Use the correct grip
- Use the continental grip - the correct mechanics of the serve are best compared to the throwing action. But instead of a ball you are throwing your racket towards the contact point. Using a forehand grip limits these mechanics - it restricts pronation (rotation of the lower arm) which is crucial to generate power and spin. The continental grip forces pronation to happen.
In the video below you will see the racket of Alex Zverev travel on edge towards the ball, twist flat at contact and the palm of his hand turn to the outside of the court from his contact point to his follow through:
- Stay relaxed - the looser you are the faster you can generate racket head speed. If you tense up throughout the action your muscle contraction will slow down the acceleration of the racket. Try wiggling your fingers on your grip whilst you are bouncing the ball in your set up before you serve. You will see most pro players do either this or spin their racket. Andy Murray is know for his racket spinning.
- Hold your grip at the base for added power - if you hold your grip at the base of the handle you will get maximum extension (a longer lever) and looseness. Both add significant power. Your little finger should be close to the bottom or butt of the handle, as low as you can hold it without your finger coming off the end. Try this for an increase of power!
Set a routine
Think of serving like playing golf. You have no direct influence from the other player, it’s all about you, the score and what’s going on inside your head! Having a set routine will help keep your timing and rhythm consistent. So even when you are at your most stressful point in the game you can keep firing that serve. Without this, the score and situation can throw you off considerably. Most people tend to rush more when they are under pressure. Rafael Nadal probably has the most extreme version of a routine, but it works for him. Your routine could be something as simple as walking up to the line, looking at the other player and making sure you do 4 bounces before you start. Having that rhythm and familiarity helps you to relax and perform consistently.
Don't give anything away
Once you have completed your routine and are about to begin your serve check you are not giving away anything obvious to the receiver. Some common ways people do this are: by looking where they are going to aim their serve, moving along the baseline to start in different positions, changing their toss drastically to aim the ball. One of the most famous cases of this is when Andre Agassi finally managed to break Boris Becker's serve. After watching video tapes Andre figured out that Boris would stick his tongue out differently depending on which serve he was hitting.
Have a solid stance
Just like with grip, your stance should also be relaxed. Player height, limb length and body size varies greatly from player to player. Certain stances suit different people. The most important thing is that you are loose and comfortable throughout your serve. Your chest should also face the side of the court to begin with to enable shoulder rotation through the action. Your foot position should allow you a solid base and balance throughout the action. Make sure you are not off balance through your serve. Your body weight will naturally shift forward through your action and should finish on your left leg (right handed) or right leg (left handed). If you are wobbling in any other direction then either your toss was wrong or you need a wider more balanced stance.
Control your toss
- Push vs toss the ball - We call it the serve toss or throw but you aren’t really doing either. You “push” and guide the ball up into your hitting zone to strike. Keep you arm straight at the elbow and push that ball up from the palm of your hand (mainly the index finger pad which is the last area the ball should touch when leaving your hand). See the Image of Stan Wrankina below with his arm straight and index finger pad extended up towards the ball after it has left his hand).
- Place your toss with your palm - As you are sending the ball up as a “push” use your palm to guide it to the right area. Your palm should effectively rise up towards where your contact point wants to be. It is also important to know where your contact point should be and what your serve should look like in order to have visualize and execute a successful toss.
- Control the speed - Just like any shot in tennis the faster you go the less controlled it will be. The same applies to your toss. Keep it relaxed and steady. You are guiding the ball up, not launching it.
Have a lasso
The lasso component of the serve is the most important mechanical section of the action. This is part when the racket drops behind the head/back and then increases in speed up towards the contact point. It allows you to generate speed by accelerating the racket using a throwing action. It's important to master this section as without it you can never maximise your power and also can sustain injuries by using the wrong technique. Rotator cuff injuries are common amongst recreational players who do not have this component in their service action. The best tool we have found to practice this is the ServeMaster. See the video below for how it enables you to incorporate the lasso. You can purchase the ServeMaster at thetotalserve.com.
Hit the serve forward and not down
Unless you are incredibly tall you actually have to hit the ball forward or up on your serve to get it over the net and not down. It looks like it’s travelling down because gravity pulls the ball. If you regularly hit the net when serving visualize striking the back of the ball and projecting it forward. The shorter you are the more the topspin or kick serve can be an advantage. This allows you to bend the flightpath up and over the net in an arch shape giving you ample net clearance and dropping the ball back down into the box. The taller you are the more you can use the flatter serves and slice serves to your advantage.
1st serve vs 2nd serve finish position
Your 1st serve will generally be more aggressive than your second serve. Therefore, you can expect a weaker return on your 1st serve. Ideally your body weight should travel forward over the baseline on your 1st serve to maximise your power. Because of the this your finish position should be one or two steps inside the baseline. You should expect a stronger return on the 2nd serve so if you ideally want to stay on or behind the baseline for your finish position. This allows you to recover more quickly and be ready for that return.
Mix up your serves
The best players in the world don’t serve with the most power. They often sit somewhere in the middle of average with their speed but they use their serve to create and build points. Most amateur players don’t have the ability to vary their serve. It quickly becomes easy to read where the serve will land and then break their service game. Try varying the pace, the spin and the placement to really keep the other person guessing. Placement and spin are more important than power. Nick Kyrgios is frustrating to a lot of players but his tactics often work using his underarm serve. You may get into a few heated exchanges if you try that tactic but it highlights how mixing up your serve type can be very successful.
Practice your serve (under pressure)
A large percentage of adult players never practice, they either just have lessons or play points. Even more players never practice their serve! Just spending 5-10 minutes each time you play will set you apart from the rest. Simply having the ability to place the ball and have a consistent 2nd serve will win you a lot of matches! If you also practice under pressure it will transfer better across to a real game situation. It’s easy to choke when it’s your turn to serve, especially in doubles. Try putting out some targets or setting a serve percentage challenge. For example, hit 10 serves and aim to get 6 out of 10 or 60% in. There’s plenty of ways you can challenge yourself so when you step up on court to serve in a match it doesn't seem as daunting!
Try taking some of these tips and adding them to your game. If you sometimes struggle to know what you should be doing have a look at some of your favorite players. You will be able to see the tips in action.
Don't try to master all of these tips at once. Perhaps take 1 or 2 first of all. Some are more simple and can be added almost instantly. Some will require a little more repetition to build muscle memory. Make sure you feel confident doing them before you implement in a real game. Adding something new in a match that you haven't practiced is recipe for disaster. So as our last point of the 10 said, get lots of practice and practice under pressure.
We love to hear your feedback so let us know below how you got on with any of these tips!
What other tips can I use to help my game?
Check out our article for some extra tennis tips to improve your game:
Where can I get some more in depth technical and tactical tips?
Check out our Topspinpro YouTube channel which features a number of coaching videos on both technique and tactics: