Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Which serve should you hit? A or B?

Recently The Racquetball Blog presented the following scenario to several racquetball coaches:

Your player is in a tough match that's gone to a tie-breaker. Your player has been using serve A and serve B effectively, and your player's doing those serves from the same place in the service box (that is, both A & B are drive serves or lob serves, so your player's not giving anything away by how they set up in the service box). Now, it's late in the tie-breaker, and your player's won four consecutive points using serve A to get to match point.

Question: Do you want your player to hit serve A or serve B?

The relevance of this scenario could be seen this past weekend when Alvaro Beltran played Rocky Carson. In the match, Beltran had been using his typical serving strategy of drive serving to the left (Carson's backhand) on first serve and then lob serving to the right on second serve.

But on his first match point opportunity, Beltran drove serve to the right. That is, Beltran essentially chose serve B in the above scenario. And he lost the rally.

The coaches we surveyed were unanimous in their opinion that they'd want their player to hit serve A, not serve B. General coaching strategy holds that if you've found something that's working, you should keep doing it and continue to do it until it's not working. That is, don't fix what's not broken.

That said, there's also the coaching belief that you should have some variety in your serving strategy. But our coaching survey suggested that effectiveness trumps variety in this scenario.

Yet those of us who have been in this situation know that there can be a feeling when you get to match point having hit the same serve several times in a row that maybe your opponent will have finally figured it out. That this serve couldn't still be working, could it?

Our survey says most coaches would answer, yes, it could.

So when you find yourself in this type of situation, you should stay the course. Keep doing what's working, until your opponent proves he or she has found the solution (and for a serve, your opponent hitting one good return of serve is NOT proving it; proof should be at least two good returns of serve).

What did Beltran do? The next time he got to serve he hit a lob to the left, which would be serve C, and he won the rally.

Follow the bouncing ball....

1 comment:

Todd Boss said...

One slight nit in your post: Beltran's drive serve to the right at match point was option C. A=drive serve to left, B=lob serve to right.

Here's my 2 cents. I have no problem with mixing up the serve at a critical point in the match. I do this all the time. I love introducing a "new serve" at a critical point in a match (game or match point) because of the element of surprise. I do it all the time and I have a ton of success with it.

My thought process goes like this: if i've hit 10 straight of the same serve, even though I'm getting some success the opponent is anticipating the shot. If you can mix it up and get your opponent off balance at a critical point, then the combination of the surprise plus your oppoennt naturally being more cautious at this critical match/game point juncture usually will get you a return error or a sh ot that you can kill.

If you miss the surprise serve, then go back to your tried-and-true. Or, more likely what happens is your tried-and-true starts not to work as well because high level players won't miss the same shot or the same serve more than a few times in a row before either calling time out or radically altering the way they attack the serve.