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Ask Tennishead: Improving Annie’s return of serve


Originally published on: 26/02/10 16:34

The patient

Annie, West Yorkshire, UK

The symptoms

“I can’t break serve,” says Annie. “Should I block serves back or take a swing?”

The Doctor says…

Can’t break serve, eh? Take a seat, Annie. This won’t hurt a bit. To be able to break serve, first and foremost, you need to make your opponent play more balls.

A good rule of thumb is to block back first serves (which are normally the faster of the two deliveries) and try to do a bit more with your opponent’s second serves – be more aggressive. You could even try some chip and charge tactics if your net game is up to it.

The Doctor on first serves:

  1. When you’re facing fast, first serves keep your backswing short as you’ll have less time to react.
  2. All you should focus on is neutralising the serve so you can start the rally in a 50-50 situation.
  3. If you’re facing a serve-volleyer don’t panic – try your best to make them play any kind of volley and, if you can, try to get your return down to their feet.
  4. Aim for the centre of the court to increase your margins. If you catch it a little early or late you should still find the court.

The Doctor on second serves:

  1. Think of returning a second serve as an opportunity to dominate the point.
  2. Take the ball on the rise to give your opponent less time to react.
  3. Try to use your favourite groundstroke. If you have a big forehand, run around your backhand. If your backhand return is your strongest side, run around your forehand.
  4. Throw in the occasional chip and charge to keep your opponent guessing. The sight of you charging the net will often rush your opponent into making a mistake.

Your treatment is complete, Annie. Now go and try these out in training – the return is one of the most neglected areas when players are on the practice court.

Do you need help?

Don’t panic – book an appointment now! Get in touch with your symptoms and keep an eye on the On Court channel for the solution.


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.