Close on the Ball / Racket Back
Once you’ve hit your split step, the second part of the return of serve is to step out with your outside foot, turn your shoulders sideways, and get your tennis racket back. When you get the racket back, you don’t want to take it as far back as you would with a typical groundstroke from the baseline. A serve will be coming at you much faster than a groundstroke and you don’t want to take your racket back too far and be caught late to the tennis ball. The key is simply to shorten your backswing.
The second key to this step is to move diagonally into the court toward the tennis ball, because you are trying to cut off the oncoming serve. If you move out laterally along the baseline, you will have to move much further to get to the ball than if you move in diagonally to toward it. At 1:00 in the video above, notice that when I pivot my outside foot out, I only pivot it about 45 degrees out, not as far as I would on a baseline groundstroke. It’s not pivoted as far because I’m going to close diagonally on the tennis ball in the direction my foot is pointed. Because my weight was moving forward through my split step in the previous step, it will continue moving forward as I close on the ball.
At 1:20 in the video, you can see a clip of this part of the service return in action. As I come out of my split step, I pivot and step out with my outside foot, angling it about 45 degrees. I turn my shoulders sideways, and the tennis racket comes back. Notice that my weight is still moving foward. In my opinion, I am taking my racket back too far most of the time when I return serve, and you can see that here. It’s a part of my game that I need to work on. If you are looking for a pro to emulate on your return, I would recommend Andre Agassi. His backswing was virtually non-existant on his service return.
Now let’s look at Andy Roddick’s forehand return of serve. He first hits his split step, and he then steps out with his outside foot and gets the racket back. At 2:45 in the video, you can see a split screen of Andy’s forehand service return (right side) and his normal forehand (left side). Look at the difference in how far he is taking the racket back. Clearly, he abbreviates his backswing on the forehand return. Also, notice that his weight is well balanced on the groundstroke, but on the return his weight is definitely moving diagonally forward at this point.