Serving to a Rusher
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What do you do with an opponent who has read last issue's article on returning serve in doubles and is now giving you all sorts of problems on your serve? Before you flick every time, here are some ways to neutralize the rushed return:
Serve wide to the alleys. It helps if your partner has a good backhand, since you will be exposing it to a down the line return on a serve to his backhand alley. Also, figure out which "hand" - forehand or backhand - the receiver uses from either court to return serve, then serve slightly wider to that point where he has to change from one "hand" to the other.
Drive your serve fast and low at the receiver's head or chest. This is particularly effective against a tall rusher who waits in a very upright stance close to the short service line. The return will come back very quickly, so have your next shot ready.
Come set, and then hold your serve. You must serve within five seconds, but if you vary your hold time from one serve to the next the receiver's timing is thrown off. Usually the guessers start tipping over toward their forehand; serve to the backhand. You are in trouble if this tactic does not stop the rush - the receiver is a fundamentally aggressive player.
Serve deliberately short. The hard rushers have very little time to decide whether a particular serve will land good or not so they may try to play the serve. The next time try serving even shorter. You are in deeper trouble if this tactic doesn't work either - not only is the receiver aggressive, but also quick and experienced.
Your serve may be easy to read. One way to deceive the receiver is to take a big backswing and slice across the bird as you serve. With the same stroke you can serve short or long, but the short serve is difficult to master and so is less consistent. The way I prefer is to strike the shuttle with a short, quick-but-controlled stroke, which gives the receiver less time to react.
The first and fourth option make the receiver lift the bird more, the other options delay the receiver's rush. Practice your short serve and don't rely on your high serve to get you out of trouble. The high serve invites trouble; you are giving them an opportunity to win the rally by gambling on the receiver making an unforced error. Keep your high serve in reserve, to use at unexpected times.
If you are the server's partner, try the following:
Figure what type of return of serve the receiver likes. Usually players have one or two favorite returns. If the receiver likes soft returns, stand imperceptibly closer to the server. Likewise, if the receiver favors drive returns, wait farther away from the server and keep your racket head up.
Calm your serving partner, say something positive and encouraging. Your partner is probably psyched out by the intimidating return of serve and is undergoing a crisis in confidence, which causes serves to be too high or too low. Remind your partner of the simple tips above.
Get a new partner. The serve is the single most important shot in doubles. A partner who cannot serve short consistently is a loser.