With the old guard of Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Grigor Dimitrov and Richard Gasquet still finding much success in the game, and rise of the new guard of Dominic Thiem, Denis Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitipas trailblazing the game, the briefly dying one-handed backhand, one single backhand, is seeing a renaissance. However, with a decade whether the two handed backhand, or double backhand dominated the tour in the early turn of the century, there is a distinct lack of information that is current or of sufficient depth on one of the most difficult aspects of the game, the return of serve, particularly for a one-handed backhand player. In this article, TAG International Tennis Academy’s Coach Peter Egos, who in August 2019 was crowned the Singapore National Games 35+ Men’s Singles Champion, shares his 7 best tips for a potent return of serve by a one handed backhand player.
1. Return of Serve – Starting Court Position
There is a difference between TAG Coach Peter Egos’ starting court position for his opponent’s first serve and second serve. In general, to start the match, Coach Peter Egos stands about 3-4 feet behind the baseline for the opponent’s first serve, and 1-2 feet behind the baseline for the opponent’s second serve. This gives him a little bit more time to react to the ball on a generally faster first serve than the second serve. As the match progress, Coach Peter is continually adjusting as he gets a better read on his opponent’s serve from his set-up, and also from his serving habits based on the scoreboard. As there is very limited time for the return of serve, every light advantage you can pick up on the opponent’s serve is highly significant.
2. Return of Serve – Grips
For a single backhand, the starting grip in the ready position is very important. This can be either the forehand grip like Coach Peter Egos and most players, in between both grips like Roger Federer, or a backhand grip, like Paradorn Srichaphan. What is a key secret that none of the top players share that is invisible to the eye even on high-definition television is that the dominant hand (playing hand) is actually a VERY LIGHT GRIP. (We told you you would learn true secrets in this article.) The non-dominant hand/ non-playing hand/ top hand is on the throat of the racquet. What a VERY LIGHT GRIP on the playing hand enables you to do is that depending on whether there is a need to change grip once you can determine the direction of the serve to your forehand or backhand, the top hand can facilitate the change of grip by turning the racquet, and the LIGHT GRIP allows the racquet handle to slide in the hand to the desired grip location.
If you are playing at the very top of the game of the ATP Tour where serves are coming at a very high speed, we recommend you use the Federer option to return with an in between grip, then shift one way or the other depending on whether the return is a forehand or a backhand.
At all other levels of the game, we recommend you to go with a light forehand grip, so that your decision is to change or not to change, and the top hand can facilitate the grip change with the unit turn and let the racquet handle “slide” into the ideal backhand grip position. This return method allows you to hit decent topspin, but also allows you to impact the ball “squarely” and completely flat if the ball is too fast. If the ball is too high for contact between the waist and chest height but goes above the shoulder, it also allows you to use a “milder” or more open grip to slice the ball, which Roger Federer does a lot of.
3. Split Step
Coach Peter Egos watches the ball (more so than watching the body set-up) very closely. At the point of the opponent’s racquet impact with the ball, Coach Peter takes a split step to de-gravitate and remove his body’s inertia so that he is ready to take a step in the anticipated direction of the ball.
Depending on the quality of the opponent and the anticipated spin on the ball, Coach Peter can split step on the same spot, or take a more aggressive step forward before initiating his split step.
4. Return of Serve – Pivot Turn or Unit Turn
Once Coach Peter Egos determines whether the direction of the ball will go to his forehand or backhand wing, he reacts instantaneously upon landing from his split step by turning his feet and his torso sideways. His unit turn is very compact, with a pivot step with the foot that is on the same side of the ball. Along with the pivot step, the hips, trunk and shoulders are turned as well, providing him with a lot of stored energy to quickly uncoil his body and racquet into the impact point with the ball.
5. Impact / Contact Point
Coach Peter is focused on making a very clean impact with the ball with the release of his body rotation into contact. Coach Peter’s controlled contact point at between hip and chest level allows him to vary the type of ball from a flat block to topspin return depending on the type of ball served by his opponent. Watching and eyeing the ball is very important right through the impact zone of the return of serve.
6. Step In/ or Scissor Step Finish
From the positioning of the body after the unit turn, it often seems like Coach Peter Egos may hit the ball with an open stance. However, Coach Peter reaches and extends to the ball with a diagonal cross step with his front leg and kicking back his rear leg to impart power into his serve, and to land well balanced to facilitate his recovery to the directional centre of the court based on whether his return is.
7. Return of Serve – Wrap-Up
The return of serve is one of the most difficult yet least practiced shots in tennis. The best way to practice this shot is to hire yourself some of the best tennis coaches from the best tennis academies in Singapore Tennis and torture them to serve at you for an hour while you repeatedly practice this shot. Have your tennis coach serve at your forehand from the deuce court, then backhand, then body serve, till you get each of the techniques right, then have your Singapore tennis coach mix it up so you react to the ball just like in a real match situation. Then, repeat on the advantage court.
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Wishing you every success to dominate the Singapore tennis scene, enjoy the game and playing better tennis. Many happy returns and all the best!