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How to Receive a Serve in Court Tennis

Updated on August 23, 2012
Serena Williams is one of the best serve returners in women's tennis.
Serena Williams is one of the best serve returners in women's tennis. | Source

Tennis, like golf or jogging, is a life sport. As we age, we may change how we play it or how quickly we move but we can still continue enjoying the game. Some of the wiliest players I have shared the court with have been men and women 70 years or older. It's inspiring to watch an 80 year old woman moving around and having a great time playing a sport like tennis. They often look unusually young for their years, too. Tennis is a very fun sport. One thing is for sure, though, if you can't receive serve, you can't get the game going and you will enjoy it a lot less. To help, I've put together a few tips on how to receive a serve in tennis.


Deuce side: the side of the court on your right.

Ad side: the side of the court on your left.

Being ready and focused will help you to successfully return a serve in tennis.
Being ready and focused will help you to successfully return a serve in tennis. | Source
Tennis is a life sport.
Tennis is a life sport. | Source

Tips for returning serve in tennis

  1. Note whether the server is left or right handed. This will affect where you stand when receiving their serve. A right handed server will naturally hit a ball that moves to your right, a left handed server will naturally hit a ball that moves to your left. In the deuce court, when facing a right handed server, stand on or a little past the singles side line. If you are returning the serve of a lefty, stand about a 1-2 feet to the left of the singles side line. In the ad court, stand to the right of the singles side line when returning a right handed serve and at or past the singles side line when returning a left handed serve. A professional server can turn their wrists to create spins in any direction but, at the club level, this is how the majority of servers operate.
  2. Watch the ball, not the server. I've seen some pretty creative service motions. One woman looked like she was casting some kind of magical spell by waving her racket in a circle in front of her face as she tossed the ball. Another barely tosses the ball higher than her head. If you watch them instead of the ball you can get distracted so it's best to just focus on the ball so you are ready when the ball arrives in the service box.
  3. Get your racquet back. I love watching Serena and Venus Williams play. One of the big things I notice and try to emulate is how early they prepare their racquets to strike the ball. Whenever I start flubbing my serve receive (often) I try to remind myself of the Williams sisters. When you get your shoulder turned and racquet back early the results are way better than when you try to cram in the whole motion at the last second. Preparation, preparation, preparation.
  4. Shorten your swing. I know we see professional players who receive serves way behind the baseline and take full swings at serves. How many servers at the club level do you know that can serve a 120 mph kick serve? Remember: you need to adjust your swing to your court position keeping system five in mind. At the club level, you will most likely receive serve between zones 3 and 4--the areas between the service line and the baseline. If you want to keep the ball in the court you don't want to take a full back swing. Shorten your swing and your follow-through to return a serve at this level. Full swings are only for when you are standing behind the baseline.
  5. In doubles, angle yourself towards the server. This is a helpful tip I learned from my local club professional. He told us we should always face the direction from which the ball is coming. Believe me; it works wonders. My forehand returns are much better when I'm angled in the direction of the server. I feel more set up and prepared, especially since I often receive serve fairly close to the service line. It also helps me to charge the net, a big part of doubles tennis, after returning the ball; following the path that I've sent it.
  6. In doubles, keep the ball low. A high return of serve in doubles tennis will most likely result in your partner being pummeled by and overhead or put-away volley.
  7. Don't try to hit a winner on the return of serve. Be patient and set yourself up for a winner as the point develops. For every winner you strike on your return, you most likely hit one in the net or out of the court so it's best to see your return as a set up shot instead. Place your shot strategically. The mantra that my doubles partner and I had was "smarter not harder". We won a lot easier when we kept those words in mind.

Tennis is certainly a fun game. Being able to return a serve consistently will increase your enjoyment. When you become more consistent, you can play at a higher level. Hopefully these seven tips will help to improve this important part of your tennis game.

┬ęDenise Mai, August 23, 2012. All rights reserved.

Follow me on Twitter! @denise_mai


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    • denisemai profile image

      Denise Mai 5 years ago from Idaho

      Hahaha! Duck and cover. Darnit. I forgot to add that important tip. Your husband must have quite the serve. Thanks for reading. And making me giggle.

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 5 years ago

      Your tennis hubs are great! Keep it up ^_^ This is how I receive a tennis serve from my husband -

      1. Make sure I'm in good position

      2. watch him bounce and prepare to serve

      3. watch the ball zoom towards me

      4. duck and cover or run away ^_^

      Voted up!!