The relevance of the return
Considering the low average number of strokes per point (between 8-10 strokes), this second stroke in padel can be decisive. Thus, it is important to study the technical-tactical aspects of the return stroke, as its height, direction and efficiency will allow the returner to increase the chances of winning the point.
“The return represents approximately 10% of the total number of strokes in a padel match”.
Previous studies have shown that, as more strokes are made on the point, the percentage of points won by the serving partner decreases, so the goal of the returners will be to put the ball in play and then extend the point, try to win the net situation, and thus increase their chances of success.
“It has been observed that this stroke has a very high efficiency in professional padel: +95% of the returns go in. Therefore, it seems essential not to miss this stroke”.
We can distinguish different types of return depending on variables such as:
- The type of stroke: forehand, backhand to the side wall, backhand to the back wall or even to the back wall or double wall.
- The direction of the return: parallel or cross-court.
- The height of the return: lob or straight.
- The player to whom the return is directed: server or server’s partner.
What does the return depend on?
The use of one or the other will depend on factors such as:
- The gender of the players: male or female.
- The direction of the serve: to the T or the side wall.
- Serving strategy: traditional or Australian.
- The type of point: golden point, key point, non-key point.
“On a general level, in professional padel, backhand returns predominate over forehand returns (63% vs. 37%), parallels over cross-court returns (70% vs. 30%) and straights vs. lobs (60% vs. 40%)”.
Gender differences in the return
There are differences in the type of return depending on the gender of the players, as can be seen in the following graph. In women’s padel there are 12% more backhand returns, 10% more cross-court returns and 13% more lob returns than in men’s padel.
Where do the professional players return?
On the other hand, we generally hear coaches say that the receiver should direct the return to the player who has served. However, the analysis of more than 1000 returns from professional padel players shows that players will direct the return to the server or the server’s partner depending on two main factors: the direction of the serve and the strategy adopted by the players when serving.
The graph below shows how, in the Australian set-up, returners direct 3 out of 4 returns to the server when the serve is to the glass, mainly looking for the gap in the court with a parallel return. However, when the serve is to the centre, there are 10% more returns intercepted by the server’s partner, due to covering the centre of the court. In the traditional layout, when the serve is to the T, 50% of the returns are hit by the server and 50% by the server’s partner, while when the serve is to the glass, 10% more returns are hit by the server’s partner than those hit by the server.
On the other hand, knowing what type of return our opponents are more likely to hit depending on whether they serve to the T or to the side wall is fundamental for anticipation and preparation processes. In the following graph, we will see how the direction (parallel or cross court) and the height of the return (lob or straight) varies depending on the direction of the serve (to the T or to the glass).
Direction and height of the return
- Direction of the return: 2 out of 3 returns are played parallel when the serve is directed to the side wall. However, when the serve is directed to the “T”, approximately the same number of returns go parallel as cross court.
- Return height: When the serve goes to the side wall, players play approximately the same number of straight returns as lobs. However, when the serve goes to the centre, almost 7 out of 10 returns are lobs, as returners are probably in a more comfortable situation when hitting and look to lob more effectively than when they are forced to return a serve to the side wall.
Return types and effectiveness of the return
Finally, the type of return can influence the outcome of the point. The following graph from a data collection of professional players where more than 200 gold points were analysed draws the following conclusions:
- Type of return: Players hit 24% more lobs than straight rests when playing golden points (62% vs 38%).
- Return efficiency: However, curiously, when players return from below on golden points they win almost 10% more points than when they return from lobs (46.5% vs. 39.7%).
“Knowing what type of return players make depending on variables such as the direction or strategy of the serve is essential to prepare strategies for competition and anticipation in the plays”.
In addition, knowing which is more effective for winning the point is decisive for increasing the chances of winning the match. This data can serve as a reference for coaches and players for the design of exercises and tournament preparation.
Bernardino J. Sánchez-Alcaraz: @nino.sanchez.alcaraz