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Return of Serve: Part 1

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  • Return of Serve: Part 1

    Let's discuss Bill Tym's article, "Return of Serve: Part 1"

  • #2
    Nice article. I think a lot of us are guilty of not watching the ball well enough. We kind of take it for granted. I concur that Borg and Roger are the best best ball-watchers you are ever likely to see. I happen to believe watching the ball as keenly as they do improves concentration also and submerges a player better into a match.

    Return of serve was/is the weakest part of my game and I wish I had practised it more. I make sure all my students practice their returns a lot.

    What an effective serve sets up is also critical.
    How true. None of us can serve unreturnables all the time and using the serve to set things up is a better way, perhaps, to go about things for the server.
    Stotty

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    • #3
      There was a day when I could narrow my focus enough on the server’s ball toss to pick up ball direction and spin at contact ( along with peripheral vision clues of arm and shoulder location). But In hindsight, I realize that I never really completed the visual focus ball all the way through return contact, probably because of lack of athletic ability to position the ball in my strike zone! Federer always seems to look through his racket strings at ball contact with his head tilt.

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      • #4
        I believe that focusing on the ball at the point of contact takes great discipline and conscientious practice, because our normal or natural tendency is to lookup just before we make contact with the ball. In my opinion our eyes are not fast enough to follow the ball when it hits our strings and reverses direction, when the ball is traveling at a high speed, so we anticipate the change of direction by looking up before contact. In the research that I personally did years ago I thought the two players who resisted this tendency most consistently were Borg and Chrissy Evert. I was delighted to see Federer join them in this modern era. These three dealt with this tendency to look up before contact by forming the habit of focusing on their predetermined point of contact until after the ball reversed direction and was heading toward their target. This new habit helped them stabilize their head and shoulders until after contact was made. Which encouraged me to tell my students to focus physically on the point of contact while visualizing their target in their “mind’s eye”. I believe the result of this habit has been to make better and/or more consistent and precise contact with the ball, which is the foundation of a successful stroke. It has caused me to admonish my students to keep their head down (or up on the overhead) and watch the point of contact instead of telling them to just “watch the ball”. I also think that this habit is even more critical to making solid contact now, in this modern era of high velocity ball and racquet speed, than at any other time. The racquet manufacturers have already tried to remedy the problem by increasing the size of the racquet heads....it is time for us, coaches and players alike, to do our part.

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        • #5
          Great article by a great tennis teacher. Bills CAMP anachronism is a staple of my teaching method. It is such a great developmental framework. I credit Bill and tell my students that if they can can hit all of their shots with consistency, accuracy and power while moving I want to be their agent and want 20% of their prize money. They get a kick out of that because they know being the humans we are that our nature is to go for power first. I think so because we are basically lazy. I digress. Regarding the return of serve I have found how important it is to get across to my students the Ideal Performance State of being of Calm but Ready. It seems that so many players get to ready and tense when returning serve. Almost in a panicked or frenzied state of mind. Leading to over reacting by some and uncoordinated stilted movement by others. Thoughts such as I better hurry up and get my racquet back or the ball is coming fast so I must react very fast. The technical result of such frenzied thinking is a overly large late backswing resulting in late contact or no contact with the ball. Getting calm and relaxed when a ball is coming at you that fast takes a lot of mindful practice, awareness and understanding.

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          • #6
            Thank you for your excellent comments and insight. I particularly like your statements re the ideal performance state in preparation when staring the point with service return. I usually suggest to my students to prepare for their service return by shadowing their stroke smoothly (forehand and backhand) and exhale as they are visualizing their point of contact, aim point and follow through.

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            • #7
              Thanks for the article. I fully agree on the importance of the serve and serve return. I find it easy to put in the work on serve, but practising serve return is much harder! I'm looking forward to hearing your advice on that topic.

              carlpro - I like Calm but Ready, will try repeating that to myself.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by carlpro View Post
                Great article by a great tennis teacher. Bills CAMP anachronism is a staple of my teaching method. It is such a great developmental framework. I credit Bill and tell my students that if they can can hit all of their shots with consistency, accuracy and power while moving I want to be their agent and want 20% of their prize money. They get a kick out of that because they know being the humans we are that our nature is to go for power first. I think so because we are basically lazy. I digress. Regarding the return of serve I have found how important it is to get across to my students the Ideal Performance State of being of Calm but Ready. It seems that so many players get to ready and tense when returning serve. Almost in a panicked or frenzied state of mind. Leading to over reacting by some and uncoordinated stilted movement by others. Thoughts such as I better hurry up and get my racquet back or the ball is coming fast so I must react very fast. The technical result of such frenzied thinking is a overly large late backswing resulting in late contact or no contact with the ball. Getting calm and relaxed when a ball is coming at you that fast takes a lot of mindful practice, awareness and understanding.
                “Controlled aggression”. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” Relaxed muscles/focused mind prior to explosive movement( especially service turn) for any stroke allows the elite pros to last 4 hours and reduce long term injury rate. Interpreting, “always give 100% effort!!”, as maximal, sustained muscular effort results in reduced performance and increase in injuries. Only the gifted elite, as Carlpro and Tym suggest, have the ability and discipline to time and sustain appropriate levels of muscular effort guided and directed by intense, mental focus.

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                • #9
                  When my students are having difficulty returning serve I frequently suggest that they experiment and try to incorporate what I call “three modifications to a successful shot” - 1. Modify Position; 2. Modify stroke; 3. Modify aim point. If they are returning a high speed serve that they are unaccustomed to, and the serve is traveling at a velocity that forces them to rush their stroke, and causes them to be late on their swing, my first suggestion would be to back up further and perhaps use Nadal as a good example (pointing out that he frequently returns serve while standing close to the back fence rather than on, or near the baseline). I would tell my students to back up one step at a time, saying that for each step they took toward the back fence the speed of the incoming serve would be reduced by 5 mph, and eventually they would find the position that gave them sufficient time to return comfortably and confidently. This tactic would also be effective against spin serves, since they could make contact in their optimum strike zone. If this failed to do the job, I would suggest that they hold position on the baseline and do #2, which is Modify Stroke, by using a block volley motion or block chip return which we would practice as diligently as a topspin power stroke. The 3rd modification was to modify the aim point, and aim the return 5-6 feet over the center of the net. Sometimes, if the opponent had a huge weapon for the serve we would use a combination of all 3 modifications by backing up, and blocking or chipping the return high and down the center of the court !!! Of course, the success of these three modifications was totally dependent on the intensity and the time we practiced these options. But missing returns of serve was not an acceptable option!

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