The Return of Serve:

Just as with the serve, the purpose of the return of serve is NOT to win the point. The purpose is to get the ball back in play. You want your return to be as offensive, pressing, and difficult for your opponent as is possible off any given serve. At the same time you would like to put one hundred percent of your returns into play.

A fairly realistic goal for your return of serve is to have the server know that you will put the ball back in play every single time, that there will be no cheap points for the server!

* Be consistent. You want to get your return over and in every time. You do not want two brilliant winners and then two errors. Consistency is the key. Give the server endless opportunities to make errors. Keep up the pressure.

* Return serve within your capabilities. You can't expect to execute better shots than those you own.

* Make the server serve the ball where you want to receive it. It is amazingly simple. Use your positioning and your body language to control where the server will try to hit the ball. If you set up way right, chances are the server will aim way left. Try it.

* Have a specific return in mind. Since you can cause the serve to be hit to a certain place, have a return in mind before the server even serves it. Sure, the actual serve may change your plans. That's okay.

* Play in as close as you can to comfortably return the serve, and start your feet moving before the serve is hit. Move into the shot. By doing this you'll be able to return the ball to the server earlier and shorten the server's preparation time and rush the server on the "return of the return."

* Get your shoulder turned and take your racquet back as soon as you know whether the serve will be to your right or your left. You can't take your racquet back too early, and most of us take it back too late way too often.

* Block back very strong serves. Don't try to meet power with power. You don't have time for a long stroke. Just use the server's power to block it back (almost like a volley).

* Use your return to control the point, game, set, and match. Don't worry about winners. Do your best to develop a "one hundred percenter," a never-fail return.

THE SERVER'S PARTNER

The job of the server's partner is to help the server win his service game. To do this the server's partner has to get into the brain of the receivers. He has to put pressure on the receivers to "get it by the net guy." He has to make the receivers look at him. His job is to tempt and torment the receivers, to frustrate and fool the receiver, to get the receivers to concentrate on him instead of the serve.

The server's partner's job is to have the receiver forget his goal of returning to the server and trying to beat the serving team and instead concentrate only on beating the guy at the net, the server's partner.

* Study the receiver and learn how to read what returns he will be trying to hit off which serve. Many receivers "telegraph" what shot they are about to hit. Use this information.

* Poach, anticipate, give head fakes, stand in some preposterous position. Make sure everyone in the area knows you are there.

* Challenge the receiver's ego. Make him more interested in passing you down the line one out of three times than in putting the ball in play.

* Make him try to hit the perfect lob over your head that lands on the line. Make him want to hit the return so hard no one could volley it. Basically, force him into errors that are really "unnecessary"errors.

* Be active and be willing to look the fool. If you are not passed and "embarrassed" two or three times a match you are not being active enough up there. If the server does his job by getting a pretty good first serve in near the center, the server's partner should then be the one in charge - the player in control of the point.

* Be active up at the net. Poach. Stand back a few steps or over a few steps to tempt the receiver to hit where you actually want her to. Give a head fake every once in a while. Yes, you will miss some shots. Yes, you will now be passed down your alley (occasionally) and yes, you will look and feel like a jackass from time to time. It's okay.

* Force more errors. That is what you will be doing as your reading and moving and poaching become more effective. And they will become more effective the more you try them.

* Get into the game. If you are standing and never hitting it is your fault. "They don't hit it close to me" is no excuse. Nor is "I couldn't reach THAT." You could have if you had moved earlier.

* Remember that when you make a move to the center and the receiver hits a strong shot that goes into the top of the net or just wide, she did not "have" you. Quite the contrary, you just had her. You won the point without even having to hit the volley.

* Lift the ball up over the net man with a motion similar to your cross-court drive. Go over the non-racquet shoulder of the server's partner. Your goal here is to force him to hit a difficult awkward shot and remind him he can't be leaning to the middle too often or hugging that net too closely.

* Drive the ball directly at the net man (server's partner). You're not trying to hit him and you are not trying to pass him down the alley. You are simply keeping him honest; reminding him, again, that he has to "stay home" more often.

* Chip a short cross-court return that forces a reluctant server to come into net. If it appears the server does not want to follow his serve to the net, there is probably a reason - he's tired, he can't volley, he's just more effective from the back court. Use this return to make the server move to where he doesn't want to be. Sort of a chip/dropshot hybrid.

* Go low and slow with your return. If the server is coming in a bit slowly, this will force him to volley up.

* Throw up a cross-court lob. If the server is coming in fast and tight, this safe return will slow him down a little. Remember that the lob is not only a defensive return.

* Tempt the net man with a return. If the server's partner is not volleying effectively, you might try to hit close enough to him so he has to try to volley it.

* Use your different returns in combinations. Keep them guessing.

* Decide what shot you're going to try to hit before the ball is served. Don't pay any attention to how the net person moves. Keep your eye on the important moving object, the ball.

* Watch the ball until you have hit it. Don't get fooled by this other moving object, the server's partner.

* Return smart. A crisp, well-hit cross-court forehand that bounces near the service line and goes to the server's forehand is a common return. Although this is an example of a good "stroke," it may not be an especially smart "shot." You generally do not want to return to a team's strength.

* Hit where they used to be. If the person at net is always moving somewhere, hit where they were last.

* Use the short, soft cross-court return to make the server come in who may not want to come in. This will also cause some confusion.

* Hit close to the net person who doesn't seem to want to volley. If the net person is not happy there, you may be able to force some errors or cause, again, some confusion.

* Hit lobs on returns you do not have to lob. In other words
sometimes lob a ball that could have easily been driven. Maybe try
one game with only lob returns. Shake 'em up.

THE RECEIVER'S PARTNER

The receiver's partner's job is obviously to help the team break serve, but her job can change greatly depending on the opponents in a given match.

* Play in tight to the net if the server and her partner are both playing back or if you are confident your partner can get her return past the server's net-playing partner.

* Play at about the service line if you are uncertain whether your partner can pass the net person. Move in if she does and defend yourself if she doesn't.

* Start all the way back at the baseline if the serve is consistently stronger than your partner's return. It is the least effective formation but sometimes the safest.

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