February 14, 2011 - What To Do With Problem Serves

Everybody has at least one serve that always gives them trouble. It might be a certain sidespin, or a deep serve, a short serve, a no-spin serve, an angled serve, etc. (For example, you can almost divide players into two groups - those who have fits with forehand tomahawk serves to the forehand, and those that loop them with ease. Which are you?) The question is what to do against these problem serves?

First, focus on control. Place the ball, usually at a wide angle and deep. Often this alone will solve the problem. You don't need to dominate on an opponent's serve (though it helps); you need to break even, and dominate on your serve.

If you are still having trouble, analyze the problem. If you keep popping the ball up, or hitting it wide, adjust. If you keep making the same mistake, and don't adjust your return, you'll keep making the same mistake.

Against some serves, you might try a "scare tactic." If there's a single serve that really bothers you, attack it relatively hard one time. Loop it or flip it aggressively! Scare the server. Even if you miss it, most often he won't use it again, at least very often. If he does keep using it, then you'll just have to figure out how to return that serve because you're up against a smart opponent. (I know I have far more difficulty looping a deep serve that breaks away from me, like a deep backhand serve or tomahawk serve. I have little trouble looping ones that break into me, such as a regular forehand pendulum serve. Guess which one I tend to be more aggressive with the first time I see it? The last thing I want to do is be too soft against a serve that breaks away from me, which is practically telling the opponent to keep giving me that serve since I have trouble with it.)

Conversely, is there a serve that you are very good at receiving? One that you can really loop or flip aggressively, for example? Don't go overboard attacking this serve too much early in a game or you'll never see it again. Consider slowing down your attack of this serve, being consistent with good placement, and slowly building up a lead. Instead of one-shot winners, return the serve to take the initiative - play the percentages.