Return Strategies - Your Best and Worst

mnttlrg

Semi-Pro
I think everyone has been through this, but there is surprisingly little discussion about it. We all are put into a position of needing to break serve, so we try out different tactics to see how well they work out. Sometimes they work out great, other times our ideas are total crap.

I think it would be fun for people to share what types of things they have tried out / against whom, and what they stick with / what they have abandoned. I can share several of my own, but I am really more interested in reading what other people have to say.
 

shamaho

Semi-Pro
Lately I find that the simpler solution of "return to the center of court deep and to the feet of their serving position" has been effective.

Usually I'd consider chipping a backhand return to their backhand when returning on the deuce court, or slice down the line when on Ad court... but those are riskier for me because you need good timing to slice into the ball and make effective return... so I've been opting to block or hit to the center, deep and to their feet.
 

shamaho

Semi-Pro
Another thing I've been more aware is have general directions of the return decided upfront when receiving first serves when the ball comes either to my forehand or backhand.

goes something like: if ball comes to my forehand, return to that place, otherwise return to that other point.

then on second serve, make conscious effort to step in and make something out the return, add some pressure.
 

mnttlrg

Semi-Pro
There is one tactic that I absolutely treasure that works really well against guys who like to stay in front of the ball and hit low drives (either pusher or aggressive). Usually these guys want to keep the rallies low to the ground, so whenever they make the mistake of going up high with a spin serve, I will moonball it back with a lot of spin. Often, it's the only opportunity I will have for the entire point to get the ball moving up high where I like it.

If they are able to make an adjustment to that tactic, then I will switch to hitting really aggressive low shots, and see if I can hit something away from them to where they can't stay out in front.... like corners or crosscourt angles. They tend to equally hate that situation.
 

mnttlrg

Semi-Pro
Sometimes it's really smart to think of a return as your moment of maximum disadvantage, to where anything they could hit on the next shot won't be as devastating as that serve will be. When this is the case, even going for a deep lob, or really just anything you can keep deep and in is a big plus from your end.

BUT, and this is a really big BUT, I think this philosophy is fundamentally flawed when you are playing against someone who is just straight up better than you are from the baseline. I recently punted a match against a state champion by hitting nearly every return safe and clean against his mediocre serve, and then intentionally getting into rallies with him. I got to 30 or deuce in nearly every return game of the match, but he edged me out every time. He got very comfortable and into a rhythm, and it really brought out the best in his game.
 

AlexSV

Rookie
Lately I find that the simpler solution of "return to the center of court deep and to the feet of their serving position" has been effective.

Usually I'd consider chipping a backhand return to their backhand when returning on the deuce court, or slice down the line when on Ad court... but those are riskier for me because you need good timing to slice into the ball and make effective return... so I've been opting to block or hit to the center, deep and to their feet.
This is my strategy after watching a bunch of Craig O'Shaughnessy videos. His data finds the deep to the middle return is the best at returning to a neutral rally and giving you a chance to break. The outlier is a return down the line on the ad side which has the highest percentage of return winners. So I throw that in to mix it up.

I've followed up with some coaches at our club. They seem to confirm that in competitive junior and collegiate tennis most returns are deep to the middle. Unless you find an obvious weakness then you would adjust.
 

Goof

Semi-Pro
Against a good serve, deep down the middle (if it's good enough for the best returner of all-time, it's good enough for you). Against a weak serve, hit your best shot to their worst.
 

shamaho

Semi-Pro
Relax, exhale, focus on clean contact, and get the ball in, preferably past the SL. Make them play instead of giving it away.
And you know what !? EVERY time I decide to act like that, exactly like you say... I end up making unforced error on the return!! 8 ou of 10 !

I must keep it really simple like: serve to my FH, return there (I don't even think how, just the place), serve to my BH return there - and that's it !
I find I react to the ball much better this way... and end up making really good returns
 

Dragy

Hall of Fame
Some ideas I use:
- Against a really strong serve I try to get it back, and deep as possible. Falling back more and using conti-grip slicy blocks is absolutely valid, although FH TS comes more naturally. Get it back and play the point.
- Against decently paced, yet not hugely kicking serves to the BH, man up and use drive return, even if with compact takeback and not that big swing. You take time away from recovering server even if it’s nothing special. Especially in doubles - you need that direction control and some pace on the ball.
- Against weak 2nd serve - in the middle of the box and sitting up nicely waist height - step in and attack it. Focus on spacing, level swing and decent placement, don’t try to crush it just back. It’s a chance to take control, take it.
- Against serve-and-volleyer - speed up your return, take it earlier. Even if it feels riskier, compensate with no angle, mid depth. As long as you break his rhythm for coming in and deliver balls when he’s still on the move, still far back, you make it tough for him to hit a good 1st volley.
 

FiReFTW

Legend
I try to be as aggressive as possible depending on the pace of the serve and try to get the return deep and neutralize the serve, usually topspin mostly always on forehand, on backhand it can vary.
 

shamaho

Semi-Pro
Some ideas I use:
- Against a really strong serve I try to get it back, and deep as possible. Falling back more and using conti-grip slicy blocks is absolutely valid, although FH TS comes more naturally. Get it back and play the point.
- Against decently paced, yet not hugely kicking serves to the BH, man up and use drive return, even if with compact takeback and not that big swing. You take time away from recovering server even if it’s nothing special. Especially in doubles - you need that direction control and some pace on the ball.
- Against weak 2nd serve - in the middle of the box and sitting up nicely waist height - step in and attack it. Focus on spacing, level swing and decent placement, don’t try to crush it just back. It’s a chance to take control, take it.
- Against serve-and-volleyer - speed up your return, take it earlier. Even if it feels riskier, compensate with no angle, mid depth. As long as you break his rhythm for coming in and deliver balls when he’s still on the move, still far back, you make it tough for him to hit a good 1st volley.
That's PERFECT! IMHO all correct stances and usually my approach as well! which for me I can execute mostly if I take just a quick mental note then take my mind away from those conscious thoughts... and let my instincts take over and that's what sort of naturally will happen.

If I think it and TRY consciously to make them, I usually fail miserabily !
 

ChaelAZ

Legend
My go to ROS is with pace down the middle to start.
Then I might try chip/slice short balls to see how they do moving and getting under balls.
If they have a good kick I just adjust to what works.
If they hit hard and flat it is mostly chip/slice return if I can't get around it to hit fast enough.
 

Roland G

Hall of Fame
First serve return always cross court and deep when possible. Second serve I'll try to be a little craftier. On deuce side, either a ripper cross court to pull the server off the court or a chip down the line and follow in for a volley. On ad side, looking to take the ball early and down the line from bh or fh
 

Kevo

Legend
Get returns in play first. Then work some strategies from there. Don't be afraid to play out some points. You can't scout your opponent if you don't make them play.
Basic options are cross court and down the middle.
You want to try to read the server from the first serve. Paying attention and learning patterns early in the match can pay dividends later on.
Do whatever is needed to get returns in play. Don't be too proud. If you need to move back, move back. If you need to chip, chip. If all you can do is block, block. You have to make the server play if you want to have any chance at putting some pressure on them later in the set.
Take advantage of whatever opportunities you can find. Don't be afraid to stand wide or middle if you notice the server likes a particular serve. Make them question their preferred service choice.
Body language is important. It's a lot easier as a server to blast serves at a demoralized opponent. Even if you are getting aced, don't let the server see you get demoralized by it. Keep looking for opportunities and be prepared to take them.
 

mcs1970

Hall of Fame
How about doubles? I am so focused on hitting it away from the net man that I make a ton of errors. Singles I don’t have an issue even against a S&V.
 
How about doubles? I am so focused on hitting it away from the net man that I make a ton of errors. Singles I don’t have an issue even against a S&V.
Ignore the net man and aim for a target. You'll lose some points because the net man poached but you'll make a lot fewer return errors.

Occasionally, go straight DTL at the net man, not with the intention of passing him but challenging his position. Also, I find that when I'm having trouble with my CC targeting, it helps to just swing DTL because I know the net man is going to volley so I accept it ahead of time rather than worrying about playing keep-away.

Also, remember that the lob is always viable. Ideally, over the net man's BH and to the server's BH [ie against 2 righties, the Deuce court return].
 

Born_to_slice

Professional
I mostly slice/chip 1st serves, hitting it flattish/TS only when I'm feeling super confident. On 2nd, I try to get ahead or at least neutral in the point by hitting more aggressively or even waiting with a FH grip if their 2nd serve is weak. Something I've been trying lately is hitting soft short side spin CC FH by stepping in the ad court and then closing the net. It's often a winner but if they somehow scramble it back it's an easy volley. If 2nd has a high kick I usually try to push it back as deep as I can with mild loopy TS.
 

blablavla

Professional
Get returns in play first. Then work some strategies from there. Don't be afraid to play out some points. You can't scout your opponent if you don't make them play.
Basic options are cross court and down the middle.
You want to try to read the server from the first serve. Paying attention and learning patterns early in the match can pay dividends later on.
Do whatever is needed to get returns in play. Don't be too proud. If you need to move back, move back. If you need to chip, chip. If all you can do is block, block. You have to make the server play if you want to have any chance at putting some pressure on them later in the set.
Take advantage of whatever opportunities you can find. Don't be afraid to stand wide or middle if you notice the server likes a particular serve. Make them question their preferred service choice.
Body language is important. It's a lot easier as a server to blast serves at a demoralized opponent. Even if you are getting aced, don't let the server see you get demoralized by it. Keep looking for opportunities and be prepared to take them.
agree with @Kevo
first thing first, and that is return the ball in play and keep searching for weak points

general, not specific to an opponent.
deep return into server tends to be very inconvenient.
returns to backhand as well tend to give more chances. or in special cases, when the backhand is stronger, you might go for forehand
from here onwards it depends on your and opponent strengths and weaknesses.

worst you can do is to let the server hit ace after ace, hit out & net, not even trying to make em play.
second worst is to give em easy put away balls to their preferred shot after serve
 

Dan R

Semi-Pro
In those must break situations, I think it's important to keep in mind that the person serving may very likely be feeling more pressure than you are. Closing out a match creates a lot of stress on the person ahead. So, don't think you have to do anything fantastic to win.

The most important thing to do is GET THE POINT STARTED. If you can safely do more than that that's great.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Every once in a while... SABR on the 2nd serve. If successful, this can make the server nervous enuff to go for too much on the 1st serve and/or fault on the 2nd.
 

Dartagnan64

Legend
I just follow the words of Bjorn Borg: "Mostly I hit cross court, sometimes down the middle."

CC puts the return over the lowest part of the net and the most margin for error depth wise. Down the middle has the most margin for error side to side. Those should be your "hit em in your sleep" returns for the first couple service games.

Once you've got grooved to the servers pace and locations, then it's time to start playing with some options. Generally I'll tell myself, "Ok if he serves this out wide to my FH, I'm taking it down the line." Then if I get the serve I want, my body's all prepped and I don't have to second guess anything. If I don't get the serve I'm expecting, cc or down the middle.
 

2nd Serve Ace

Hall of Fame
Just remember that at the intermediate levels of tennis (and advanced), players thrive on predictability. So vary things on the return: Spin, location, trajectory, speed; keep um guessing!
 

TennisCJC

Legend
against decent 1st serve or exceptional 2nd serve, just get it back. Preferably to a good spot - deep for singles or low and CC for doubles. Conti grip for slice is ok, or compact flatfish block, or even a lob. Just get the damn thing back.
against a moderate 1st serve or 2nd serve; use compact topspin stroke again try to get it to a good spot.
against a weak 1st or 2nd serve: treat it like a compact groundstroke. Be moderately aggressive, run around and hit forehands, use slice and chip and charge, or use drive and charge. Let them know their serve is going to be attacked.
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
I've been trying to mix up my returning strategies lately.

Normally I tend to hit flat and hard returns close to the baseline with surprisingly decent consistency, but since the guys I hit with have more or less gotten used to it I have been mixing in some chip and charge for softer hitting players, and low slice returns for the flat-hitting baseline bashers.

The problem is that my slice has a similar "rhythm" as my serve, so if I start losing my feel for timing on the slice, my serve disappears...and it's easy to lose my feel for timing the slice on serve returns because the guys I play with all have decent to good serves both in terms of placement and pace. I'm still finding it easier to smack them back at their feet than it is to knife a slice back nice and low.
 

34n

Rookie
All my returns from one of the practice sets.

If I don't do split step I usually can't get a clean contact or even reach the ball.

 
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