Tips on returning serve. If you do not get the serve back you cannot break your opponents serve; that is called "breaking serve," when you beat their serve and you cannot win because all you are going to do is stay even with your opponent. So you need to find a way to return serves.
Now, there are really two types of serves. There is the first serve, which is generally a faster, harder serve and then there is the second serve. I am going to talk about the first serve return and Kirk is going to talk about the second serve return.
The first serve return you are probably going to need to stand further back behind the baseline than a second serve because it is harder and your job is to be ultra-ready and learn to get in a very, deep low position and just as your opponent is about to toss the ball, you take a step forward, and just as your opponent is hitting the serve, you split step and land just when the ball is being struck and turn to either your forehand or backhand to get the ball back.
Now, generally your first serve, because it is hard, you're not going to have time to take a big swing. You're going to probably have to take a very short back-swing and block the ball back. Sometimes if you have a little time you can take a very short backswing and take a nice long follow through. But, the returning serve, on a first serve is more of a blocking situation or more of a deflecting the energy situation. So you are going to slice a lot of first serves back just to get them back in the court.
The other thing about returning serves is that you want to try to return the ball fairly deep in the court; you don't want to just block it back and have it land just over the net. So that is how I would recommend returning a first serve. Kirk is now going to tell you about returning a second serve.
Kirk: Let us assume that the second serve is average and he is trying very hard to get the ball in. If the serve is typically significantly weaker I would recommend standing a yard or two inside the baseline rather than have the player hit the ball very short and the next thing you know you are sprinting up to get to the ball; now his nothing serve is rather effective because you are chasing too far after it. So move in, when you expect that, before he even hits that second serve. With the softer ball you have more time to move so I would recommend using some foot work, moving to the ball, and now you can take a fairly complete stroke at the ball.
You can make good placements; you can make aggressive answers to it. You can hit the ball and run right to the net because you are already on your way in the first place, so it is a whole different psychology. The common denominator is that we do not want to miss these either. The easy balls that you miss are exasperating. Play aggressively; do not play recklessly on the second serve. Don't hand away points.