There are several key components to returning a serve.
Positioning yourself in the proper spot to maximise
your chances of covering the court is crucial.
Next is anticipation. Learning how you read the
ball toss of your opponent is something you can learn from a player if you play them enough.
You can see their tendencies if they toss their ball in a certain
spot for your forehand or another for your backhand.
Then there are clues you can read from the racquet
head. Some players will take the racquet back differently if they do a slice serve, a flat serve or even a kick serve.
Sampras: A serving mystery.
But the best servers don't give anything away. With the same toss
and the same motion they can hit the same three spots on the court: Out wide, into the body and then down the middle.
The ultimate practitioner of that was Pete Sampras.
All the little details about positioning and anticipation allow
you to do what you know best, which is strike the ball.
Getting in the groove of the return is down to repetition and practice.
One of the ways to practice this is to get someone to serve to you
from inside the baseline. Get them to tell you where they are serving at first so you can get the rhythm right.
Then get them to serve to random spots without telling you. That
will make you pick up on reading their serve and anticipate where they are aiming. It should improve your reflexes.
Anticipation comes through practice
Taking the ball early is helped if you have a short backswing because
you can confront the bounce.
Getting your own back
On the flip side reading a serve well means that you can disguise
your own serve.
I have different ball tosses but I can hit different serve from
That's something I practised a lot because I didn't want players
to know where my serves were going.
Typically a player that throws the ball out to the right indicates
that he or she will be trying a slice serve because you can't hit a kick serve from there.
Reading a serve can help disguise your own
But I can hit the slice, the slider serve into the body and the
flat one down the middle just from that one toss.
Then it's the same with the kick serve toss which is more of a second
I can hit that one out wide too in the deuce court. I can pound
it into the body and rip it down the middle.
My toss is pretty low so I can get up to it fairly quickly and I'm
able to generate pretty much whatever I like within the confines of physics.
You can't kick a serve if your toss is too far to the right and
you can't slice a serve too well with a kick toss but I can spot them.
That's the whole art of a good return.