Developing Junior Players Ages 10-12 (12u): Offense On 2nd Serve Return
This is part of of a 3-part series on developing junior players in the 12u age group. Entry into this age group presents a big change in the playing environment and the equipment. Here's what they'll be facing:
- Court length – 78 feet
- Racquet length – 26 inches (players 5 foot tall or more could use a 27” racquet)
- Ball Compression – 25% Low Compression Green/Yellow Ball (a.k.a. The Green Dot Ball)
Despite the extra space compared to the 60 ft. 10u court, the combination of the 25% low compression balls, and the general lack of muscle power possessed by the average 12u makes it difficult to play offensive tennis from behind the baseline. . The groundstroking ability is better than ever, which means producing short balls on which an approach shot could be hit takes more effort than ever. So the big question facing 12u players is this: what's the best way to win a point?
The key point of attack at this level is on the 2nd Serve Return of serve. The 25% low compression ball bounces higher than ever, but it's still a low compression ball. 12U servers, while they do hit faster serves than 10u, still don't consistently have damaging 2nd serves. That means there will be a large percentage of 2nd serves that bounce up around chest level and do not have enough spin to cause return errors. The 2nd serve return of serve is likely the shortest ball that will be available in the entire point. To win big at 12u, players must not only return well, but hit offensive returns on the 2nd serve that damage their opponents in one shot, and give them a chance to move to the net to end the point.
Few other players in the history of tennis have been known for their effective return of serve like Andre Agassi. The former American #1 is arguably the best return of serve in history (though Jimmy Connors, Djokavic, and Federer might argue). In this slow motion video clip, Andre demonstrates the exact type of topspin forehand shot (commonly known as a Dip Drive) 12u players need for their return of serve:
Most 12u players are coached to start using either a Topspin or a Slice Serve for their 2nd Serve. The average 12u player cannot generate enough spin on the serve to make the ball jump away from, or into the return of server. Regardless of the spin on the serve, the 12u 2nd serve is typically a high arcing shot that allows plenty of time to move forward for a point of contact well inside the service line. This advanced court position is the best opportunity to hit offensive groundstokes in a 12u point. Here's why:
- The point of contact is usually about chest high. That's the same position Andre Agassi was in during that above video clip.
- The serve is typically easy to handle. There won't likely be a need to return this serve from behind the baseline.
- Thanks to the balls, it's difficult to hit groundstroke winners, or force errors from behind the baseline. However, both shots from the service line or shorter can be damaging, and even lethal to receivers.
If your 12u player is the fastest kid in any tournament, and has the patience of Job to outlast oppoents in 20-30 ball rallies, then trying to outlast opponents is a good idea. For the vast majority of 12u players, that strategy is not a winning one. Mastery of the Dip Drive Topspin Forehand can produce quick breaks of serve, and there's one thing that usually follows: victory!