What is a good receive? It’s whatever maximizes your chances of winning the point. End of story.
But let’s elaborate. Many players fall into one of two bad habits when receiving: too passive or too aggressive. The ideal receiver can do both, depending on the situation. Plus, what might seem passive to some observers might, in the situation, actually be quite aggressive, such as a sudden quick and aggressive push or drop shot that catch the opponent off guard.
- Too passive. Usually this means players who push long against most backspin serves (even long ones), or make safe blocks or counters off topspin serves. Players like this develop great ball control, and if they have good defense (such as a good block), they can get away with this, to an extent. But these players are giving the server a predictable defensive return they can attack, and this becomes lower and lower percentage as you improve and play better players. And yet, even at higher levels, a good push can be an effective return, as long as it really is a good push – quick and rather fast, deep, heavy or varied spin, low, and well angled, with the direction disguised or changed at the last second. But a long push receive is a lot more effective if the server doesn’t know it’s coming, so it’s important for a good receiver to at least have the threat of something else – either an attack or (against a short serve) a short return.
- Too aggressive. Usually this means players who essentially attack every serve. While this is high percentage against deep serves (especially at higher levels), doing this over and over isn’t usually the highest percentage receive against short serves. This is where variation becomes important – so learn to push long, short, and flip.
So what is the best receive? It’s a combination of both of the above, but where each receive is chosen wisely so as to maximize your chances of winning the point. One could spend hours going over the possibilities, but all a player really needs to do is focus on one opponent at a time, and with a little experimentation and observation, figure out which receives will maximize your chances of winning the point.
If pushing over and over works, then that is the best receive; if attacking over and over works, then that is the best receive. Usually, but not always, the best is a mixture of the two, though that might take practice. Or you might get creative and use more advanced variations, such as sidespin pushes or blocks, changes of pace, and last-minute changes of directions.
There are at least two cases where you might not want to receive so as to maximize your chances of winning the point.
- Mix things up. You might receive in a way just to mix things up or give the server something to think about. For example, on a short serve to the forehand, if you don’t have a good flip the better receive might be to push, but perhaps an aggressive flip will both make the server hesitant to serve there again, and make future pushes more effective as he guards against the flip.
- Practicing for the future. You may go for more advanced but lower-percentage (for now) receives so as to practice and develop the shot. For example, on that short serve to the forehand where pushing might be higher percentage you might want to flip so as to practice that flip, so that in the future, that might become a higher-percentage receive – and thereby making your receive that much better.
So find the right balance between passive and aggressive receives, while adding in variations and practicing for the future to find the ideal receive. And if you get it wrong, there’s always the next serve.