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On two matches I lost recently, I thought I hadn't taken advantage of my opponent's serve.

One had a pretty short and dinky with a some weird spin (she had some shoulder problem).

The other one had a powerful first serve which I had to block, but her second serve was easy with some kind of spin (which I blocked anyway, but I didn't realize until later that I should have tried to topspin it back, which was harder for her...)

I just realized that if I can tell their serve is going to be slow, then I should prepare my grip properly (western forehand grip), and take most advantage of it.

I think my mistake was to make a safe return, and not doing anything with it, not aggressive enough.

My question is: on easy serves, should I be trying to rip every return, or should I play it safe and go for a well placed return?

  • I suspect it's hard to say without having some idea of your ability level: the answer is different for Andy Murray than for a recreational tennis player, and in between. What's your ability level? What kind of shots can you make? How hard are the serves coming at you? – Joe Feb 1 '15 at 5:21
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Like Joe said in his comment, the ideal strategy depends largely on your level. That said, I can offer in general what I think about when trying to take advantage second serves.

Some things I consider:

The Situation: This plays a large role in how aggressively I try to play someone's second serve. If I'm up multiple break points (say from the server's perspective its 0-40 or 15-40) then I tend play a little freer. If I've found that break points haven't been that hard to come by so far in the match, I might even go for a winner right off the return. Even if I miss then I still plant a seed of doubt in my opponents mind that the next time they need to hit a second serve that I might go for a winner again.

On the other hand, if it is 30-40 and this is the first break point I've had the entire match, I'll play a bit more conservatively. By conservatively I mean that I'll still go after the return, but I might just try to rip it down-the-middle or cross-court and work the point from then on. A deep return towards the server's feet can often be quite effective at generating a short ball, which might be easier to attack than my opponent's second serve.

The Serve Quality of my Opponent: This is a big variable in the equation as well. If I find that my opponent has a very predictable second serve (e.g. they always try to kick it to my backhand, or they always just spin it in to the middle of the box) then I tend to be very aggressive with my returns (regardless of the situation). The reason is that if their serve is predictable, even if I miss a few returns in the beginning, I'll eventually develop a rhythm and start making more.

More advanced players will have the confidence to place their second serves and vary their location -- when they are able to do this it is much harder to develop a rhythm; for that reason I tend to be more conservative against players who show the ability to place their second serve (because I can't, say, on the deuce side, sit on looking to run around my backhand and rip a forehand, because they might serve out wide to my forehand).

Although even in the case when players can vary their second serve location, sometimes it is possible to read where they are hitting it based on their toss (e.g. some players telegraph that they are hitting a wide serve by tossing the ball farther toward the doubles alley). Against players whose serves I can read, I again am fairly aggressive.

My Own Confidence That Day: This is the obvious wildcard in all of this. If I'm feeling comfortable with my forehand, I might swing a little freer on returns. In general if you are feeling comfortable it is a good idea to disrupt your opponent's rhythm by hitting aggressive returns. Some days, however, I find it hard to get a rhythm, so I might just roll the return in and try to get in a rally to try and generate some rhythm for myself; hopefully then my confidence will improve.

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This comes with practice, in every 2nd serve which is commonly be served in twist or kick serve, visualize the ball course during practices and try to hit a return ace.

It depends if you're an offensive player with hard groundstrokes. In my case, I try to smash the ball back usually inside out where it easy to control, but for defensive/offensive, try to do short drop shots or slice it across the net. If the serve is low, try to practice rising shot. Please refer to this video.

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