Maximize your Serve

Last time we talked about perfecting your service toss. This week we focus on maximizing the effectiveness of your serve. Many of us have issues with our serve. Whether it’s trouble with consistency, or a weak second serve, this stroke can start you off shakily.

  • The first priority is to get the first serve in as much as possible, even if you have to hit it softer. Opponents won’t jump on a weak first serve as quickly as they will a weak second serve.

  • Next, try to move the serve around…alternate hitting to their backhand, forehand, and right at them. Pay attention to which position works and go back to it.

  • Lastly, practice, practice, practice. All you need are a bag/basket of balls and a court. Don’t just hit balls without thinking. Play an imaginary game in your head. Are you serving down 15-40, 30 all? Playing a game in your head will help you duplicate and over come the match pressure that makes your serve breakdown.

Service Toss

For the next two weeks we will focus on the serve. It is the only stroke that you initiate, and as such, it is a source for errors and missed opportunities. Today we will look at the service toss. If your toss is bad it’s hard to get the ball in the box, much less, get the full benefit of this stroke that you have 100% control over.

The service toss yips are very frustrating and hard to cure, mainly because the problem is usually mental. If you toss the ball fine when you’re practicing or playing for fun, but have problems when the pressure is on, you’ve got the yips.

 As far as the mechanics of the toss, keep these points in mind.

  • keep your tossing arm straight

  • hold the ball with your finger tips

  • don’t flick your wrist, the only joint in motion should be your shoulder

 That’s it for the mechanics. Now for the mental issues. Try the following.

  • relax, catch any bad tosses and remember, it’s just tennis

  • visualize tossing the ball straight up a chimney

  • if the toss problems continue resolve not to let it affect the rest of your game

  • lastly, practice, practice, practice-strokes that are ingrained will be more reliable

Above all else, have fun out there and enjoy the process not just the outcome. Next time we work on getting the most benefit from your serve.



   Now that we’ve worked on your volley the last few weeks, lets put it to use in doubles. Poaching may be one of the scariest moves you’ll make on the tennis court, but to be a good doubles player, it’s essential that you learn to do it well. There are four critical elements to poaching: positioning, stance, timing, and direction. Let’s take a look at each of them.

  1.  Positioning-most players stand too close to both the net and the alley to poach successfully. For best results, stand right in the middle of the service box. In this position you are right in front of the returner, who will immediately consider you more of a threat. You are also in position to intercept any return not hit perfectly crosscourt.
  2.  Stancelower your center of gravity by widening your feet and bending your knees. In this stance you will be more balanced and able to push off to go in either direction, right or left.

  3. Timingtake off for your poach either just before or right as the returner is hitting the ball. This way you are making your move when the returner is concentrating on hitting the ball so they won’t notice you (or even better, notice you and make an error on the return).

  4. Directionalways move diagonally toward the net. Players often just move sideways(usually because they are already too close to the net). By moving forward as well, your momentum helps you punch the volley, helping to resist the urge to take the racket back for power.

 I hope these tips help you develop good poaching technique. Remember, practice, practice, practice. That goes especially for the timing part of the poach. Developing good timing on the poach will yield big results in points won.

Backhand Reflex Volley

How to volley bodyshots

Have you ever had a shot hit right at your body when you were at the net? They are tough to handle.

The best way to hit a reflex volley on a ball hit right at your body is with a backhand grip. With a backhand you can hit balls from your chest to your right hip (for righties), and, of course, anything to your left. In contrast, the forehand volley has a much more limited range and can only handle shots on your right side.

Remember, we are talking about a reflex volley, one where you don’t have much time to react. To execute the backhand reflex volley:

  1. Make sure you always have your racket up in the ready position (chest high and pointed in front of you).
  2. Raise your elbow so that you can move the racket face in front of your body to block the ball.

Check out our previous tip, Punch the volley, for pointers for when you do have time on the volley.

The reflex backhand volley can keep you in the point, and possibly save you a bruise or two. Remember to keep that racket up and in front of you to give yourself more time on the volleys.

Punch the volley

Some players avoid the net for fear of getting passed or they just lack confidence in their volleys. We’ll deal with fear of failure later, for now lets work on your volley.

The key to the volley is making the stroke compact.

  • keep your racket up and in a ready position, pointed straight ahead slightly above waist height, racket head higher than handle (this is very important)
  • split step(bounce lightly on the balls of both feet with body facing forward) as your opponent hits the ball
  • turn your shoulders as you read the incoming ball, keeping your racket within your shoulders 
  • step diagonally/forward in the direction of the incoming ball with the opposite foot  (example..ball is coming toward your left side, step that way with your right foot)
  • punch the ball by using a short forward swing(with little or no back swing) with a firm grip and wrist
  •  let you body’s forward momentum provide the power
  • volley the ball away (choices-between opponents, at net man’s feet, or angled away from both opponents)

Instructions are great but nothing beats video to show you how to do it right.

Bunt the short ball

Last time we talked about hitting an aggressive approach shot off of a short ball. This week we examine what to do when you can’t quite reach the short ball while it is at a good height for an aggressive shot. Why can’t you hit an aggressive shot on a low, short ball? Because your forward momentum,  close proximity to the net, and the low height of the ball make it very difficult to swing slow enough to control the ball and keep in the court.

The solution is to bunt the ball. The bunt is basically a volley while running forward. Let’s look at the bunt.

  • As you run forward, your momentum provides all the power you need (no swing needed)

  • Run with your racket out front and push through the ball at contact (like a volley)

  • Aim the ball deep if your opponent is coming in or drop shot them if they stay back

The bunt will help you control the ball when you are at a full forward run, stay in the point, and up your winning percentage.

Attack the short ball-forehand approach shot

One of the best ways to win points in tennis is to recognize and put away short balls(balls that bounce around the service line.) When you see a short ball immediately go on the attack. Move forward into the court, turn your shoulders, but keep your body facing toward the net. Keep your opposite hand on the racket as you rotate to help insure a full shoulder turn, and keep you balanced.

    As you close in on the ball, step into the shot with your non-dominant foot(left foot for right hander), and explode forward(pushing with your dominant foot and engaging your core muscles). The key is to time the forward push as you start the forward swing, making contact with the ball on the rise and/or above the net. Launch yourself forward not upward, but neither foot should be on the ground at contact. Put topspin on the ball to clear the net and keep the ball from going long. Down the line is a high percentage shot in this instance.

Next time we’ll discuss what to do if you can’t get to the short ball while it’s on the rise or above the net.

Backhand Lob Return

This week we revisit the lob…as an option for your service return. The lob return is a great option for a serve to your backhand, especially against serve and volley players, and if your backhand return is a little weak. The stroke is pretty simple but lets look at a couple of focus points.

  • Move your feet- you still have to get in position to hit the shot(since it’s not a full swing, many people just stand flat-footed and “poke” at the ball)
  • Keep your eye on the ball-the serve is coming at you with different spin and speed and from a different height than a ground stroke. So don’t take making good contact for granted. If you frame this shot to the net man, he’s going to make you or your partner eat it.
  • Lob the net man-if the server is coming in he’s going to have to change direction to track the lob down, or the net man will have to run it down himself.

See “What to focus on when lobbing” for more on how to hit an effective lob.
Mix in the lob return to throw your opponents off balance and put your team on the offensive. See “Where to go after the lob” for more on making an effective lob pay off.

Australian Doubles part 2

 In honor of the Australian Open, we started to explore the Australian doubles formation in our last tennis tip. (See Aussie Doubles) The Australian formation is executed by the serving team and involves positioning the server’s partner across the net from the receiver’s partner.(Instead of across the net from the receiver). The server positions themselves very close to the center mark, because they will be covering the other side of the court.

How to execute the Australian formation

    1. The server’s partner – the server’s partner positions themselves directly across the net from the receiver’s partner, in the center of the box, about 4 feet from the net. When the serve is struck, the receiver will have to hit the return down the line or slightly cross-court in an effort to go behind the server’s partner and between them. To cover the cross-court shot the server’s partner should close(move toward the net) toward the receiver as they execute their return. This offers the best opportunity to cut off and put away the return if it is hit cross-court. The is the key advantage of using the Australian formation.

    2. The server – the server positions themselves very close the center hash mark when they serve. After they serve, they need to immediately slide to cover the possible down-the-line return. From this position they have a better angle to hit cross-court between their opponents or rally back down the line to the receiver.

Australian doubles graphic
Australian doubles graphic

   You need to practice this formation to learn all the variables. For instance, the receiver may opt to return high cross-court OVER the server’s partner. In this case the server’s partner should start positioning themselves back near the service line to be better able to hit an overhead off of this type of return.

  Try the Australian formation to give your opponents a different look and put your team in scoring position. Good luck on the courts.

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