May 8, 2017 - Advantage of Passive Receives

Most coaches stress the importance of playing aggressive. This is especially true when you are serving, where you should generally follow up your serve with an attack unless the receiver does something to stop it. But many coaches also stress the importance of being aggressive on receive, and many players adopt this, and so are constantly attacking the serve. Against long serves, you should almost always be aggressive, but many are just as aggressive against short serves.

There are many advantages to this. By attacking the serve, the receiver takes control of the point, and the more he does this, the better he gets at it. There is, of course, the downside that if you are aggressive when receiving, you’ll make more mistakes. But that’s part of attacking, and is often offset by the points won by attacking the serve.

But there are also problems that arise with players who habitually attack the serve, especially short serves. Many players make it central to their game to flip nearly every serve, whether forehand or backhand. The first problem that comes out of this is that this type of player is predictable. An aggressive flip of a short serve is more effective when it is unexpected. When the receiver does this over and over, the server can adopt a serving plan specifically for that – focusing on serving very low, with great spin and/or spin variation. They can also position themselves after the serve for the predictable flip coming. Between the missed flips and the server being able to anticipate and prepare for the predictable flip, a smart server will have the advantage here against players his own level. This alone is reason enough for a smart receiver, even an aggressive one, to vary his receive.

But there’s a more hidden long-term problem with being overly aggressive against short serves. Players who habitually push short serves back long, giving the server the attack, learn to handle those attacks. Their games become much more flexible as they are comfortable both attacking and reacting to an opponent’s attack. (Note I didn’t say defending – some handle the opponent’s attack by counter-attacking, usually with aggressive blocking or counterlooping.) Players who attack most short serves often do not always develop this flexibility, and are only comfortable on the attack. This especially happens as a player improves and plays better players, who can counter-attack more effectively against these flipped receives – and so the attacking receiver, who might be used to dominating rallies with their flips, suddenly find themselves dealing with counter-attacks they aren’t used to or able to handle, and so have great difficulty in learning to deal with it – which wouldn’t have been a problem if they’d developed a more rounded receive from the start, with both aggressive and non-aggressive receives.

So it’s important to develop the skill of pushing short serves back long and handling opponent’s attack as at least one aspect of your receive game. Key to this, of course, is pushing long effectively – something you can only learn to do by doing it, just as you can only learn to flip a short serve or push it short by doing it. Practice all three – pushing long or short, and flipping – and you’ll have a much better receiving game and more developed game overall. Sometimes the best way of doing this is to have stages where you focus on one of these three receives until you are comfortable with it, and then focus on another – and eventually use all three interchangeably, depending on the opponent.

Here are some Tips on pushing.