No-spin and Backspin Serving Tactics

January 21, 2014

MDTTC Mini-Camp

Yesterday we had day one of our two-day mini-camp, with local schools closed for Martin Luther King Day and teachers meetings. Unlike our regular five-day camps, there is no lecturing in these camps, just get the players on the table and start training, with lots of multiball in the morning.

Over and over idea keeps slapping me in the face, one I've said for years: Most of coaching isn't telling players what to do; it's getting rid of unnecessary stuff. For every time I have a player actually do something new, there are probably three times where I tell them to stop doing something they are doing, usually some sort of hitch in a stroke. For example, one beginning kid in the camp was hitting his forehand by dropping his racket but with the racket tip aimed upwards, tilting his wrist back, then doing this round-about stroke where his racket angle started open and ended up closed, with the tip always up. His elbow did all sorts of gymnastics during the stroke, and he used enough wrist to solve the national energy crisis. He couldn't smash to save his life, and his shots sprayed all over the place, often with crazy sidespins. By the end of the day, he had a pretty clean forehand (in drills), and he could smash over and over.

My group did a lot of serve practice in the camp, and I had a lot of fun demonstrating the various dances you can make the ball do with good spin - back into the net, big breaks to the side, etc.

No-spin and Backspin Serving Tactics

I worked with a student recently on serve and attack tactics. For example, I pointed out that when an advanced player serves short no-spin to the middle, he's probably going to look to follow up with his forehand, since he's hoping the opponent misreads it as backspin - so you either attack the serve or push mostly to the wide forehand while chopping down on the ball. Intermediate players will push this ball to the backhand over and over, with less backspin than most pushes (since they don't have any incoming backspin to rebound back as backspin), and often slightly high, and so an easy meatball for a good forehand attacker. A simple push to the wide forehand often wins the point.

On the other hand, a backspin serve to the short forehand gives the receiver the threat of a wide-angled return to the wide forehand, and since the server has to cover that, he can't look to play as aggressively with the forehand. But it's harder to attack a short backspin serve than a no-spin serve, so most returns are pushes, so an advanced player is usually looking to loop against backspin, either forehand or backhand. Off this serve a receiver can just push down the line to the server's backhand - and the server is more likely to look to serve and attack with the backhand, or perhaps just serve and push. I had the student experiment with these, following up the no-spin serve to the middle with his forehand when possible, and following up his short backspin serve to my forehand from both wings. He'd also serve backspin to my backhand, and be ready to either follow from both wings, or do sudden step arounds to attack with his forehand, since there's no angle into his forehand off that serve to cover for.

You should vary your serves all over the place, but understand the advantages and disadvantages of each type of serve and play the tactics accordingly. (I think I could write a book on just serving short tactics!) 

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