There is a specific footwork variation you can use sometimes when returning serve that doesn’t involve the more complicated footwork that we talked about in the previous videos.
At 0:20 in the video, I am returning Andrej Loncar’s serve, and he is going to kick it down the middle. Down the middle goes to my forehand, and this is going to allow me to take a big cut at the tennis ball. As I begin my return motion, I step in to the court just like on a normal return, but notice that I am starting slightly further back than on a normal return. As Andrej winds up, I step forward and again, notice that I time my split step so that I am just beginning to rise off the ground as he makes contact.
When I land my split step, I am simply going to stay back and use normal groundstroke footwork. I pivot my outside foot and step out with it, and turn my shoulders completely sideways. I move laterally down the baseline to my contact area, and take my tennis racket back just like I would on a normal groundstroke. I swing just like a normal groundstroke. Also, notice that I am using an open, not a closed stance on this service return. I’m trying to return this ball much harder than a normal return. Standing further back like this gives me more time to prepare to hit, which means I can take a much larger cut at the tennis ball.
This is a good technique to use if you are having trouble with the normal return, moving diagonally to cut the ball off and shortening up your backswing. It’s also useful if your opponent has a big serve, because it will give you more time to set up. You’ll see this technique used quite a bit on the pro tour. Someone like Agassi would stand at the baseline, move in and cut the ball off, and shorten his backswing. Someone like LLeyton Hewitt though would hang back and take big cuts using an open stance.
Finally, it’s important to master this technique because it will add more variety to your game and allow you to change things up against your opponents.