for really fast serves.
     
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  12. Bungalo Bill

    Bungalo Bill G.O.A.T.

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    Predictable? I would take a consistent return over my opponent thinking my grip makes me predictable any day.

    Remember, the one of the main goals for all returners is to neutralize the serve. This means when you receive serve, your first goal is to get it in. Other goals such as turning the return from defense to offense, placement also apply.
     
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  13. toughshot

    toughshot Rookie

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    I usually hold my right hand (dominant) in my semi-western forehand grip, and my left hand continental on the handle.

    This way if i take back on my backhand, my right hand will change naturally, and all i have to do for my forehand is let go of my left hand.

    Seems to work fine for me, even when returning serves from my doubles partner, who is 6'4 and serves close to 120
     
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  14. teppeiahn1

    teppeiahn1 Rookie

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    I have 1 hand backhand and I use a sw forehand. If I turn the sw I get my backhand grip.
     
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  15. Djokovicfan4life

    Djokovicfan4life Legend

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    And just what would you do if you wanted to slice the ball? I don't know of too many players that can slice with a SW backhand grip.
     
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  16. Nellie

    Nellie Hall of Fame

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    Another aspect of the continental grip is that it allows you to have a contact point that is further back on boths sides (even with your body). Against a really big serve, I can really crush returns with a slight, volley-like motion that takes the pace from the serve (mostly locking my wrist and stepping into the ball). I don't need to use a slice, except in doubles where I am trying to keep the return low and skidding.
     
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  17. Federer#1

    Federer#1 New User

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    can you touch the ball and send it over the net?
    if yes, just "block" harder with sweet spot.
    if not, train your reflexes and "read serve". It is not the grip.

    IMHO, let your instinct decide the grip, not your conscious thinking.
     
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  18. 0range

    0range Hall of Fame

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    Thanks TM, I think you and Bet (and some others) nailed it; I'm probably just not used to changing grip without thinking (which is probably cruicial at high level). I will practice grip change hard from now on!

    I also have the same ohbh, so I'll copy your style :mrgreen:
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2008
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  19. 0range

    0range Hall of Fame

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    Yes I can sometimes touch the ball by blocking it back with continental grip.

    Just to see if I get this right... I need to practice to a point where I can automatically switch grips (forehand/backhand/continental) without thinking, and I should not decide on whether to return with topspin or block return before the server serves to me?
     
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  20. Federer#1

    Federer#1 New User

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    I asked kinda same question long time ago.
    My master's answer: "Just drive the car. "
    "When I drive a car, I should not think about how to drive a car." That was my interpretation...

    How "much" should I think?
    I learn techniques, but, I trust my intelligence to bring out my potential, not techniques.
    Good night and good luck.
     
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  21. bet

    bet Banned

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    I wrote something for you Orange. Is there an email I can send it to?
     
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  22. wyutani

    wyutani Hall of Fame

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    a continental grip? seriously?
     
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  23. 0range

    0range Hall of Fame

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    Thanks!! My email option is turned on, so you can send me an email.
     
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  24. Kick_It

    Kick_It Semi-Pro

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    The key is to react fast enough - with both your feet and turn your shoulders. I use a couple different tacts depending upon how the opponent serves:

    1) If it is a flat serve - step inside the service line and volley it. I'd start w/ a continental grip. You can use their power against them; I've done this against a ~23 yr old (who was clocked serving over 120mph in a fast serve contest) - much to his suprise.

    2) if it has spin - you need to put enough "counter" spin on it so that it goes in - and to provide margin for error. Getting into position and imparting this spin and perhaps rotating your shoulders is all you need to do. Do NOT swing thru the ball.
     
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  25. Kick_It

    Kick_It Semi-Pro

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    clarification on previous post - step inside the baseline (not the service line)
     
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  26. tears_of_awesom

    tears_of_awesom New User

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    I use a western grip and fortunately its the same i use for my backhand (one handed) just flipped over. I use to change my grip for the backhand (i thought i was anyways) until I realized that the position I changed it to was the same position if I had not changed in the first place. Basically i was changing/flipping my grip 180 degress into the same position. So now when someone serves to my bh I dont even worry about changing the grip. It was awkward at first as I felt like something was missing in my stroke, but all is well now. That split second gained in not "changing" my grip made a big difference!
     
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  27. mikeler

    mikeler G.O.A.T.

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    I'm the opposite of some of the posters here. I always keep a backhand grip when returning the serve. I find it much easier to flip over to a forehand grip if I need to versus the other way.

    I've played a few guys that served around 130 MPH. If they hit a serve to my backhand, I used 2 hands even though I have a 1 handed backhand. This gave me enough stability to just block a return back.

    As for returning serve, in general I find it better to pick a spot to hit it before the server tosses the ball. Against big servers, sometimes I just aim for the dead center of the court b/c the returns can be so hard to aim. At least I have a shot at putting a ball in play.

    My experience with big servers at the 5.0 level is that if you can get the ball in play, you normally are in control of the points. These guys made it to this level on their serve alone. If the rest of their game matched their serve, then they would not be wasting their time playing me.
     
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  28. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

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    What he said...

    ...I usually wait with a Continental, if I have time, I may go to a semi-Western on the forehand...but mostly I just go with a Continental against a heavy server and block or chip the return. The most important thing against a big server, as BB says, is to make him play. If all he does is hit winners off his serve, guess what? He just won the match.

    There are basically two schools of thought on returning serve. First, there's the Andre Agassi school, where you try, whenever possible, to return offensively. Then there's the Pete Sampras return of serve, where you block or chip the ball, move your opponent around, and go for one service break a set...which is all Pete ever needed, because he rarely lost his serve. In either case, you still have to get a lot of balls back.

    Somebody else said something about anticipation. A good thing to practice. John Newcombe called it "preacting." Against a big server, the points are usually short and fast. Kind of like a knife fight in a phone booth. Use the first few games of the match to start reading your opponent's serving patterns, especially on big points, like 30-30. At 30-30, a wide slice serve is one move, but so is a heavy flat ball or kick down the T. Which does your opponent go to as a bread and butter serve? Can you spot what he's doing from variations in the serve toss and motion? If, for example, I think my opponent is going to serve heavy down the middle, I have this little script in the back of my head that says "backhand chip down the middle, make him volley up, look for the forehand pass, dip it low where he ain't." That's a very probable scenario, so if I've got that little tape in the back of my head, and the point unfolds that way, presto, I just run the tape. That's preacting. What if things don't happen that way? Well, I just improvise and do the best I can, and maybe I win the point and maybe I lose it. But against a big server, you've got to load the dice in your favor, which means you have to take some calculated risks. Ergo, preacting...
     
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  29. tennytive

    tennytive Semi-Pro

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    No, that's my biggest weakness. I use an eastern grip, but can switch to semi west, cont or east backhand on the fly, but I still don't know where the serve is going until it comes off his racket. Fine if it's in reach, but wide or down the line on the T and I'm in big trouble.

    I wish I knew how to read the toss. If I could learn that, it would help immeasurably, as right now my returns of hard first serves leave much to be desired.
     
    #29
  30. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Hard to read toss when you only play the guy at a tournament, not regularly like your practice partner.
    I believe it's your state of mind and your hand/eye, and preferences that determine how you choose to return big fast movers.
    Tentative, always conti. But you need a good volley. Block/chip it back.
    But sometimes, for variety, step back 2 steps when the guy starts his motion and use a forehand/backhand combo with a short swing. Combo because you don't know where he's serving, and you need to switch quickly.
    Of course, you can start off 6' behind the baseline and groundie it back, but once his wide slices and kicks start falling in, you'd better be ready to move your feet to get out past the doubles alley.
    I suppose, if the guy had a big serve, could direct it to your forehand or backhand, and could also slice wide one side and twist wide the other, it's better to throw up the white flag and get his autograph.
     
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  31. tennytive

    tennytive Semi-Pro

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    90% of the time I stand just inside the baseline to cut off the angles, and then block or slice a low return with no problems.

    It's that 10% of the times when I'm completely embarrassed by not even getting my racket to the ball that bothers me.

    Autograph, yes. White flag, never!
     
    #31
  32. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    I played up to JoaroSoares and RussellSimpson. Believe me, I should have asked for their autographs .... :):)
    I think Joaro now has a kid ranked in the top 200 in the Men's Pro ranks.
    At our local courts, the #2 for Harvard is on Christmas break and hanging around home. I didn't play against him, but my buds who did say his serve is well over 130 and his wide serves untouchable even standing on the baseline.
    Those guys are solid tournament 4.5's.
    Me, I'm closer to fading low 4.0.....:oops::oops:
     
    #32
  33. 86golf

    86golf Semi-Pro

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    Playmate was testing out their machines at a pro tourney last year and they had it set up on a lift about 20' in the air to simulate serves. Started out at 70 MPH and increased to 120 in 10MPh increments. Only 3 of us made it to the round at 120MPH. Me, a jr girl and a college player. I tried my normal topspin groundstroke that worked at 110 and I whiffed at 120 2X. The other two players hit returns by bocking them (volley) out by their side and not in front of them.
    It was a lot faster than it looked from behind the court. We have 400 members at our club and I know of only 1 adult and 1 jr player that can serve at that speed.
     
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  34. Ripper014

    Ripper014 Hall of Fame

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    I have known a few friends that served in this range... actually a touch higher (125+ a little)... and for me it was about quick twitch muscles and instinct. If I had to identify the serve and decide what I was going to do with it... I would be picking the ball off the back fence. It was more a matter of reflexes, I don't know how to describe it other than my body took over... I still returned the ball where I wanted to (I think, because after the ball goes back, if it did I would think good return)... but there was no thought process, it just sort of happens. All reaction... the ball gets served and my body just reacts, like I said I believe if I actually thought about anything the ball is past me.


    As for tips... keep it simple... short backswing with a good shoulder turn. You need to find time, and a long backswing robs you of that.. another way to gain time is take a step or two back... but I hate retreating.
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2009
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  35. Bud

    Bud Bionic Poster

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    When I run across a server like this... I take the ball very early and just use their pace to guide the ball back over the net (usually to the weaker BH side). When I say very early... I'm talking between the baseline and the service box.

    At the beginning of their service motion, I'm at the baseline or slightly behind. When they toss, I'm moving forward. It takes practice and good reflexes... but give it a try and see if it works for you. Your return won't have much pace on it... but placement and simply getting it back over the net are more important.

    It also forces the big server to come immediately forward to hit a short ball with little pace and many aren't used to that since they get so many free points on their serve, alone. It can really disrupt their rhythm, as well.
     
    #35
  36. MayDay

    MayDay Semi-Pro

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    Keeping this thread alive in 2010. :p

    I agree with the suggestions regarding getting ready with forehand grip and then switching to backhand grip as necessary. Switch to conti if my own reactions times are too slow and I'm forced to chip it back on the first service.

    However, I don't really focus on the grip.... What I tend to focus on is when I should adjust my split step in accordance to when the server is going to hit the ball. The split step just naturally speeds up my reaction time and allows me to somehow get a piece of the fast ball - at least that's what seems/feels like to me.
     
    #36
  37. arche3

    arche3 Banned

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    As you are making your shoulder turn and step for either your forehand or backhand return... you switch the grip at the same time. it all happens in an instant for fast serves. you have a lot of options depending on the type of serve you are getting. If you only chip it back because you only have one grip a good player will destroy you.
     
    #37
  38. Slazenger07

    Slazenger07 Banned

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    You need to concentrate on a short back swing, idk exactly how fast these serves are youre talking about but trying to hit the ball in front of you and with a short swing are the keys. Sometimes I will just block the return back and start the point, other times I will prepare with my forehand grip and whip the ball back with topspin. Early preparation, and anticipation are key.
     
    #38
  39. charliefedererer

    charliefedererer Legend

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    Your reaction time can improve if you can practice returing against someone with a really hard serve.
    If you really can't get someone to practice with, is there a hitting partner who would be willing to serve you a few buckets of balls from a position a few steps inside the baseline to mimic the decreased time you have against a faster server?
    Can you take several lessons with a coach who could work on your serve routine?
    Is there a tennis ball machine you could work with, turning up the speed of the incoming ball every time fill the machine up with balls?

    Without practice, it is really hard to get better. Tennis is more than a thought experiment.
     
    #39
  40. xFullCourtTenniSx

    xFullCourtTenniSx Hall of Fame

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    No... Not even close. Federer doesn't pick a grip when he returns. He can return Roddick's first serve with ANY grip he wants.

    Your problem is you don't know how to combine the motions of changing grips and the shoulder turn during the return. What you're supposed to do is keep a VERY loose grip while waiting for the serve with either a forehand grip or the continental grip. Then when they serve the ball and you recognize that it's a forehand, move to hit the forehand with a compact stroke. If you recognize that you're hitting a backhand, get a shoulder turn and get the racket back (compact stroke as well). While you turn your shoulders and get the racket back, your grip should naturally change to your backhand grip (if not, then do it; it takes almost no time to change your grip).
     
    #40
  41. TearSNFX

    TearSNFX Rookie

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    Just chip it deep with placement. You don't have to swing at it to make it an effective return.

    Since so many players are now base liners, I find myself doing a drop shot when they serve to my backhand. This is a good way to turn their offense opportunity and switch them around to playing defense. For my forehand, I have a very short compact swing for returns. The ball already has enough pace on it so you don't have to do too much.

    Can't really tell you what grip to use because everyone's a bit different, but I can tell you the grips I use. Cont. Grip for defensive returns and Eastern 1 Hand back hand and Eastern / Semi forehand for aggressive returns.

    Best thing to do is keep playing this guy, along with guys like him, and get used to the fast balls. You'll notice the balls will gradually slow down over time. Once you are able to see and read the balls it's only natural that your body will soon follow.
     
    #41
  42. BullDogTennis

    BullDogTennis Hall of Fame

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    who cares if its predicable if you can't get the ball in any other way. take roddicks serve for example...there are not many people that jump on it, everyone tries to just push it deep into the court and start almost on even measures.
     
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