6 ways to improve your serve
The serve is arguably the most important shot in tennis.
It is also the only shot in tennis that you have complete control of from start to finish, compared to every other shot where you are responding to whatever your opponent has hit to you. With that in mind, you should take advantage of this and strive to develop the best serve that you can.
If you can develop a strong and precise serve, it can help you gain confidence with the rest of your game.
Having a reliable serve that can directly win you points, or start them off with your opponent on the defense, takes the pressure off of your other shots and also helps you stay calm when returning. This can allow you to take some more risks when your opponent is serving, which puts added pressure on your opponent.
Below are 6 tips which can help you improve your serve, just remember not to try to work on all of them at once. Pick one and see if you can get it working the right way and how it effects your serve, then you can try another one:
1: Always have a target in mind
If while serving, all you are doing is aiming for the service box without being specific, then you are not allowing your serve to become as effective as it can.
Aiming for a specific spot on the court, regardless of whether you are hitting a serve or any other shot in tennis, and then seeing how close or far away your ball hit from that target, gives you very valuable feedback. This information allows you to then make an adjustment for your next serve (again and again), until you are able to consistently get it close to the target area whenever you choose. But if you don’t aim, then you are just relying on luck, and more often than not, your serve will just go straight to your opponent (if it even goes in).
If you haven’t trained to be able to target specific spots in the service box, then you won’t be able to take advantage of any weakness your opponent may have. For example, if your opponent has a weak backhand when he is stretched wide.
So you can hit the ball wide to his backhand? Ok, what about if he knows that you will target wide to the backhand and stands over a bit more exposing a large area wide to the forehand side… Will you be able to take advantage of that?
I have seen quite a few lefty tennis players who develop a great serve out wide to a right-handed players backhand, but when their opponent then moves over to counter the angle, the lefty can’t serve effectively the other way to take advantage of the gap.
2: Control your Ball Toss
The ball toss is the key to a good serve. If you can consistently toss the ball up and control it to the same spot each time, you will have a much better chance of hitting a good serve.
Do not throw the ball up for the ball toss: instead, feel like you are placing it up there smoothly, releasing the ball from your fingers when your hand reaches it’s highest point and letting the ball continue naturally. Do not flick your wrist to get the ball up, this will only cause the ball to fly out of your hand in an erratic way, especially if you are a bit tense from being at a critical point in the match (eg: 4 games all, advantage receiver, second serve).
You can experiment with moving the ball toss forward or backward a little bit depending on where you are aiming, but not to the sides as this will give away to your opponent where you intend to serve. If you keep the change to just forward or back, they won’t be able to easily tell whether the ball is forward or a little back and therefore where you intend to hit it.
3: Use Your Legs and Balance Better
I see a lot of people, kids and adults, who think that they need to bend their knees and pop up as they perform the ball toss. This is the wrong moment to do the knee bend.
If you watch closely as the professionals serve, you can see that they bend their knees just after the ball toss, not before. Bending the knees before tossing the ball up will only lead to erratic ball tosses and possibly even cause you to be balanced incorrectly.
Ideally you should be either balanced on the front leg (left leg if you are right-handed) as you reach up to make contact with the ball, or pushing up off the ground with your front leg.
You don’t want to be balancing back onto your back leg when hitting the ball because you lose a lot of power by balancing backwards. You are also more at risk of painfully following through your racket swing onto your shin.
4: Take your time
Don’t rush your service action. As I mentioned earlier, the serve is the only shot in tennis where you have complete control over what happens. You start when you want to start, you can setup the way you want to setup, you can put the ball where it best suits you before making contact… So why rush into it?
Setup slowly and smoothly, then accelerate into full speed for the contact once the ball is in place. If you mess up the ball toss, it’s ok to do it again.
5: Left Side Up
Keep your left arm up longer after releasing the ball toss.
This will allow you to push up into the ball better and will also prevent the left side from dumping down as you contact the ball. If your left side drops too early, your racket will follow, resulting in your serve heading straight for the net.
When your racket is moving to make contact, that’s when you can smoothly bring your arm into your stomach and out of the way.
6: Swing fast, not slow
Swing fast at the ball when going for the serve and you will find that you will start getting a better feel of what’s going in at the point of contact.
If you try to hit it slowly and safely, you will just end up with a serve that doesn’t work well and is unreliable under pressure.
What can happen when you swing slowly is that the ball gets carried by your strings and is dragged out, whereas if you accelerate into and through the point of contact, you will have a powerful and more reliable serve that you will feel good about.
This is even more important on a second serve, especially if you want to add spin such as slice or kick. You need to accelerate through the contact to make sure the ball has the right amount of spin on it to help it go into the service area and not overshoot the service line.
Again, if you just push and serve “safely”, then you won’t improve your serve, you will just end up hitting it “safely” into the net or out when you are under pressure.