A room full of tennis pros might argue on some points, but without question, they would all agree that the serve is the most difficult and most important shot in tennis. Simply put: (1) a player must hit a serve to start any point in match play and (2) it is the only shot in tennis where the hitting areas (behind the baseline) and the target areas (service boxes) are not the entire playing area. The serve has many steps, and it can take years to develop a reliable serve that can also be a weapon. Though there is no secret to a great serve, understanding certain things can allow any tennis player to improve their serve with a better understanding of the shot with respect to the game as a whole.
The serve is unique since it is the only shot that is not reactionary. The player initiates the serve with the toss standing on the designated side behind the baseline. There are two completely unique and seemingly obvious facts about the serve that should help motivate a player to improve their serve. Since the target is smaller, it must be an accurate shot. Since it is not a reaction to an opponent, it can be practiced without a hitting partner!
Many club and tournament players have quirks in their tosses which cause reliability issues with their serves. It is important that the serve, as with all shots in tennis, has a relaxed flow to it and this is true of the toss as well. In a full service motion, the toss should smoothly allow you to accelerate the racket as you simultaneously drop it back and load your legs, projecting your hips over the baseline making your body look like a bow. Though that may describe an ideal service preparation, the example is meant to illustrate that a service motion has a lot of moving pieces and the toss is a very important part of the chain, ergo, if the toss is not consistent, the timing all of the other parts of the motion would become increasingly difficult.
Most players favor serving from one side, usually the side of their dominant hand (righties deuce side/lefties ad side) since the motion moves naturally in the direction of the target boxes. It is important to be able to have strong serves to both sides, and also at a higher level, it is imperative that a player can move their serve around the box. It is also important to remember that more points which can win games (40-0, 0-40, 30-40, 40-30 and advantage points) happen from the deuce court which is likely the less comfortable side for right-handed players.
My biggest suggestion is to just simply practice, practice, practice. You don’t need a partner, grab some balls and hit some serves. There is no substitute for repetition! It is so important that I will say it again, there is no substitute for repetition! Take advantage of your ability to practice alone before or after your hitting sessions. One major caveat is that working on your serve alone can cause you to develop bad habits, so I strongly suggest working with a pro. A great pro will not only help your serve during a lesson, but over time, should give you the tools needed to understand the parts of your serve that tend to cause the stroke to break down. If that is not an option, working on tennis mutually with a friend can be helpful, an extra set of eyes will always see something. Also, filming your serve and taking a look at it every once in a while could give you some insight.
Repetition is key in all parts of tennis and it may sometimes be difficult to find a partner when wanting to work on your game. Not to mention that it’s simply no fun to try and work on your serve only in matches when the stakes are high and the fear of missing will cause tension that works against you. A few serves here and there over time will help with consistency. Don’t be afraid of the serve … embrace its difficulties and remember that no matter your skill level, there is always room for improvement!
<p>Daniel Kresh is a USPTA-certified tennis professional who recently accepted the positions of director of junior tennis and assistant tennis professional at the Three Village Tennis Club in Setauket, N.Y. He is also the assistant professional at The Port Jefferson Country Club at Harbor Hills. He may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.</p>