Tactical ways to put pressure on the server

Many experts in various sports say that the best athletes in the world get to this level by having great mental skills. Individual sport like tennis puts even more pressure on every competitor because there is no one else responsible for any win or loss. Looking at the top 100 players in the world, it is clearly visible that almost every player has the same bag of technical and tactical skills. What makes difference in results on the court is ability to perform the best tennis while being under big pressure. There are many factors that can put excessive stress on player’s game and some of them are under control of the player but some are not. Knowing how hard it is to overcome mental weaknesses and stay calm for the whole match, it is important to understand that players can use some techniques to put more pressure on the opponent.

Junior players lose a lot of matches not to the opponents but to themselves. Overcoming fear and imagination are skills that have to be practiced for years to guarantee desired results. Young athletes are not able to perform their best during the competition because they focus too much on opponents while they should be thinking more of themselves. Rival’s big forehand during the warm-up or great results on the last tournament can be factors that will bring poor performance on the court. Tennis is a game where mental skills were, are and will be priorities for successful execution and this knowledge can be profitable to develop mental strengths as also to use it as a weapon against the opponent. There are many tactical situations where one player can put a lot of stress on the opponent but I would like to focus only on one – the serve.

Serve is the only stroke in tennis that player has total control of. We can think about execution for 20 seconds between the points and plan everything from technical aspects to tactical solutions. This opportunity can give a lot of advantage for the serve but it can also put much more pressure than any other situation. As we all know, too much thinking can cause a lot of damage even for the best athlete in the world so opponents should always try to make rival’s to analyze different things. From the returner’s perspective, it looks like everything depends on the server but it is not true. Waiting for the serve gives you a lot of opportunities to make other player’s think about things that he/she doesn’t expect to happen. Any small change in server’s expectation can put a lot of pressure on the execution and can result in less efficiency and more lost points. What exactly can returner do to eligibly put pressure on the server? Let’s see some simple changes that you can implement into your game even today!


Forehand or Backhand?

Many servers have better serves into one of the sides and they hit most of the balls into this area. Good players will decide about direction of the serve based on own strengths and opponent’s weaknesses to have bigger chances for winning the points. Most of the time, returner stays close to the corner to have possibility to cover both directions within pretty the same distance. This is a good solution that many coaches teach but some variations can force the opponent to go into areas that he/she didn’t plan to serve to. If your opponent has better wide serve than T serve, take position closer to the alley and open more T direction. Your opponent will hesitate when to serve and probably will try to go the weaker (for him/her) and more open side. This is a great option also while trying to hide your weaknesses. If your rival is serving all the time to your weaker stroke, move towards this side to force the serve to be more precise or to go to your strength. Changing position to the left or right can make a mess in opponent’s tactic and it can result in breaking the serve more often.


Deep or angle?

Changing returning position doesn’t have to be related only to moving to one particular side. Taking position inside the baseline or deep behind are options to put a lot of pressure on the server. Imagine your opponent struggling with the second serve and you are moving 3 steps inside the baseline. What is he/she thinking at this moment? Probably, your opponent will expect you to hit aggressive return so to avoid it, he/she will go for more with the second serve what will easily give you few more double faults. On the other side, when your opponent is hitting many successful serve into corners of the service box, change your position and go deep behind the baseline. By taking this position, you will get more time to respond to difficult deliveries as also you will put some pressure on your rival and force him to go also for angle serves if he/she wants more easy balls from you. Easy change like moving forward or back can change great server into average deliverer. Players have to be aware of these methods to apply some pressure while waiting for the return.


Every sport requires solid mental skills to compete on any level of performance. The higher the level, the more advanced skills have to be possessed. Sport itself puts a lot of pressure on competitors but players have also abilities to put rivals into mental trap. There are many situations that players can use to elevate stress’s level of the opponent and they should be aware of these opportunities. Coaches should teach players to recognize when they should apply this knowledge and how to use it to effectively make chances bigger for the win. Tennis is a game with so many variables that you can’t predict the winner until the last point. Many players use “dirty” methods to gain advantage over the rival and we shouldn’t accept that; on the other hand, we should emphasize fair techniques that can force the opponent to make more mistakes.