The importance of the “third shot” first became a talking point on the women’s circuit. The shot that you hit after you have served and the opponent has put their return in play could very well set the tone for the whole rally.
This is especially true when you don’t have a good serve. Many of us wondered after missing our first serve: should I go for a big second serve or just put it safely in play? Indeed, often we worry so much about our serve that we don’t really think about what comes after that.
After we hit our serve, we are barely able to position ourselves before a well-struck return lands at our feet and we are forced into error. That is no accident. For quite some time now there has been a major focus on the women’s circuit to practice exactly that: deep returns up the middle off weak serves.
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As I said, it started on the women’s Tour due to the fact that serves are generally slower and open to attack, but it has caught on with the men as well.
Whether you are male or female, if you have a weak second serve it is increasingly difficult to deal with the third shot thanks to your opponent’s deep return.
If you do not have a killer slice or kick serve, it is a good idea to prepare yourself for the onslaught of deep returns you will have to face. You cannot allow yourself the split-second of relaxation that big servers allow themselves after landing a serve. You must immediately get ready for the third shot.
Today we are looking at some exercises that will help improve your ability to deal with this increasingly common situation.
Quick head and quicker feet
Four tips before taking to the court
1- As a first suggestion, do what the professionals do. When you practice your serve, also practice hitting your third shot. You can do this simply by quickly re-positioning yourself to hit the incoming ball, or asking someone to throw/hit a ball at you as soon as you have finished serving.
2- When you serve, already have an idea where you want to hit your third shot. For example, if you are serving wide, tell yourself that you are going to hit into the open court when your opponent returns the ball. Or, of course, you can plan to hit behind them as they scramble to get to the middle of the court after the return. The point is just to think ahead when you are serving.
3- Footwork is very important, since you will often have very little time to prepare for the first shot. Make sure you are properly positioned when hitting the shot.
4- Try to figure out as quickly as possible what kind of return your opponent prefers. Once you recognise a pattern, it will be easier to position yourself in the right place each time.
1- Reaction time
Player A positions himself near the net in one of the service boxes with a bucket of balls. As soon as player B serves, player A hits a ball a player B. This will shorten the available reaction time at player B’s disposal and simulate a real point.
2- Tactical simulation
Player B serves.
Player A returns the serve to various parts of the court. Player A intercepts the ball and plays the third shot.
After the third shot is struck, the point ceases. This very effectively trains situational awareness and anticipation for the third shot.
Find a wall to hit against. Stand about 4 meters from the wall, serve and then hit the ball that comes back to you. This is a simple exercise, but still effective if you do not have a partner to help you out.