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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.