One of the most influential shots in the game is the Return of Serve deep down the middle.
With the speed and placement of the serve getting better each year, the importance of a great return increases.
Arguably two of the greatest returners to play the game Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi have won a total of 31-32% of return games in their respective careers, one big strategy they have used is the return down the middle of the court.
The old strategy of making your opponent move laterally off the return may still be true, however, is it the best strategy? Paul Annacone, the former coach of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer states “If you don’t hit a perfect return going for the angle, then it becomes a track meet in lateral tennis, and the server usually has the advantage.”
59 time Grand Slam Champion Martina Natratilova mentioned “The deep middle return is so effective, because the server is still off balance — hit it deep enough and they have to backpedal — and it is difficult for them to hit their first shot with pace or depth. It’s gold,”
Here are some other reasons why returning down the middle can be so effective:
- Aiming for a big target down the middle is safer than aiming for a corner or a line when under pressure or off balance
- It is a way to neutralize the point
- It gives the server less reaction time to play the next ball
- Gives the server less angle to hit the next ball
- If the player is tall, it is very effective to hit deep and quick at their feet
In the women’s game the return of serve is seen as a huge weapon, Wimbledon Champion Simona Halep has a winning percentage of return games as high as 44% and newly crowned US Open Champion Bianca Andreescu at 40% showing the dominance of the return in the women’s game.
To even get the point started you must make the return, with all of the above points it’s clear that hitting down the middle is a ‘safe’ option and can actually be the strategy that wins you points.
Next time you step onto the court, think about returning down the middle to neutralise the point and watch the pressure build on your opponent.