Originally Posted by Funbun
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.
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.