The old adage 'you are only as good as your second serve' is as true as the sun will come up in the morning, there are too many statistics to back up the fact. If you take the time to scroll through some facts and figures of tennis matches rather than just read the scores then you will notice an alarming trend in the game.
Because many players use the first delivery as basically a 'free swing' it is often hit with such pace that unless a player guesses correctly the return will come back without a great deal of interest on it. That is of course unless the returner has an exceptional ability to get the serve back no matter what the speed of delivery is.
With ground strokes being as big as they are now days a mid court service return will be treated with no respect and more often than not hit for a winner or a commanding approach shot to set up an easy volley.
A tennis player who does not spend the time to practice the return of serve is like a cricket player going into bat without a helmet, it's called lack of preparation. Many players are not interested in service return practice because it's not one of the more glamorous training routines and it's frustrating. Yet it separates the good from the average.
I have mentioned before in an older chapter how a young Andre Agassi practiced his return of serve for his Davis Cup match against Boris Becker who owned possibly the World's biggest serve when he was at his peak. Agassi moved his team mates up to the service line to hit serves at him which gave him almost no time to respond, but it quickened his eye. Routines like that are proven, it's thinking outside of the square and it spices up the same old ho hum training drills.
The return of serve has seen some brilliant exponents, Andre Agassi could possibly have been the best because he took on guys like Becker, Sampras, McEnroe, Ivanisevic and Edberg. That was an era of servers who delivered the ball with unbelievable power and Andre Agassi knocked it straight back at them or past them, more often than not. It's why he won every Slam.
Fast forwarding to some statistics of this year's French Open it is blatantly obvious that the best returners are the most successful, particularly in doubles. It has to be precise as the net player is constantly moving. Keeping one eye on the guy at the net and the other on the ball is a tough assignment yet if you watch the top exponents of the two on two format it is made to look easy.
One of the teams I am tipping to win the Mens dubs in Paris this year Dodig and Melo just squeaked past Peya and Soares by the score of 6-3, 7-6 with the tie breaker going to 10-8. Here was the difference;
Dodig and Melo won just 12 of 46 returning points or 26 per cent but it was just enough to scrape over the line as their opponents won less, 9 of 42 or 21 per cent. The biggest difference it seems however is the lack of unforced errors in that pivotal second set, they made just ONE unforced error. I find that statistic totally outrageous.
Dodig and Melo won 71 per cent of their first service points but their second serve performance was even more brilliant, 89 per cent. That's not BIG serving, that's SMART serving. So is a kick serve more effective in doubles ? You do the sums on that one. Sometimes the slower higher kick is harder to get on top of as a returner particularly if the returner is not tall.
The above examples are just a few statistics from one set of the French open this year. Imagine if you did the sums on all matches according to the height and returning ability of all players and crunched the numbers.
I believe it would be fascinating to say the least, correct me if I am wrong. The best servers in the French Open are out, Isner, Querrey, Karlovic and Cilic, the best returners however are still in. There has got to be more merit in being a top returner than a top server.....
Just a theory........