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World Class Serving Tactics - Part II

Using the serve effectively
By: Rob Antoun

Serve and baseline control 

The serve and baseline control tactic requires the server to maintain control over an opponent for the duration of the rally. However, unlike the groundstroke attack tactic, there may not be an obvious second ball to hit - meaning that the server has to work harder and longer to win the point. This may be because the returner has returned deep down the middle (this provides no obvious space to hit the second shot into), or perhaps because the serve isn't strong enough to create an obvious attacking opportunity. Whatever the reason, the key factor when using this tactic is to carry a pre-planned mentality of not allowing the opponent to regain a neutral position in the point.

This is an important tactic for your players to learn since being able to repeat it will also allow them to develop the serve and groundstroke attack tactic.

Watch the pros:

  • Pro players often use this tactic when they have no obvious second shot to hit.
  • They simply maintain the quality of their groundstrokes until a short ball, a space, or an opponent's error occurs.
  • They maintain control over the opponent by hitting consistently and accurately.
  • They prevent the opponent from ever getting back to a '50:50' playing position. 

Serve and volley

We see less serve and volley tactics being used today because the strength of the return, passing shot, and lob has improved so much. Players are comfortable hitting these shots on the run and usually like a target to aim for at the net. However, many servers occasionally use this tactic as a way of mixing up the rhythm of play.

Generally, the serve and volley tactic is employed with a strong first serve hit down the middle of the court. This middle serve reduces the angles available to the returner (see Diagram 3). The serve out wide is used more on fast courts where the bounce is quick and the ball moves away from the returner's swing path - making it very hard to attack (see Diagram 4).

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Diagram 3 shows the server using the serve and volley tactic from the right court. Note how the middle serve reduces the angle available to the returner. The server has the option of hitting the volley either cross court or down the line.

Diagram 4 shows the server using the serve and volley tactic from the left court. Note how the wide serve creates more space for the volley to be hit into - yet this serve also gives the returner more angle to use. again the volley can be hit down the line or cross court.

Watch the pros:
· Look at how quickly the pros move inside the court to their first volley (their first two steps in particular).
· They contact the ball in front of their body using a short 'blocking' action for maximum control.
· They will often volley down the line to prevent the returner from hitting a running passing shot into a space.
· When they volley crosscourt they will often choose the short angle rather than the deep angle. This forces the opponent into moving across and up the court in diagonally. Some players find this movement more difficult than a straight movement across the baseline.

Serve and sneak

Another tactic that involves the server finishing the point at the net is the serve and sneak tactic. This contrasts with the serve and volley tactic, in that the server makes the decision to approach or 'sneak' into the net after the serve has been hit, instead of before. Crucially, this allows the player to assess quickly the quality of the serve before deciding to come forwards. The server's second shot will usually be a drive volley, or smash, when playing against the high, floated return and a normal 'block' volley against the lower return. The key to this tactic is a player's ability to read the flight path of the return as quickly as possible. Doing this well creates intense time pressure on an opponent.
Watch the pros:

· After hitting the serve the pro player will often 'look' for a sneak opportunity by taking one or two steps inside the baseline. This allows the server the chance to move further inside the court to volley or smash.

· The drive volley and smash are often hit into big target areas of the court because it is the pace and time pressure that beats an opponent.

· The pro makes a fast, instinctive decision regarding which second shot to hit. It is important for your players to know which ball is a drive volley, smash, and block volley by recognising the flight path of the oncoming ball immediately.

‘20 Core Drills for Tennis’ shows some great drills to use with younger players to help develop these tactics. Please visit for more information

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