Andy Murray shows how to return serve at the US Open 2022

How to return second serves – “You are aggressive by nature”

You need to take advantage of every opportunity to win points in a tennis match and learning how to return a second serve from your opponent is one of those times. 

Allow Craig O’Shannessy of Brain Game Tennis and us at Tennishead to point you in the direction of what to do when facing an opponent’s second serve.

Be sure to also check out our article on how to return first serves.

How to return serve – mindset

When facing a first serve you are defensive by nature.

The opposite is true facing a second serve.

“That switch flips,” says O’Shannessy. 

“You are aggressive by nature against second serves.

“You are stepping inside the baseline to make contact.

“Your number one primary target is deep down the middle.”

How to return serve – technique

While you want to be aggressive when returning, you still want to keep things simple.

Use what you have to your advantage, namely your body weight.

“Attack with the feet by stepping in,” explains O’Shannessy. 

Three-time Slam champion Andy Murray excels in this regard.

In keeping things simple, shorten your backswing.

“Don’t go too big with the racket,” O’Shannessy adds. 

“Again it’s not going to work so much like a groundstroke backswing, it’s going to work like an abbreviated backswing.”

Visual aid

2014 Wimbledon final

Roger Federer dominated on his first serve in this match. He won 77% of points on his first serve, including 29 aces in the match.

But Novak Djokovic was superb when returning second serves, hurting Federer in that area of the game.

Federer had on average won 68% of second serve points in his six matches up until the final.

But facing Djokovic he won just 44% of second serve points.

Watch the match and see how Djokovic returns Federer’s second serves. For a microcosm of how Djokovic made Federer vulnerable on his second serve, look at the final game of the match.


Action summary

  • You need to break to win – tough facing a first serve.
    • Attack the second serve instead.
  • Whenever possible upgrade to a forehand by running around the second serve directed to the backhand. 
  • Be like Andy Murray
    • Step well into the court and attack with your feet to rush the server’s next shot.
  • Be like Rafael Nadal 
    • Stay back and punish with a big forehand.
  • Let the server see you step in
    • Apply pressure with your improved court position.

Tennishead club competitionFor free access to Craig O’Shannessy’s complete courses on ‘25 Golden Rules of Singles‘ and ‘25 Golden Rules of Doubles‘, join thousands of other keen amateur tennis players and become a member of the Tennishead Club. Once you join we’ll immediately send you ground breaking coaching advice, a welcome pack including a full ASICS head to toe outfit including shoes, plus loads more. And it costs as little as £65/$97 to join with membership benefits worth over £600/$700 per year!

Craig O'Shannessy Novak DjokovicCraig O’Shannessy is the creator of Brain Game Tennis. For 20 years he’s been involved in tennis as a coach to players like Kevin Anderson and even Dustin Brown when he famously beat Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon. More recently Craig’s been working as a match analyst at Wimbledon and for the ATP Tour. He has also used the unique insights from his match analysis software dartfish to guide players such as Novak Djokovic with analysis of opponents and performances.

Visit to read the latest and best selling course ‘Getting Tight’ where Craig teams up with Jeff Greenwald to combine their specific skill sets to help you with the universal problem all players struggle with in matches.


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