There are 2 primary ways to read the spin – watch the racket and watch the bounce. The pitfall that devastates most beginner/intermediate players is the timing. When they don’t know the spin, they panic and trap the ball too quickly. The correct move is to wait. Wait. If you couldn’t tell the spin from the contact point when your opponent touched the ball, then wait. Let the ball rise, then even drop a bit before returning it.
How does that make the return easier? There are 5 ways…
#1 More Time To Move
Regardless if the serve is short or medium or long, you really should get your feet set before returning. When you let the ball rise to the top of the bounce, or even drop slightly, you have more time to get in the ideal position. There are exceptions; however, when returning that “mystery serve” that you missed 10x in a row, waiting longer will give you more time to get in the ideal position.
#2 More Time to Read
Reading the racket and reading the bounce are the two primary ways to read the spin. However, if you take it too early, how are you going to read the bounce? You can’t! The longer you let it come back, the more TIME you have to read it.
#3 Less Spin
Take a sharpie and color the ball half black. Now serve. Watch as your ball rises to the top then begins descending. Notice anything? As the ball drops toward the floor it is drastically losing spin. The longer you wait, the less spin the ball has!
#4 Less Speed
This is one that most players forget about! As the speed decreases, the ball now has longer dwell time on your racket and you can produce more spin. This is try on both long and short serves. As the ball slows down, it allows you to grab the ball better and get 20-30% more spin, giving you more control to return that nasty spin >.<
#5 More Relaxed Mindset
When you wait longer, you are less panicky. You have more time than you think. You really do. Just relax, watch the racket, relax, watch the ball traveling toward you, relax, watch the bounce, relax, let it rise, relax, let it drop slightly, relax, and have a calm mindset as your stroke to a good location.
Ideally, there are some serves that you should be able to receive on the rise (like pushing), there are some serves that you should receive more at the top of the bounce (like flipping or looping half-long serves). There are different timings and different variations of each timing. HOWEVER, when attempting to return that disaster serve that continues to give you trouble, then please wait. You will thank me later!