Updated: Sep 3
The most important shot in the game is the serve!
We all want to be able to serve like Roger Federer or Serena Wiliams, we obsess over the advanced technique and biomechanics, but I'm going to share with your seven easy tennis serving tips that will make a massive difference to your game with very few technical changes.
Are you ready to take your service to the next level?
1: Understand that the Serve is the Most Important Stroke.
Many people who’re new to Tennis don’t even realise that they need to do this step before they can play a game. The service needs to be practised a lot! The Serve is a difficult shot to hit, it's a high to low action, above head height, and you need your entire body and mind to hit it effectively. And that’s why many people who try to end up failing – they’re simply missing this crucial step.
So the first thing you need to do is, Start every rally off with a serve!
Just stop and think about how every tennis point begins, with someone serving. Think about how every rally starts when you practice with a forehand (typically). Why? It's easy, but unfortunately, it's unrealistic!
You’ll find serving to start the rally goes much more smoothly if you apply these tips and tricks:
Don't worry about getting the tennis ball into the service box to start the rally; just hit the serve cross court and aim to rally after that. Not focusing on the outcome, i.e. getting the serve in, will take away much pressure, and you will probably find your service will go in more—lower pressure results in a smoother service motion.
Aim for a clean contact point, be as tall as you can with full extension and contact in front of your body. If you can get your body weight going forwards to the opposite side of the net, you are onto a winner.
The serve is one of the most challenging shots in tennis. Unfortunately, you haven't got the technique, physical skill or confidence yet. Aim to be consistent with your timing and rhythm.
If you are a beginner, you must start hitting serves from day one and link it into every other shot your play. Check out my blog on the best tennis drills for beginners.
2: Hit your Serves with purpose
When I first started coaching tennis, I made many mistakes. And now that I’ve helped others do it, I see many people tend to make the same mistakes. So let me share with you the top 2 mistakes and how to avoid them:
• Serve in isolation - The serve is usually practised in isolation; the player will hit serves into an open court with no returner. Again ask yourself when does ever happen in a match. Never. The issue with practice with no returner is no consequence to the serve. Your training has no pressure and is false. Stick a returner up the far end on the opposite side of the court and practice under pressure. Practice playing service games against a returner, if you hit a good serve and they miss, you win; if they make the return, you lose. Put pressure on your serve as much as possible. If you have no partner, play a service game against yourself. If you get your first serve in, you win the point. If you get a second serve in, spin your racket. If you win the spin, you win the point. If you lose the reel, you lose the end. If you double fault, you lose the game. These are great ways to practice your serve under pressure; you can practice a different type of serve, and this is the best way to practice.
• Stop trying to hit Aces! – Yes, I said it. Advanced players don't try and hit aces. Top tennis players will use the serve to set up more accessible ball opportunities, such as a short ball which they can attack with a forehand. If you're on the deuce court, serve wide and get the return back cross court to your forehand (if your right handed). If you're on the advantage side of the court, serve down the centre and set up a return down the line to your forehand, for example.
3: Think Tactically Over Technique
The serve is a movement that you use in a sport. In sports, your ultimate aim is to win, not to look good. Too often, players get so obsessed with technique on the serve that this often causes overthinking, unnecessary stress and anxiety. Your body is very clever. It makes millions of subconscious decisions daily, adjusting to your actions and feelings. Sometimes we need to trust ourselves more and stop trying to force unnatural movements.
Players get so opposed with the trophy position, right foot up or back, left foot towards the net post etc. Just thinking about what you would like to do to your opponent, i.e. control space by serving wide, think about what spin you maybe need, the slice would be a good option to pull your opponent wide, think about how to get slice, ok path of the racket is on the outside of the ball, closed racket face and a slow to the quick rhythm.
Then focus on that slice feeling. How you get there makes no difference, we will all have our techniques, and that's why no two professional players serve the same way. Once you master the slice serve, master the flat serve and the topspin serve. If you can tactically hit all three of the main serves and to the three main areas of the court (Wide, Body and Centre), then as long as you have no significant stresses on your body and can perform the action injury free, it don't matter how it looks.
4:Think Rhythm Over Power
The vast majority of Tennis players believe they serve all about power. Hit the serve as hard as possible and try to win the point. Accurate, professional players perform quicker than most of us drive cars. Still, you also have to remember that they are professional athletes, train multiple hours per day and have been playing tennis for fifteen years by the time they appear on our tv screens.
Professional players all have one common theme in their serve, good rhythm. If you watch any top player, they don't toss the ball up quickly and go super quick and try and swing their racquet hand as fast as possible at the ball, which is like most common club players.
Good Tennis players will lift the ball with their non-dominant arm in a slow controlled manner, bringing their tennis racquet back behind them in a slow, steady way above head height. Then they will increase racquet head speed as they go into their throwing action. It starts slow and increases in rate or rhythm. The key is trying to coordinate the body, so it all works as one fluid movement to get an effective serve.
Aim to have a good rhythm on your serve, not just sheer power. Get the arms working other in a slow coordinated manner, and then increase the racquet head speed as you enter the hitting phase.
5:Dont split the ball toss from the contact
A common mistake most players and Tennis coaches make is separating the ball toss from the hitting process.
We have all seen (and I've been guilty) the drill, get the player to stand on the baseline of the tennis court and place their racquet down on the floor. The player must then get a ball in their left hand (if right-handed player). They then attempt to lift the ball into the air with their tossing arm and bring it to land on the racquet. The main reason coaches use this drill is in theory, and the player is practising keeping the ball toss in front of the body with another non-dominant hand.
This issue is straightforward, and the hitting part is not included!
The player will be able to act relatively quickly; they will most likely be able to lift the ball with complete control. But then you re-introduce the racquet, and they have to hit the ball. They do have two arms to control, both working independently, and they will have a deal with a lack of balance as one arm is going up, and another is going back. They also have to know to make contact with the ball at the highest point, something they have not practised and keep the racket moving in a fluid motion, again something they have not practised in the ball toss drill.
To fix this common mistake, get the player to practise living the ball in front of the body and get them to focus on where they make contact. Can they make contact at the highest point? Does their racquet face contact the ball in front of their shoes? You must include the ball when working on serve, and you can break it down into small segments. As we have discussed, you must use the vast majority of your entire body to serve.
Watch my YouTube video below on this very subject
6: Think about anything but the serve
We have discussed how physically demanding the serve is, but what makes it more challenging is the mental side of the serve. The serve is the only time in a game where the ball is in your hand. That means you have complete control over the ball, you have time to think and that sometimes is bad.
What if I miss this serve?
I haven't warmed up properly!
I haven't been hitting my serve well today.
I need to keep my continental grip throughout the service action.
These thoughts have run through my mind when stepping up to the baseline before the next point. The problem here is that I have engaged my conscious mind, and my conscious mind is always negative. It's the thinker. Once I start thinking about what can go wrong, it always goes that way.
If you watch great servers, they will have a routine that they go through, and they will take a deep breath, think positively about the next point, where the serve is going, how it will look and pretend that they are Ivo Karlovic! A positive mindset will help the player go to the next point confidently.
The tennis mind is very clever but also our worst enemy sometimes. We will get tight if we stress and worry about our serve technique. When we get tense, we lose the rhythm, which we have discussed a lot in this blog.
My top tip is to not think about anything; focus on your breathing, how your feet feel in your tennis shoes, the sweat or heat on your forehead, anything, but they serve. You're more likely to tap into your subconscious mind if you distract your mind. This can make adjustments and changes to your technique without you forcing it.
Don't think, do.
7: Don't slow down your second serve
The final serve tip is very common among tennis players, don't slow down your second serve. I see it every day when I am coaching, a player will hit a substantial, powerful serve, but it flies past the service box. They then step up and, with little effort, tap the ball over for a second serve. To their frustration, it still hits the net.
If you remove anything from this blog, RHYTHM is key to a strong serve. The racquet must increase speed to generate spin even with different serve types. Spin is caused by racquet head speed, a slow to quick rhythm even on a second serve. The difference between a professional tennis player's first and second serve is a change in the path or angle of the racquet. They will use different types of serves, such as a slice or topspin, as a second serve. The increase in spin will lead to a higher path over the net, which makes it appear slower on the speed gun.
Club players slow the serve down too much. Again, this is a confidence issue that results in tightness and can even lead to the players hitting an underhand serve.
Play with confidence and change the pin on your second serve, and if anything, increases the speed.
Check out my Blog on Why the Serve and Return are so dominant in the Men's Game here, and watch my YouTube video below on how to improve your serve.
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Written by Steve Whelan
Steve has developed thousands of tennis players and tennis coaches over the past twenty years as a coach and educator.
Steve has over 20 million social media views in 2022 alone.
Read About Steve's amazing career here