(by Larry Hodges)
How to Make Your Strengths Stronger with Serve and Receive
Excluding serve and receive, what’s the strongest part of your game, or the part that you want to make the strongest part of your game? There’s an old adage, to state the obvious, that practice makes perfect. But doing something in practice is not the same as doing it in a match. That’s why so often you probably can do certain shots over and over in practice, but in matches the shot is not always there.
For example, let’s assume that the strongest part of your game is your forehand loop. (We could do a similar example for any shot, such as hitting, quick-blocking, aggressive backhands, and so on.) Let’s do a thought experiment and imagine there are two clones of you. One of them, when serving, throws a lot of deep, tricky serves at his opponent, and looks for a relatively easy ball to loop or smash, and if he gets it, he attacks; otherwise, he does not. The other also throws out some tricky serves, but more often serves less tricky but varied short serves, which are more likely to set up a passive return he can loop – and he follows his serve up with a loop every time, unless the receiver does something to stop it. The first player, by using tricky deep serves more often (which force more outright mistakes but are easier to attack) and picking his shots better, may win more often – at first.
But now we extend this into the future. Suppose the first player serve and attacks half the time, while the other serve and loops 3/4 of the time. After a time, the second player has had dramatically more practice at serve and looping in a game situation, and no longer needs a relatively easy ball to loop to get his best shot into play. He also has developed the habit of dominating on his serve, even if the receiver made a decent return. He not only dominates with his short serves, but makes his occasional long, tricky serves more effective since the receiver isn’t as used to them since he doesn’t use them as often. The first player is tactically smart, but the second player is strategically smart.
You need both – tactical smarts to maximize your chances of winning a match, and strategic thinking for maximizing your improvement. You have to find a balance. But if you want to really develop your game, more often think strategically and use your serve and receive to develop your strengths so you can learn to dominate with them.