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Keys To Holding Serve

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man serving in a tennis doubles match

By Paul Bartholomai, Peachtree Station Swim & Tennis Club Tennis Director

Statistically, if you examine doubles teams at the 3.5 and 4.0 level, these players hold serve about 40 percent of the time. With this statistic in mind, I have a question for you: What can we do to improve that number?

In order to hold serve more often, we need to do the following:

  1. Increase the first serve success percentage.
  2. Focus on placement of serve rather than power.
  3. Server’s partner needs to apply constant pressure.
  4. Change the serving formation. “I” formation, Australian formation, open alley, plan poach, never-hit-a-backhand formation.

Increase percentage of first serves
If your first serve is not going in as planned, you will need to take some pace off and increase your number of first serves in. There are two, main reasons why getting the first serve in is so important:

  • You can control the point right away and even get some free points.
  • The receiver’s mindset on returning a first serve is of respect and caution unlike returning a second serve, which is of attack, control, and dominate.

Placement rather than power
A well-placed serve is as effective as a powerful serve. When serving, you have control over the ball and you get to choose the targets. Each target has a potential return:

  • Wide serve (target A) = cross-court or down the line return
  • Body serve (target B) = middle/cross-court return
  • Center serve (target C) = middle return

Knowing the possible return helps us plan how we want to play the point out. If the server’s partner is a good net player, you will want to serve “center serve.” On the other hand, if the server’s partner doesn’t like to volley, you might want to serve “wide” so it comes back cross-court, away from the net player.

Server’s partner needs to apply constant pressure
The server’s partner plays an important role; his/her job is to D – A – D:

  • D = Distract
  • A = Attack
  • D = Defend

The more active he/she is, the more he/she will force the returner to hesitate and to pay more attention to the net player rather than to the ball. The less attention your opponent pays to the ball, the weaker or more inconsistent the return will be.

Different doubles formation
The majority of players feel confident returning serve cross-court but struggle on the down-the-line or lob return. So, why set up different formations when serving?

  1. It is a useful way of disturbing the rhythm of players who are used to returning against standard doubles formations.
  2. It creates some indecision in their return game.
  3. It forces the receiving team to change direction on the return of serve.

Try to make them return up the line, which is over the high part of the net. A lot of players aren’t comfortable doing that.