July 1, 2024 - Should You Guard Against the Long or Short Serve?

You can ask three coaches this question and get three different answers. Some say guard against the deep serve and react to the short one. Some say the opposite. Some say guard against both equally.

Make that four different answers, because my answer is, “It depends.”

I once coached a top player who was having trouble moving in quickly to drop short serves back short. I told him to jam the table a bit more, and let his reflexes take over against deep serves. This worked, primarily because the opponent didn’t have great deep serves, and so my player was able to dominate against his short serves.

Recently I coached a player who kept missing against his opponent’s deep, breaking serves. I told him to assume he’d get that serve every time, and just rely on his reflexes against other serves. Even though he only faced that serve about one out of four serves, he went from struggling to dominating against that serve, the opponent’s best serve, and discovered he still had little trouble against the others.

And so, my answer to the question of which to guard against is, “It depends.”

I know of at least one coach and former top player who vehemently says you should always guard against the short serve so you can win the short game battle, and rely on your reflexes against the deep serve. And I know others who say the reverse – and I know that for me, I always had to guard against the long serve, since I always handled short ones better, and needed more time to react to long serves since I usually wanted to loop them with my forehand, since my backhand loop wasn’t so good.

So . . . It depends. It depends on your receiving strengths and weaknesses, and your playing style. It depends on the strength of the opponent’s short and long serves, and how well he follows them up.

You should go into any match prepared for all serves, but perhaps, just maybe, start to guard more against certain serves than others.

So yes, it depends.