G’day From New York,
It was the first point of the match.
Frances Tiafoe hit his first serve wide, and Ben Shelton took up a regular return position for the 2nd serve. It was your average, standard, run-of-the-mill start of the match.
Until it wasn’t.
Shelton waited until the toss went up so Tiafoe couldn’t see him sneaking forward. Perfect timing. It was an ambush on the very first point.
Shelton stepped in and made contact with his backhand return well inside the baseline, rebounding the ball quickly down the middle to Tiafoe’s forehand. Tiafoe was rushed for time to prepare and blew his passing shot out the back of the court.
Learn all about the Return Approach
Webinar 21: Serve & Volley / Return & Volley
Love fifteen. Tiafoe double-faulted on the next point. Love thirty. Shots were fired.
The return approach is a PREDATOR strategy that rattles the cage of the server. It changes the complexion of the point. The server no longer has control, and the returner is coming after you in a hurry.
Sampras used to love this strategy. So did Federer. It’s old school, but it absolutely, positively still has its place in today’s game. It’s timeless.
Shelton is developing this lethal strategy. You have to practice it repeatedly to get the footwork right so you don’t jam yourself. You have to take it at the right height. You must be moving forward, but not too quickly. It takes practice, and you are not going to make every one of them.
But here’s the kicker…
It’s okay if you don’t make them all because you still get the BENEFIT of ramping up pressure on the server even if you miss the return.
Shelton made his first return approach and won it.
He then failed to put his second attempt in play and his third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. Five went straight into the net, and one sailed long—six straight errors.
He then made the last three he attempted, winning two.
Overall, Shelton only won 3/10 approach and volley points and missed six of the seven approach returns points he lost.
But it was so worth it.
He kept applying massive pressure to Tiafoe, and he improved his skillset with this strategy. The key is he didn’t abandon it because that would be pointless. Stick with it and keep sharpening the sword.
With Tiafoe serving the first point of the fourth set, Shelton stepped inside the baseline and roped his return approach shot down the line for a clean winner. Five points later, Shelton broke serve and was off to the races in the fourth set.
Here’s a breakdown of when and how Shelton attempted his return approach shots. All 10 attempts were against 2nd serves.
- Court = Deuce Ct 5 / Ad Ct = 5
- Shot = Backhand return 8 / forehand return 2
- Two of four Tiafoe’s double faults occurred after a Shelton return approach.
The 64-thousand-dollar question is simply this. Should you try this at home?
YES! You should absolutely, positively hit return approaches in your own matches. It works at all levels. It works in the Deuce court and the Ad court, and it works from a forehand and a backhand return. It is a stellar surprise tactic; typically, you won’t even have to hit a volley. The server will simply miss.
Click this LINK to check out the webinar I did on serve and volley and return and volley. I explain in detail the best way to pull it off.