I’ve already covered in my post on the return of serve that it is critical to be moving into the court before you splitstep, and move towards the ball as it approaches you. Here I want to demonstrate just how important it is to not stand too far back on the return, and to move in to cut off the angle.
Here I start out about 3 feet behind the baseline, I move in before I splitstep, but because I started so far back, it’s very difficult to reutrn any serve hit into the corners of the box. I have to take two steps on reach an out-wide serve on my forehand side, and stretch weakly as it goes further and further off to the side of the court. I’m also restricted in how far I can move to reach a serve to my backhand. I can’t cover the angle if my opponent hits it to the corner.
Here, I start off in a position on top of the baseline, with my right foot near the singles sideline. I step into the court with my splitstep, and take a step in further as I move to hit the ball. I have to move a much shorter distance in order to reach the ball, and my return will be a much more aggressive shot. My opponent gets less time to react, and my return is more powerful because the ball speed is higher. I merely have to stand my ground and redirect the shot. Notice that I am standing a little closer to the singles sideline than what people are typically taught (usually taught to stand a half foot away from the sideline). In doing so, I cannot cover a serve that is hit perfectly down the tee to my backhand. If your opponent is capable of hitting a flat serve down the tee to the corner consistently, then maybe adjust your positioning. But in my experience, most people struggle with this serve and get freaked out when you are standing near the doubles alley. They try too hard to hit the perfect serve down the tee, and will either make mistakes, or hit a non-perfect serve that you can reach.
So to sum up —- stand in as close as you can, be aggressive on the return, and cut down the angle.