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5 Great Returning Tactics

Great returning tactics
By: Rob Antoun

5 Great Returning Tactics!

1. The middle return

Returning down the middle is effective whether trying to neutralise a strong serve or attacking a weak one. The neutralising return prevents any obvious space for the server to attack into and can allow the returner to regain a strong court position. The aggressive middle return can put pressure on an opponent because the pace of the shot puts the server on the ‘back foot’ – often resulting in a forced error or short ball. This return is particularly effective against players who need space to execute their shots (for example, a tall player).

Watch the Pros:

· Pro players like to use this return because it doesn’t involve changing the direction of the ball. They simply send the ball back where it came from as aggressively and with as much control as possible.

· It also allows them a high margin for error since any mistimed shot has a good chance of making the court.

· Watch how the pro prepares to contact the ball by using a strong, low base and a short compact swing to the ball. The head and upper body ‘leans’ over the ball in order to control and absorb its oncoming pace.

2. The inside-out return

This return is used against the serve down the middle. The inside-out return is similar to the middle return in that the ball is sent back in the direction of the serve – the only difference being that the ball is aimed further across the court. This shot can be played as a neutralising first serve return as well as an aggressive second serve return. The right-handed player will hit a backhand from the right court and a forehand from the left court. When hit well enough, the inside-out return will drag the server wide of the court - creating a space for the returner’s second shot to be hit into (see Diagram 1). This tactic is commonly used by the pros.

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Diagram 1 shows a right-handed returner hitting a backhand inside-out return. Note how the width of the return forces the server wide, allowing the returner’s second shot to be hit into the space created.

Watch the Pros:

· Pro players like to use this return because it allows them to make slightly later contact with the ball while still hitting an effective shot. This is because the return is hit away from the player’s body.

· A strong inside-out return will often be followed by a sneak approach to the net.

· The backhand inside-out return is particularly favoured by the double-hander. Having the strength of two hands helps to absorb the pace of the serve, as well as to control the direction of the return.

3. Returning across the body

This return is particularly used against the middle serve and requires a player to hit ‘across’ the body – down the line. Although this shot is riskier because it is hit over the higher part of the net and into a shorter court, it still allows the returner the chance to mis-time the ball yet make it in the court. This is because a late return will move further across and inside the court.

Again, this return can be used to neutralise a strong first serve or attack a weak second one. Crucially, it allows the returner the chance to move the server away from the centre of the baseline. Encourage your players to use this tactic in order to expose the weaker playing side of an opponent. Diagram 2 shows how to do this:

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Diagram 2 shows the right-handed backhand inside-in return hit against the middle serve

This return forces the server to move wide to the ball – exposing this player’s weaker backhand side. The returner can then hit a second shot into the space that has been created, or back behind the opponent.

Watch the Pros:

· Pro players will contact the ball further in front of their body on this return in order to be able to direct the ball down the line. In many cases, it is this ‘early’ contact that takes time away from the server.

· Watch how this shot will be played from a more central court position rather than a wider one. This is because if the return is not hit very well then at least the player will retain a central court position.

·  The pros will create space to hit this shot. They will often ‘swerve’ the upper body away from the oncoming ball in order to swing more freely while using a strong lower base.

4. The blocked return

The blocked return is used in three particular tactical situations:

It is used when the returner is put under intense pressure from a strong serve. In this case, the returner’s only goal is to get the ball back into play, and the blocked return allows this to happen more easily. The short, compact swing that is used allows the returner the chance to control the ball back into play. This applies to both forehand and backhand returns.

More recently, many top players who deliberately want to slow the ball down have used the blocked return. Doing this allows the returner more time to regain a stronger court position as well as possibly frustrating an opponent who thrives on the pace of the oncoming ball. This is a key point, since, today many players like to use the pace of the oncoming ball to generate extra pace. Therefore, make sure that your players have the ability to reduce the pace of their return as well as increase it.

Finally, the blocked return can be used to approach the net. The returner will tend to play either down the line or middle of the court in order to reduce the angles available to the server. This tactic is particularly effective on fast, low bouncing courts - making it more difficult for an opponent to attack the ball.

Watch the Pros:

· Pro players will use strong volley technique when playing the blocked return. This means using a short, compact swing and a contact point in front of the body.

· They will often use the short angle blocked return in order to drag the server short and wide of the court.

· They will swiftly move inside the service line when approaching behind the return.

· The blocked return is very commonly used against an opponent using the serve and volley tactic. When played effectively, this shot forces the volleyer to hit high over the net – creating an immediate opportunity to attack.

5. Using the return and sneak

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

Watch the Pros:

· After hitting the return the pro player will often ‘look’ for a sneak opportunity by taking one or two steps inside the baseline. This creates the chance to move further inside the court in order 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.

Visit Rob's site for some great educational tennis resources including some fantastic DVD's.

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