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SERVICE ALTERNATIVES
HOME > TIPS > INTERMEDIATE TIPS > SERVICE ALTERNATIVES
Rusty Wright
05-24-2004

OK, I am not as quick as I used to be. I am 42 years old and most of the tournament players that I play against can eat my serve for lunch. Lately, my serve is usually the first to be broken in a close match because I am trying to do too much with it and I fault, or I don’t get to net quick enough to make the first volley. Even if I do make my first volley, I often end up popping the ball up to my opponent’s waiting paddle. Either way, when I serve, the points seem to end very quickly…not exactly great paddle. Does this sound familiar?

As my game matures, I have been forced to be creative and adapt to my opponent’s game when I serve. Rather than ending a point quickly by continuing to make the same mistakes over and over, I have been working with my partner to make changes in our service strategy to accommodate my “less than rapid footwork”. Here are five of the primary service alternatives that I like to use.

  1. The first option is simply to have my partner poach into the center of the court in an effort to cut off a strong return of serve. Make sure you and your partner are in sync with this move (often faking a poach can be as effective as poaching). As the server, I will have to retrieve any balls that pass my partner at net. If my partner does pick off a drive and volley it back deep, I assume my position next to him at net.
  2. Another popular option is the Australian Doubles formation (i.e. my partner lines up in the opposite position at net). If used effectively (and sporadically) this method will take your opponents out of their “zone” and will hopefully force changes in their strategy. At the very least, I have put my partner in the center of the court (the lowest part of the net) in position to make the first volley and get us into the point. Obviously, if my opponents adapt quickly, they will simply put the ball down the line, which forces me to make an even more difficult first volley. Perhaps, on the other hand, the high part of the net will force them to make a mistake or the new angle required to go down the line will send the ball long or wide.
  3. After several missed first volleys, resulting from opponents who are returning serve well, I came to the realization that I was better off not charging to net at all. Instead, I have consciously decided to take the “lazy but safe” tactic of waiting for a hard return to pass me and then retrieving it off the screen. By following this tactic, at least I am able to get into the point, albeit not from the dominant net position, but I am less liable to make a first volley mistake. Oh yeah, don’t forget to mention this formation to your partner…and quickly! Unlike the Australian Doubles format, not following a serve to net can often be a unilateral decision made “on the fly”. If I do not warn my partner that I am being slow and lazy, he could find himself out of position. My partner has become used to me being slow and lazy so he is usually on the lookout for this maneuver.
  4. As a change of pace, I will get my partner to start at the baseline with me and then charge the net with me as I serve. This does nothing more than show our opponents a different view. With so many options, our opponents often cannot help but try something DIFFERENT. Getting them to do something different is a small victory in itself. If they continue to hit hard, we are in a better position to catch them in transition by driving off the screen on the retrieval. If all goes as planned, we can work the point and try to win from the baseline.
  5. A variation of #4, and often as a follow-up to #4, I will signal to my partner to purposely stay back after I serve rather than both charging together. This forfeiting of the net position forces our opponents to do all of the work at net. If we are lobbing well, and we are patient with our drives from the baseline, we can hold serve without ever reaching the net. This is more fun than getting burned at net by a big service return.

If my opponents are playing very well and the match seems to be slipping away quickly, using these service alternatives can hopefully change the momentum or at least slow it down. I equate this type of match to gambling in Las Vegas... The odds of winning are against me, so I am just trying to make my money last as long as possible. The more creative and patient that I can be, the better the chances of a momentum swing and a surprise upset.

 

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