Have you ever had an opponent aim a return right at you when you’re up at the net? Most of the time, when recreational or club level players are in a match and the net player gets drilled by a return, I think it’s probably not intentional. It’s more of an attempt at a down-the-line return gone wrong. But what if your opponent is really trying to hit you with that return? In this episode of Tennis Quick Tips, I’ll answer a listener’s question about this and give some really great options for dealing with this kind of return. You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player above or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in iTunes by clicking on this link: tennisfixation.com/itunes.
I’m excited about today’s episode because, first, I’m going to answer the question of a Tennis Quick Tips listener and I think it’s something that is going to benefit all of us. Second, I’m excited because I’m talking about something that’s not very fun or not very nice to have to face out on the court.
How Do You Handle the Return Aimed at the Net Player?
So let’s jump right in and talk about how to handle the return aimed at the net player. This is something that can come up in doubles and you need to have a plan for this when it starts happening to you.
But let’s go back to the email I got from Tennis Quick Tips listener Sal. He wrote a very nice email and I love getting emails from yall. I love hearing questions about what’s going on in your tennis world because, I promise you, whatever problems you’re facing, I’m facing them as is everybody else out there. So I love to hear those questions and problems because they are often great topics for Tennis Quick Tips podcast episodes.
Sal was very nice and complimentary in his email and this is the question he asked me:
How have you dealt, or maybe your partner has dealt with someone who has targeted the net man on a return of serve in a doubles match? It’s especially troublesome when it’s a strong player (male or female) hitting at a weaker player (male or female). Cheers, Sal
So, let’s talk about that situation, the returner who intentionally aims a hard return at the net player in doubles. The reason I think this is a great topic to discuss is because, if this happens to you, if you face a returner who aims his or her return at you as the net player, it can be something of an unpleasant surprise and it may be something that you’re not necessarily prepared for. And if you’ve never thought about what you would do in this situation, it can be hard to come up with some effective responses right then and there out on the court as it’s happening.
The good news is I’ve actually played a match where this happened to me, where one of my opponents in a doubles match hit almost every single one of her returns very hard and right at me, the net player. It only happened when my partner was serving. It wasn’t happening to my partner when I was serving. And so I really had to come up with some way to deal with this. And this happened to me a few years ago but I remember it very well because I thought it was odd and, frankly, I thought it was pretty rude. And it was clear that this particular opponent had the ability to direct her returns and I’m 98% sure in that situation that she was doing this on purpose, hitting hard, flat returns right at me, the net player.
Most of These Returns Are Unintentional
I’ll start out by saying that, most of the time, when recreational or club level players, like us, are in a match and the net player gets hit by a return, I believe it’s probably not intentional. It’s more of an attempt at a down the line return gone wrong. And I know that I have done this, I’ve hit someone up at the net, and I promise you, I don’t want to hit my return right at the net player, mostly because I’m worried that they will just stand there and easily get my return back and win the point. So, I am not myself trying to hit a down the line return right at the net player. And I will bet that most of you feel that same way too. If you have hit a net player with your return, it’s probably because you were trying to hit a down the line return and just didn’t make it.
Option 1 – Stay at the Net and Volley the Return
But when this does happen intentionally, I think there are some ways that you can deal with it. First, you can just stay up at the net and try to volley that return back. Because I promise you, the reason that someone does this, aims at the net player with their return, is because they want you to back off the net. Either you’ve been doing a good job up at the net or they just want to get you to back up so that, as a team, they can take over the net and press you and your partner back to the baseline. So, what you can do is refuse to get off the net and just try to volley that return back. And frankly, this is easier than you might think because if the volley is coming right at you and you know it’s going to come right at you, you pretty much just have to stick your racket up and block that return back. I’m not saying that you need to block it back and hit a winner. But block it back, take that return away, and then play the point out from there.
And this is my preferred way to deal with this situation just because I personally do not like to move off the net. I hate giving up that spot. I know that I’m more effective when I’m up at the net and so I don’t like to move off the net no matter what people are doing to me. To my detriment in some situations! But this is the first way that I would try to deal with this return, is maybe take a step or two back to give me a little more room, but try to stay up at the net and volley back that return aimed at me with a block volley.
Option 2 – Back Up to the Baseline for the Return
Of course, there’s another way to deal with this and, if that returner is hitting really hard returns and you can’t volley then back or you are seriously concerned about getting hit or getting hurt, and this certainly could be a situation that you face, you should probably go ahead and move back to the baseline. Or just a few steps inside the baseline. And get back there with your partner, the server.
Now, the reason I don’t like doing this, as I said, is because I hate to give up the net and I hate to let that returner think that they beat me out, that they got some kind of psychological edge over me. I don’t want them thinking that they’ve done such a fabulous job with that return that my partner and I have given up the net. But the reality is, and even I need to face this, that once that return is hit, you can easily work your way back up to the net. And most people who are hitting this kind of return, they don’t necessarily have anything else to follow it up with that is out of the ordinary. In other words, if you take that particular return away from them by moving off the net, you don’t usually have to worry that some other fabulous thing is going to happen. So by moving off the net, you’re taking that “weapon” away from them and they usually don’t have a second weapon to follow up with.
Option 3 – Change the Serve
Now, I said I got into an exchange with Sal about this and he had a great third option for dealing with this situation. And the reason that it’s so great is that it made me think back to my own match where I was the one that was getting this type of return and I thought that I was doing something to make that happen. But the reality is, it may be that I was getting hit that type of return because what my serving partner was doing. So let’s talk about a third option that Sal himself suggested.
I don’t like giving up the net either as that is a huge advantage in doubles play, so usually I alter the serve to make it more difficult for the returner to target my partner and giving my partner a chance for the poach/put-away.
And this is a great third option. If you’re the net player who is being targeted, talk to your partner about changing where they’re serving, changing what the target of their serve is. This means, if that net player is hitting at you with their forehand for example, then your partner may need to serve to their backhand. Similarly, if they’re able to do this with their backhand, then maybe your partner needs to start serving more to that returner’s forehand. Or just hitting them a different type of serve. Maybe something that’s not quite as hard and flat. Maybe something that’s something that’s softer and that they really tee off on and end up hitting a poor return. But to just stand their as the server’s partner and take these returns and think that it’s your problem, you’re removing one of the advantages of doubles play from yourself, which is working with your partner. So you need to talk to your partner about the fact that this is happening and see if there’s something your serving partner can do to stop this. And that might be as simple as changing the target or the type of serve that they’re serving to this returner.
Option 4 – Hit Your Return at the Returner?
I also want to throw out that Sal made this comment which I thought was actually really nice and great and shows you the type of player he is. He says:
I have been playing tennis since the mid seventies and in my younger days, when I was not so forgiving, I remember targeting the offending opponent back as a sign of letting that person know that that kind of play was not appreciated. It usually took just once for them to get the message. I’ve since grown up and just glare at the offender and talk with my partner about strategies from that point on.
So I guess that’s a fourth option. You could take it out on that returner when they’re the net player if you think you’re good enough to do that. Maybe just glaring at them would be good. Or making some type of comment although the problem with making a comment is that usually just reaffirms for them that their strategy is working and they’ll just keep it up. But maybe targeting them when it’s your turn to hit the return is a fourth option.
Anyway, those are the three options that I think you can take when dealing with the returner who is aiming right at the net person. And again those were,
- Just stay at the net, block that return back with a block volley and don’t let them drive you off the net as they’re obviously hoping to do.
- Get off the net. Back up. Get back there on the baseline and take that particular return away from them. Then quickly work your way back up to the net when you have an opportunity.
- Talk to your partner about changing the type of serve that they’re giving to that returner that’s allowing that particular return to happen.
Those are the three top options. And, of course, there’s Sal’s fourth option which is to return one right at the returner when you have the chance.
So thanks Sal for sending in your excellent question. It was a great topic for a podcast episode. I’ve actually got a couple others coming from other listeners who have sent me equally great topics. They’re the type of topics that you won’t find any pro instructing you about them. You probably won’t find them discussed in a book. But they happen to you and me out on the court and we need to know how to deal with them.
If you want to submit a question, just leave a comment with your question in the comment box below.
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