JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best
ANATOMY of a DOUBLES SERVE RETURN…from the INSIDE OUT
In the approximate one-second it takes for the ball to arrive in your receiving strike zone, give or take, depending on serve speed, an always same-sequence of "mental, emotional, physical and mechanical events" takes place to make a successful return – the 2nd most important shot in the game - that, ideally, neutralizes the serve and results in immediately getting you on top of the point…advantage receiver.
Here's that 6-step simple, at times rapid, sequence in its naturally occurring order:
- Always walk to your estimated best return position from behind the baseline to avoid being quick served. If you're not ready put your hand up and do not play, catch, or touch the serve. Yes, as I hear so often, you are expected to play to the server's pace, BUT that's reasonable pace.
- Settle into your return ritual for optimal relaxation - bodies in motion stay in motion. Simultaneously pre-visualize your primary cross court, unpoachable target or window/margin directly over the net that connects to your down range intended court placement in the early match stages. Other visualization options may be necessary as the match progresses: lob over the netman, hit through the netman, pass the netman down the line, drop the return short. Always use the net as a reference point.
- Visually connect to the ball leaving the server's tossing hand right up to racket on ball contact right as you land your split step, instantly reading forehand, backhand, runaround.
- Then the quick pivot (no step yet) while fully loading/preparing, done by the time the ball is passing over the net while maintaining a very still head to maximize ball tracking right into your racket.
- With energized footwork, arrive to the strike point at an ideal right place, right time, getting the ball where you want it. Body serves that jam you require fast twitch, small stutter steps, to stay in motion. Serves away from the body demand a final footwork step, timed as you're in the act of striking the return.
- Now with the ball well into the opponent's court you're reconnecting visually with the ball (not the opponent directly – he/she is only in your periphery) and reading the effectiveness of your return in order to move forward or stay back depending on depth, angle, or lack thereof.
Sounds like a lot doesn't it. It's not really. Since this sequence never changes, in time with practice and commitment, a quick succession muscle memory takes over and you're thinking about nothing. Just reacting. Only the ball and picturing your shot, along with a keen, underlying sensory awareness of your moving body parts. As a bonus, you will experience a calming perception of more time, resulting in an unhurried return.
Enjoy the opportunity!
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