Return Of Serve Tennis Tips, Tricks & Technique

This post will teach you how to perform the return of serve in tennis in a few simple steps.

One doesn’t hear much about the return of serve in tennis, but it’s one of those shots that everyone expects players to be able to hit. Try to remember any recent tennis lessons you’ve participated in. You probably hit a lot of forehands and backhands, maybe some volleys, and if there was time left toward the end, you most likely practiced some serves to close it out.

As a result, one of the biggest mistake people make on the tennis return of serve, including myself, is not practicing the shot enough. The only way to generate a reliable return of serve shot is to put in regular practice hours and focus on the correct fundamentals. That’s why we’ve created a step-by-step guide to the return of serve.

However, there are some characteristics shared among the finest returners in the game. Consider them “best practices” for your tennis return game, and see if you can get that additional break of serve in your next match by implementing them. Feel free to skip ahead to the topic of your choice.

The speed of the incoming ball is the main difference between a groundstroke and a return. When returning a slow serve, the swings will be pretty similar, but you will need to make a few adjustments when returning a fast serve. Next, discover some of the key components of a solid tennis return of serve:


Where should I get into ready position for the return of serve? When you decide where to get in ready position for the return, visualize a string tied to your opposing player’s racket, and the string stretches into the service box on your side of the court. One string goes along the center of the service line and one out wide where the service line and singles line meet.

You can stand in the middle of those two lines to cover both sides. If your opponent prefers one spot over the other to serve the ball into, you may lean to that side by opening up the court to his less preferred side.

Novak is about to split step as the opponent hits his serve over the net. He's pushing off his outside foot as he sees the oncoming ball coming to his side of the court.

Many singles players, especially today, stand far behind the baseline to buy themselves time. You’ve most likely seen Nadal do this. In doubles, though, it’s generally not a good idea because it gives the other net player too much time to read your tennis return.

Split Step

The split step, which is more of a jump than a step, is a movement made by players before striking the ball. As a general rule of thumb, a split step should be taken with feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Players bend their knees and lower their center of gravity, generating a strong, athletic stance that allows them to push off with both feet in the ball’s direction.

Players will split step forward during the return when the opposing player throws the ball up during their serving motion. The returning player pushes off the ground with his forward step in the ball’s direction. Incorporating the split step into your game can elevate your performance and make the difference between intermediate and advanced players.

Tennis Of Serve - Split Step

The split step is a nuanced movement that most intermediate players neglect. Having said that, the split step is one of the most critical aspects of the return of serve and is essential to a complete game. How do you practice your split step? Split step just as your opponent makes contact with the ball.

Try watching a game and split step every time one of the players hits the ball. During your next practice session, focus on it by making it a point to split step every time your opponent makes contact with the ball. This will give you better timing going forward on this important shot, and you won’t have to give your opponent any free points on his big serves.

The Grip

In terms of grip, it is very much a matter of personal preference. Most players will choose a continental grip on their racquet since it is a neutral grip that allows them to swap between a forehand grip and a backhand grip swiftly. This is especially true for players who use a two-handed backhand. The continental grip is also an excellent choice for defensive chip returns.

here novak is hitting the second most important shot, the return of serve with his forehand grip.


As you step toward the ball, swing your racquet head forward to make contact with the ball. The contact point is out in front of the body, similar to a forehand and backhand, with the follow-through happening around the other side of the body to complete the stroke.

Tennis Return Of Serve Swing

Point of Contact

Make sure the ball is in front of you when making contact. Having someone video your returns is the greatest method to see if you’re doing it right. Looking up just before making contact, and failing to hit the ball at the correct contact point, is one of the most common errors on the return.

Watching the ball all the way until contact is an essential skill with any effective shot, but it is vital on the return due to the higher pace of the serve.

Tennis Return Of Serve - Contact Point

Recovery of Tennis Return of Serve

Given that it is doubtful for you to hit a winner off the return, your recovery after the return of serve shot in tennis is key. Depending on the strength of your opposing player’s serve, you may be pulled out wide, opening up the court for your opponent. Therefore, it is critical to quickly get back to the middle of the baseline and prepare for the next shot, just like you would during a rally.

Best Return of Serve Tips

Get the point started:

Your main goal should be to start the point whenever returning serve. Your prospects of breaking serve are minimal if you consistently miss returns. So, before worrying about anything else, focus on getting the ball in play every time. A soft, high return into the center of the court is preferable to any missed return.

Focus on depth when returning serves:

The goal of returning the first serve is to keep the server from controlling the point. Therefore, your return should not allow the server to put you under pressure with his second shot.

Rather than pace or placement, depth is the key to a solid first-serve return. Your errors will be reduced if you aim the return deep toward the center of the court and prevent the server from immediately controlling the point.

Attack The Second Serve:

The goal changes on a second-serve return. As a result, you must approach the return with an aggressive mindset. Your goal is to attack first, while the server’s goal is to hit a good enough second serve to avoid being attacked.

Tennis Return Attacking Second Serve

Take Advantage Of Your Opponent’s Weakness:

The more you can force your opponent to use their weaker groundstroke, the more likely you will win the point. As a result, whenever possible, return to the backhand side.

Of course, the server’s purpose is to his serve into the service box so that you are prevented from using the above strategies, which is why we love this game. It’s a true cat-and-mouse game between two players, especially regarding serve vs. return of serve!

Final Thoughts

That’s all there is to it. As previously stated, completing these procedures will go a long way toward assisting you in breaking your opponents’ serves and giving you a good chance of winning matches.

Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, learning to interpret your opponent’s serve technique and service motion is simply one of many steps toward mastering the return of serve.


Why Is It Important to Make the Return of Serve?

You give the opposing player a free point if you miss your return unnecessarily. By getting the return over the net and into the court on the opposite side, you force your opponent to follow up their serve with a good first shot.

Over the course of a match, this will put more pressure on the opponent’s serve, which will likely force him to make more mistakes either on his serve or on his first shot after his serve.

What Are the Best Return-Of-Serve Tactics?

  • Just get the point started by getting the ball over the net and into the court.
  • When returning first serves, focus on depth to avoid giving your opponent easy chances for put-away shots.
  • Attack the second serve as much as possible as this puts more pressure on the server to get his first serve in.
  • Run around your backhand to hit with your stronger forehand.
  • Return to your opponent’s weak shot (likely his backhand).

What Percentage of Games Are Won by The Server in Tennis?

The difference between the top and bottom players is nearly 10%. The top ten tennis players have a first-serve winning percentage of around 75%. In comparison, the bottom ten players in the Top 100 have a 67 percent first-serve winning percentage.

How Long Do Tennis Players Have to React to A Serve?

A big serve can take less than a second (around 200 milliseconds) for the ball to travel to you, so you must react fast if you return the ball with any sort of effectiveness and control.

What Is a Body Serve in Tennis?

The body serve is performed when the server aims directly at its opponent. 

Who Are the Best Returners in Tennis History?

Men: Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Andre Agassi, David Ferrer, Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori, Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian, Nikolay Davydenko, Roger Federer

Women: Garbiñe Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina, Victoria Azarenka, Chris Evert, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams.

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Christoph Friedrich is a German tennis player and coach currently residing in Oakland, California. He began his tennis journey at the age of eight and has since dedicated his life to the sport. After working as a tennis coach and hitting partner in New York City for eight years, Christoph decided to share his knowledge and experience with tennis players around the world by creating the My Tennis Expert blog. His goal is to make tennis education accessible to everyone and help players select the best equipment for their game, from racquets and strings to shoes and overgrips. Christoph's extensive research and expertise in tennis technology make him a valuable resource for players of all levels.

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