Returning serve is an extremely important aspect of the game. The trend these days is to stand way behind the baseline and take big swings at the ball.
Since tennis is a game of position, as well as hitting the ball, standing close to the back fence or the wall puts you at a pretty severe disadvantage at the start of the point. Some modern players on the ATP and WTA tours have been very effective with this strategy but most players would be much better off staying closer to the baseline and simplifying their swing on the return.
My recommendation is to focus on some simple ideas when returning serve. First, watch the ball being tossed by your opponent all the way until their racquet makes contact on the serve. Next, determine whether the ball is hit to your forehand or backhand and use your shoulder turn to start the racquet back. Try to keep the backswing relatively short (a little less than on a groundstroke) and focus on hitting the ball early and solid with a good follow through.
Since Novak Djokovic is regarded as one of the best returners of all time, follow his idea of hitting the return deep and down the middle whenever you are faced with a difficult serve. It isn't a bad idea to use this mentality even when the opponent's serve is not that difficult. Even though most of your groundstrokes are hit to make the player run (away from the opponent), there are a lot of benefits to hitting the ball aggressively to the middle of the court on the return of serve.
Approach the return a little differently than you would a regular groundstroke and you will likely hit more good returns and make fewer errors, putting pressure on your opponent to serve and play better than they are capable of.
Steve Annacone, USPTA Elite Pro, is the Director of Annacone Tennis, www.annaconetennis.com and MyHamptonsPro, www.myhamptonspro.com throughout the Hamptons, NY. In addition, Steve and Miguel Coelho have introduced the JET (Junior Elite Tennis) program at the Tucson Jewish Community Center (Tucson, AZ) for high level players ages 8-18. Please contact Steve at email@example.com.