By Jamie Kirkman
How often do you as tennis coaches work on return of serve with your players? I hope your answer to this question is that you work on the return of serve very frequently, considering that the return of serve is the most important shot next to serving. I emphasize the importance of the return of serve because in order to win a set 6-4, a player will have to break serve twice, allowing for the chance that the other player will also break serve once per set.
When teaching the return of serve we need to teach our players how to return both first and second serves as the patterns of play are somewhat different. A player typically has far less of an opportunity to strategically return the first serve in the way they want to. In contrast, the second serve is generally slower and weaker, giving the player the chance to take control.
When returning a strong first serve, I recommend that players be incredibly disciplined and just aim deep down the middle of the court. This gives more margin for error and also takes away the server’s ability to create angles and step in to attack the court. If your player’s opponent has a less powerful first serve, I suggest getting your players too work on attacking the return cross court: this is the biggest area of the court to hit too which allows safer margins.
With many players the second serve is far weaker than the first which gives our players an opportunity to attack the return both down the line and cross court. However, like returning the first serve we need to teach our players to be disciplined and aim for big targets rather than trying to paint the lines.
What you will notice is the more returns your player puts back in play with purpose, the more pressure they are able to build in return games, which then makes it easier to break serve when the sets start to get tight.