Working with some of the local USTA women’s teams, I have noticed how few doubles players make the best choices when serving. They often fault on the first serve, and they often do not choose the most advantageous placement for their serves.
1st vs. 2nd: What’s at stake?
Starting the point with a 1st serve that’s in, especially when it’s hit to the correct location(s), makes an enormous difference in the outcome of the point.
Did you know?…
- When the first serve is in, the serving team wins the point 70% of the time; whereas, a second serve wins the point only 30% of the time.
- If the server’s partner at net is controlling the middle of the court, odds are she will be successful 3 out of 4 times when the first serve is in, and only 1 out of 10 times for the 2nd serve.
There’s a real difference between how the serving and receiving teams feel, and their positioning, when comparing a point that starts on a 1st versus a 2nd serve. Watch the receiver change her stance when receiving a 2nd serve — she is thinking “attack.” For returning a 1st serve, though, her thought process will be different, and may include thoughts such as “get back to neutral” and “try to avoid the net player.” Similarly, a server’s partner at net, when defending against a 2nd serve return, may feel threatened and more likely will maintain a neutral stance as opposed to being aggressive.
Location, location, location!
Getting the 1st serve in greatly improves the server’s team chances of winning the point, but the serving location is also critical. Below is a diagram with serve location possibilities.
In the deuce side, serve to three locations, #1 #3 #4. If you serve and volley, it’s best to serve to #3 and #4. Do not open the court with a wide serve, #1, the wide serve is the surprise serve and can be used effectively, but not as the main choice. Serve into the body against a tall player. This serve will handcuff the returner and force her to return with no angle. When serving second serves on the deuce side, keep the ball in the #3 and #4 area, placing second serve to #1 and #2 is a sure way of getting your team in the hole. Serving to the ad side is a bit different. Again the body serve is best if you like to serve and volley. The best strategy on this side is to mix it up. Depth and placement the keys. I prefer to serve to #8 on my second serves — a much safer location. A backhand down the line return is a difficult shot and not often used. Remember that these diagrams and locations change when playing a left-handed player.
Practice proper serve locations. Play a set with just ONE serve (the 2nd serve), and see how difficult it is to stay on offense. Play points concentrating as the serving team.
First serve in! And we know and hear this often: location, location, location!
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