Service Return prep. Do you guess?

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by dlam, Aug 1, 2012.

  1. dlam

    dlam Rookie

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    Just wondering how many of you try to guess the speed, direction , spin of the serve before the player on the other side on the net actually hits the tennis ball on his serve.
    If you do , does it work?
    If you guess wrong is it more a hinderence than help?
    Is there too much effort involved with trying to guess in your opinion?
     
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  2. Bergboy123

    Bergboy123 Semi-Pro

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    I take into consideration only which side I think he'll serve to, based on history, situation, what's been working, paterns, etc. Spins, speeds, all that, I don't worry about. Just which side.
     
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  3. charliefedererer

    charliefedererer Legend

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    Before the serve, visualize how you will respond to a serve hit to your forehand, backhand, or at the body.

    Then come out of your split step ready to react to ball as you watch it intently from the toss all the way to your racquet.

    On a fast serve you'll only get one step out of your split step - do it as soon as possible.

    On a fast serve remain in an open position with your feet pointed at the net.
    But turn your shoulders away from the ball (coil) so you can uncoil to add upper body rotation and leg push off to power your return rather than relying on feeble arm power to block it back.
     
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  4. OldFedIsOld

    OldFedIsOld Professional

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    Beginning of the match I just try to chip it back into play until I find out their favorite serves, when I figure them out then I go on the attack.

    If the serve is big and the disguise is good then I just split step and try to guess which side is targeted the most, mostly the backhand because that's where everyone would probably try serving to.
    If the serve isn't as big and can easily be distinguished I step in and try to add pressure onto my opponent's serve.
     
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  5. Orion3

    Orion3 Semi-Pro

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    Generally I don't guess, I try to read from ball toss etc. However, recently I've started to make educated guesses (later in the game) on points where I could gain a material advantage (and the risk is less). e.g. break point or 30-30

    Guessing is based on what I've seen to date; during the game or if I have played them before. Habits, such as serves wide when in trouble, or down the line when he is ahead.
     
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  6. Mountain Ghost

    Mountain Ghost Semi-Pro

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    Guessing

    My advice on guessing is pretty much the same for all shots, except maybe an easy overhead coming at you ... and that is DON'T! If you guess wrong the result is obvious. If you guess "right" there's a good chance you won't be where you want to be anyway ... as in overrunning the ball. Best to be on balance so you can turn to either side quickly and wait until you know where the ball is going before you respond. In reality you have a lot more time than you might think or feel you do.

    This is very important during tight volley exchanges at the net like in doubles. I feed balls to my students from the service line and they are always slower and less effective on volleys when they guess than when they don't. I think the same is true for returning serves.

    MG
     
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  7. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    These questions seem difficult on paper, but on the court they work out to be pretty simple.

    A couple of things. Many players serve in a pattern. Some because they only have confidence in one serve type. Lots of players hit 100% spin serves for their second serve. Thus it is not really a "guess" to know that a guy who has hit 100% kick serves for a second serve will hit it that way next time.

    In addition as the match progresses an observant returner can notice things like 100% of the time on break point they serve to the backhand, or that they will always either put a little extra pace on their first serve or take a little off. IMO these are actual guesses, but highly likely to be correct (not a coin flip).

    On lots of players I am not fearing a second serve ace so I will take off to run around a serve to my BH before the serve is struck. Good news is if I guess wrong I can correct it and still get a FH return over the net. But if I guess right the netman is going to have to deal with a screamer.
     
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  8. texacali

    texacali Rookie

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    I play mostly doubles and most players I have encountered cannot place a serve without some radical starting point on the baseline. I typically play ad side and many players I have played will go all the way out the the alley to hit a wide serve to the backhand of the ad side player. I guess it's because many hit a no spin serve and more direct the serve than place it....the ball will also not have any "action" after the bounce. Pretty much the same on the deuce side also, so I know I can probably play wide knowing that's probably where the ball is going.
     
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  9. Funbun

    Funbun Professional

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    I never guess because it never works. I only guess when I hit a poor lob and await an overhead.

    The most important thing is simply to split step and move quickly, watch the player closely before the serve, anticipate what kind of serve he's doing (1st, 2nd) and the spin he uses for each.
     
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  10. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    I agree with this. The exception is when you're playing someone you know very well and have picked up some clues ie: the way he tosses, or how far he turns during his service motion. Otherwise, just focus on the ball, stay low and loose.

    I would also say that steping forward into your split step, and having your weight directly over your feet, on balance, like Djokovic, helps you move quickly and cut off the angle of the ball.
     
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  11. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    In my experience you are likely making a statistical error. At the lower levels of play, serves are usually quite predictable so going into each serve without taking into account of the patterns you observe, you are not maximizing your potential. In addition at the lower levels, things are happening slowly enough where you can likely recover if you "guess" wrong, though that is not going to happen very often.

    At the higher levels, you will run into competition where they are going to have a huge advantage on serve such that your best chance of getting a single break is to gamble. Remember you only have to guess correctly one game a set to win the set, who cares if you get blown out at love on all the other return games if you get your break once?
     
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  12. dlam

    dlam Rookie

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    Thanks for all the responses.
    To clarify I like to make a distinction between " guessing" and 'anticipation'
    Guessing in my mind is like when I lob or hit a poor short high ball and the other player has the high ball close to the net and can place it deep and fast on either corner, I really have to no choice but to "guess' .
    This requires my commitment without read on the opposing player. It is 50:50 chance.
    Anticipation is after reading the body language of the player as he approaches the short ball or lob and where the ball might be place to get to it.
    For that matter, anticipation happens in groundstrokes all the time the time.

    IMO, I dont "guess" cause it's 50;50 anyway. I try to see if the player gives a read about by his backswing or positioning of his body just before hitting on groundstrokes.If I can get there I go , if i am late I m late. If his overhead is close to where Im am there I have a chance, no wasted effort.

    So the question to be more clear is how to "anticipate"the serve?????
    I do not like looking at the service motion of the player for number of reasons.
    First it may be a ugly nonsmooth rhythm that throws off my service motion.
    especially if it's an effective ugly motion I dont want to think to myself "how does he do that? that must hurt"
    secondly unless the serve is greater than 80 m/hr, there is time to react without reading.


    The ones with the fast serves are the ones I like to split step.
    So I time my split with the toss and try not to look at the serve motion.
    just the toss and where it in relation to the body.

    My grip is loose and not committed to forehead or backhand.
    the millisec the toss and split step happens I then have to anticipate and react and go FH/BH grip.

    I dont see any players "guess" as I have never seen some move right when the serve goes left even on a 120m/hr serve.
    what happens I typically see is the player attempts to move a bit left if the ball goes left at 120 m/hr but doesnt get there on time.

    I think how to position the body is likely more important .
    How close to the baseline do you like to split step and can you move right or left to get to even the fastest serve?

    what complicated things in my mind is the fellow with 120 m/hr first serve and so i follow my usually 1st serve protocol routine.
    look at the toss, split step etc.

    But then he misses the first serve and has a really slow second serve? Say 80 m/hr
    Do i really need to split step?
    Do i split step but just move closer to inside the baseline?
    Do I angle my body more because I know he serves wide on the deuce court on his second serve 99% of time?
    How do you adjust for a fast serving lefty who spins it left and high?
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012
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  13. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    In my experience you will get way, way more info from memorizing where the serves go in various situations, than overconcentrating on the nuances of the toss and motion, visually in real time.
     
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  14. Funbun

    Funbun Professional

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    Have you ever seen an ATP tour game where the returner "guesses" incorrectly? Of course not!

    Those returners always move in the direction of the serve. The pros aren't lucky; they just split and run fast. They never "guess" and run prematurely. I'm sure the pros do anticipate serves, though.

    I don't see how you're making a statistical error. You're better off splitting and at least getting a racquet on the ball to keep it in play than throwing away a point by foolishly moving away from the ball. You're guessing at least 3 times in a row if your opponent can get their first serves in every time. Why are you blindly tossing a coin 3 times in a row, per service game, when you are able to see the ball move in the first place?


    Nobody "overconcentrates" on them. You see the ball move, then you move. It's as simple as that.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012
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  15. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    Your first sentance is a blatant error. I see them routinely. Though to be honest neither the OP, myself or you for that matter, plays at that level so the point is moot ragardless of the reality.


    I agree with your second paragraph IF your skillset is such that you will lose the point if you guess wrong. That isn't my reality and I'll bet it isn't the OP's either. You know yourself best so I won't comment there.

    On the other hand, if you are paying attention you likely will not be making a 50/50 guess, you are perhaps closer to 66/33. At that level, even if you automatically lost when you guessed wrong (which again, isn't what I am dealing with but... whatever, Worse Case Scenario), then you would likely guess correctly three times in a row, 28% of the time. This translates to 1 1/4 breaks per 9 game set.


    As to your last paragraph, I apologize for being confusing. I was refering (by using the word: overconcentrating) to analyzing the toss and service motion to guess the serve, not reacting to the serve, as you mentioned.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012
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  16. watungga

    watungga Semi-Pro

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    From experience, ATP-level juniors do hit serves super-fast. I intend to guess, if its wrong, theres no way I could return the ball back. If guess is good, there's another problem, the high-kick bounce.

    In the end, I start on continental grip and not make a guess. I had a higher % rate of return.

    For mediocre serves, I could stay back more and hit an offensive returns. No need to guess.
    If i stayed on baseline, this is the issue about OP's topic. Why should I stand on area where I couldn't prepare or guess?
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012
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  17. dlam

    dlam Rookie

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    From my experience if the serve is less 70 m/hr I think you can just stand back and just grip with your favorite BH/FH grip and play it just like a regular groundstroke. No need to read, no need to guess, just regular anticipation once the ball is struke.
    Just run around to the forehand if you like.
    there is time to switch BH and no need to panic.

    The ones with better serves. usually 4.0 and higher I think split step is a requirment. With serve in the 80's m/hr or higher the ball has to returned on the rise.
    Stepping up closer to the baseline to cut off a second kick spin serve
    as those with fast flat serve tend to have 2nd serve kicker that are relatively fast speed and bounce higher off the service court enough to be hit on the rise.
    where you stand is determine by where the ball will waist height on the rise after it hits the service line.

    two different strategies depending on the server's ability
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012
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  18. Funbun

    Funbun Professional

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    May you show me a video where a pro guesses incorrectly? I have yet to see any of the top 4 players move in the opposite direction of the ball prematurely, which, along your terms, means guessing incorrectly. The most they do is either stand still and admit the ace, or desperately attempt to get a racquet on the ball.

    I have played against a 5.5+, a guy ranked 3rd in my state (MD). (He toyed with me the first time we met, when I wasn't as good a player. Our next meeting, he got angry of his UE's and went all out against me, had a crazy beating.) His first serves were certainly returnable, but the most I could do was run and block stroke or lob-slice it back. I'm sure you'll see the pros doing the same.

    I'm not what you mean by "guessing" then. Don't you mean anticipate, instead? There are some pros that rarely get aced, and I don't think it's because they're good guessers, but that they are good at anticipating.

    I think a lot of pros guess/anticipate by landing their split step in the direction of where they think the ball is going, if that's what you mean. I wouldn't necessarily call that guessing, however.

    Maybe we're just not agreeing on what "guessing" means. I just think the word brings the idea of moving in one direction, without a blind thought to reacting.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012
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  19. TheCheese

    TheCheese Professional

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    I doubt very many people would find it beneficial to guess, even against most D1 players. There aren't many guys serving huge like an Isner or Karlovic.

    If anything, I'll just adjust where I'm standing to cut off the angles they're using more often.
     
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  20. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    First, I can't show you a clip, because no one is going to clip and save a routine ace, where the returner doesn't even swing their racquet. If you have ever seen an ace where the racquet wasn't even swung nor even a single step was taken to the ball, you have seen a wrong guess. I don't mean that happens 100% of the time in that situation but it happens a lot of the time. Most people watch tennis by following the ball with their eye, thus many (you?) have never noticed it. Personally, I am currently working on my return game so I watch tennis differently (often I just watch the returner's motion, since I am working on my returns). So I am seeing them routinely.

    What I mean by "guess" is I make a move without actually seeing the ball heading in that direction. I am "anticipating" by using what I have observed through the match, so I am right >>50% of the time. I don't do it 100% of the time. I do it mostly on second serves so I can punish them and put myself into a better position should the ball come back. Naturally since second serves are slower, I have no concerns on getting aced if I guess wrong.
     
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  21. 5263

    5263 G.O.A.T.

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    I agree and thinking guessing also has many negative effects, often making
    an avg shot great.
     
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  22. Funbun

    Funbun Professional

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    What makes you think a returner who doesn't swing at all means him making a wrong guess? Have you considered that the returner just admitted his opponent aced him?

    There are plenty of Youtube video highlights. Many of them record the aces, too.

    While this is operating on personal bias, the kid I played had aced me several times during the match simply because I admitted it. I thought it was going to be impossible to reach. Similarly, when I aced him by kicking it off down the T, he just stood and admitted it. He hit some crazy serves that managed to snag the line, and so did I. I don't think either of us guessed the direction of the ball; we just simply knew that it was a genuinely fast, surprising ball that was practically low-percentage and unreachable.

    I don't think I've ever seen professionals make moves before even seeing the ball head in that direction. It may seem like it, because they react so fast. For instance, I think Federer will see a ball bounce in a generic area, and move around to attack with his forehand accordingly.

    This isn't an ace, but I think it demonstrates my point; Verdasco isn't moving prematurely here at all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnHLwjWUgIs

    ^^I think many people will agree here that Verdasco did a genuine split, read, react. No guessing, just shanking.


    Another link here, probably describing what you see when a player moves around to hit a ball: http://www.tennisplayer.net/public/tour_strokes/bobby_bernstein/the_%20pro_return/the_%20pro_return.html
    As I described earlier, Federer moved back and went around to hit a forehand. You've probably seen Murray do this a lot to Tsonga during the 2012 Wimbledon Championships. Of course, I'm sure many players do this off second serves, but I'm certain it's not guessing or premature moving.

    The webpage also states that players are simply in the air at the time of the service contact. Take a look at a professional match on TV, and this is very evident in nearly all returns, including Verdasco's return video above.

    If it can't get any more clearer, you'll see that Murray is merely reacting as fast as he can, being in the air on contact, in accordance to the observation made in the article I posted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SG2q_U-XhRA&playnext=1&list=PLC21FAAC253961C0A&feature=results_video
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2012
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  23. don_nguyen11490

    don_nguyen11490 Rookie

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    I don't like to over-stragetize for my serve returns. there's just no time for that. I just follow these simple guidelines

    Split step.
    Grip hard.
    Swing Fast.
    As early off the bounce as possible.
     
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  24. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    I previously downplayed what Pros do, since neither the OP, me or you are Pros, so that information adds very little to this discussion. But that seems to be all you are interested in.

    Nonetheless, the article you cite actually supports my point, that Pros move to the ball before seeing where it is going:

    "Conventional wisdom says that the returner should split step as the server makes contact with the ball. The film shows this isn't quite how it happens. What we actually see is that most players are already in the air at the time of the contact. The split step actually begins a few fractions of a second before the server hits. At this point the server's racket is still on it's way up to the ball.

    But there is something else. Traditionally when we think of the split step we think of the player landing on both feet in a balanced position ready to move either way to the ball. That's not always how it happens on the pro return. Take a close look at the feet as the players come down. You'll see that before the player lands on the court, the foot closest to the ball can actually start to flare in the direction of the return. This is the start of the turn or the preparation for the return.


    So the players are starting the split step well before contact. They do this by unweighting before the server hits. This puts them in the air at contact. And sometimes they are actually starting their move to the ball before they land on the court. Were players taught this? I don't think so. It's an adaption developed through experience over time.



    Can it be developed, and if so how? The conventional wisdom is that the key is to timing the return is focus on the ball and react to the contact. But there is some interesting new research that suggests something different. A study done by a researcher in Virginia used goggles to record what the players did with their eyes on the return. What she found was that expert returners focused on the ball, but they were also looking at the body of the server, particularly the upper body. The same research showed that novice players didn't do this, but could be looking at different areas around the court almost randomly.


    Probably what this indicates is that the brain of the returner is picking up clues about the return from watching the body of server. They might not know or be able to explain what those clues are because it probably happens subconsciously. It's just something that the player's develop automatically from focusing on the right area of the body. This may explain some of the footage we've seen in which a player like Pete Sampras appears to be reacting and starting his move to one side faster than research says is humanly possible."



    But again at the Club level it is no big deal to "know" that some guy's second serve is highly likely to be hit towards your BH (since he has done it 100% of the time so far) and start running around your BH for an inside out FH winner. Really it is not a big gamble, either on the prediction part or the recovery part if you guess wrong. Really.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2012
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  25. Funbun

    Funbun Professional

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    I feel like you're confusing "being in the air" with "moving prematurely". You can certainly anticipate where the ball is going to land. That's the "cues" that the article is describing. This is different from outright guessing.

    They are not taking any early steps toward the ball; the article clearly says they are merely in the air on contact, and land in the direction of the ball. This is typical return of serve technique; every 5.0 and above does this at some point.

    The article's contention is that they take a bigger, earlier split step to read the ball, that's it. It says nothing about "moving before knowing" nor "guessing". What you cited was essentially how pros anticipate patterns and direction. No where does it say that pros outright move before seeing the ball; they are merely split-stepping to improve their reaction.

    I'm only bringing up the pros because they are the highest level of play; they do what's most optimal in terms of technique. I'm trying to discuss this in the context of playing against a superior, powerful server: someone who can kick it virtually any direction, hit over 100mph, place the ball, etc.

    Taking actual steps before seeing the ball being hit is poor technique. Nobody does this, unless you're taking forward or backward steps.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2012
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  26. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    To my ear you are lost in the weeds trying to parse the supposed difference between "guessing" which in your world is a 50/50 coin flip and would be the last thing anyone would ever want to do and "anticipating" which is a well known, tried and true skill developed by Pros and documented in the article both of us cited.

    You can use which ever label makes you feel most comfortable but bottom line the article notes (correctly) that Pros make moves to a side before the human eye/brain complex can physically process where the ball is going. Completely seperate from the article many savvy players from Pros to yours truly, commonly and successfully make the decision before the server ever starts his toss, to run around their backhand because they "anticipate" based on how the match has progressed, that the serve will be to their backhand.
     
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  27. Funbun

    Funbun Professional

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    In no way do I think it's akin to a coin toss. I just simply don't think they move before knowing where the ball is.

    I'm certain that by the time they land, they have seen the ball going in a general direction and will take a step there. The article doesn't say that they "make moves to a side before the human eye/brain complex can physically process where the ball is going". I'm sure they actually can process where the ball is going, at a certain speed range, perhaps below 130 mph, maybe?

    That's kinda why aces are very fast and returners just watch it zip by without even bringing up their racquet; they can't react to such a well-placed, super fast ball. They're never guessing; they're reacting and anticipating, I'm sure.

    Our primary point of contention is whether pros move before knowing where the ball is going. I'm saying they don't; they merely make educated anticipations, but I don't think they act upon it completely. We already both agree that they anticipate where the serve is going. However, I'm discussing not what's going on in their minds, but what they actually do on court. I think the videos I posted earlier are pretty evident that they don't move before knowing; they're all reacting, in the moment, to the serve.
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2012
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  28. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    So, did you see the Olympic Gold medal match? Did you see all of the "guessing"?

    Murray hardly (if ever) guesses, since he has the best return in Pro tennis. Fed was doing it more than his average, since he was desperate to break.

    I am sure you can find the videos on the net somewhere.

    Here is a brief and incomplete list:

    1st set, 5th game, 4th point, 2nd serve.

    2nd set, 3rd game, 5th deuce, 2nd serve.

    2nd set, 5th game, 1st and 4th points.

    2nd set, 7th game, 6th point, second serve.
     
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  29. dlam

    dlam Rookie

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    Murray does a classic skip-split-step
    What do you call what Fed does?
    He seems to just bunny hop when anticipating
    Murray's serve. No skipping
    It looks a bit different
     
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  30. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    I guess where the serve is going, but I keep the exact same preparation, but knowing I can change quicker to that side.
    Holding the racket slightly high allows me to counter high kicking serves as well as slices and flat heaters.
    Hate prepped for flat serves, but get a high kicker above my head.
    Better to be ready for the high serve, then swing down harder for low skidded slices and flats.
     
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  31. pkshooter

    pkshooter Semi-Pro

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    Anything over 40mph and I crawl into a featal ball position. I only ever guess based on previous serving patterns rather than movement or anything. Always going for a forehand:)
     
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  32. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    I was not refering to Fed's standard return. I am speaking of specific points when on second serve he makes the tactical decision that he wants to run around his BH and hit an IOFH return. On those occasions he is essentially guessing that the serve will be to his BH (to be honest the guy is close to 100% correct in that guess). since he starts his movement to the left before the serve is struck.
     
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  33. oldschoolrules

    oldschoolrules New User

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    Its not really a "guess" per se. Its more like an informed decision. Better players will often start to move in favor of one side or the other on the return before the ball is actually struck by the server because they are picking up on cues from the toss and what they have previously observed. In fact, one of the main reasons Sampras' serve was so difficult to handle was because he hit just about every serve in his arsenal off of the same toss. One could not watch his toss and easily discern whether he was bringing the heat or throwing in a kick or slice.
     
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  34. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Gotta consider.
    At decent levels of play, serves are directed towards the backhand side more than the forehand. So where do you think the next serve is going?
    Also, most players consider a switch from forehand to backhand the most accurate and easiest to perform. So which grip should we start with?
    First serve usually bounce lower to you than kicking second serves.
    Slice serves tend to skid and bounce low.
    Tendencies. That's all you have to go by.
     
    #34
  35. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    There is a slight difference between very, very skilled players picking up a cue and acting on it before the ball is struck and remembering what has happened in the match and deciding to take an educated guess and acting on it and yet a third player who just flips a mental coin and makes a move.

    Bottom line all are "guessing" in the sense they are NOT observing the ball trajectory and reacting to it.
     
    #35
  36. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Smart player, of any level, does both.
    You guess so you prep sooner and ready to go to your backhand.
    You look at the ball and react to it's direction.
    If you know IN ADVANCE, which way you're likely to switch to, you are ahead of the guy who goes out there and only reacts to the ball movement.
     
    #36
  37. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    Eggggzactly!!
     
    #37
  38. dlam

    dlam Rookie

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    What if serve is flat and coming directly at the body which side to turn?

    I don't know but for me it's easier and I react quicker if I turn to take on my backhand
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2012
    #38
  39. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Depends!
    Every player is different, and they hold the racket differently. Their body mechanics are also different.
    Defending body shots, use your experience. What worked for you?
    I know lots of western grip players who defend body shots with their forehand, because they're great at hitting inside out forehands.
     
    #39

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