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The Big Point Return
I get many emails about the return game on a monthly basis. Many of the questions concern technique while others have to do with tactical elements. Today we are going to discuss, in my opinion, the most important and under-coached tactic in the return game. Just to prove my point, the next time you watch a match played by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova, or any other top 10 player, I would like you to closely observe (statistically) where they return the ball on key points.
Moya gets himself into this point with this deep return down-the-middle.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule; however, on the most crucial points, they will predominantly return the ball to the same spot over and over again - deep down-the-middle!
Why do the best players in the world hit the ball deep down-the-middle? It's so simple it's genius really. The funny thing is that so many people do not understand the effectiveness of this tactical return play. There are four specific reasons that make this play the best tactical choice on big points.
High Percentage Play
Fact, the middle of the court allows for the most margin for error. Therefore, it is the highest percentage shot one can hit on the return because, quite simply, there is more court area to return the ball into. This means if you miss your target slightly, the ball will still go in; whereas if you aim down the line or crosscourt, and slightly miss your target, the ball may go wide and land out of bounds.
Take Away the Angle
As they say, an angle creates an angle, so you guessed it, returning deep down-the-middle makes it very difficult for your opponent to create an angle off your return. This means that, very likely, the first ball hit by the server back to you will be back down-the-middle of the court. This will allow you to more easily drive the ball into the open court and take control of the point.
The key word not to overlook, however, is "deep." If your return is short, it will be much easier for the server to hit an angle so the down-the-middle return must be hit deep or its effectiveness will be diminished.
Catch Your Opponent Inside Baseline
When your opponents serve, they will typically jump off the court and transfer their weight into the ball. This naturally forces them to land or move inside the baseline. If you take the return on the rise and hit the ball deep down-the-middle, many times the server will be caught hitting the ball before he/she has had ample time to fully recover back behind the baseline, robbing him/her of needed time. This may force the server to hit a half-volley reply to this deep, down-the-middle return, so catching your opponent inside the baseline in this fashion can be a very effective tactic for you.
Produce a Short Ball Response
Kim Clijsters neutralizes the server's advantage. Placing the return deep down-the-middle takes away the server's angle of reply.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the down-the-middle return is that, when executed properly, with depth and taken off the ground early, it will likely produce a weak reply from the server. This is because a well-struck, deep return will catch the server in an awkward position (inside the baseline) and push them back on their heels, scrambling to recover.
Hence, the server will often cough up the short ball. This allows the returner to immediately strike the open court and begin controlling the point. Typically, the server is the one in control, so this tactic is the ultimate neutralizer and changes the way one looks at return games.
So there you have it, one of the biggest secrets on tour and the reasons this tactic is so valuable. I encourage you to implement this tactic into your next match and watch as your whole return game mentality changes. You will begin to break your opponents more often and look at the return as an opportunity to attack and get inside your opponents' heads rather than just get the ball back into play. With this tactic you give yourself much more margin for error while at the same time you are able to neutralize the big serve and many times put yourself into a position to be able to attack off the bat. Try it out and let me know how it goes.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
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