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Ask tennishead: Improving consistency on serve


Originally published on: 26/02/10 16:34

The Patient
Gillian, Scotland

The symptoms
I have a great serve when it goes in but more often than not it goes out or has no pace. How can I improve its consistency without losing pace and technique?

Tennishead says
Really pleased you have asked this, as a common problem amongst all types of players can be a lack of attention to the serve. Serves can often be neglected during practice, especially if there is no coach present.

It is often useful to remember that if you dont get your serve in, you cant win. So here are some simple guidelines to improve your serve practising skills.

Dont forget your serve
Its incredibly easy to neglect the serve during a practice or a hitting session. This can be especially apparent if you have endured a hefty session and have no energy for serving at the end. Players often only hit a few token serves at the end of a session without any regard to how they are hit, never mind where they go. So tennisheads first tip is to make time for the serve, dont rush it, and religiously schedule the serve into practice sessions.

Maintaining focus
Giving the serve enough time and energy can be tough therefore it may be a good idea to serve at the beginning of the session, dont always wait until the end. Or if time permits, devote an entire session purely to serves. A good habit to get into is to hit a basket of balls per session and concentrate on a particular goal for each serve. If you ensure that you have a goal in your mind, it makes serving more enjoyable and purposeful. For example, if you want to work on your ball toss, then only think of that for a set amount of serves.

During practice
Once a set period has been assigned to the serve, dont forget to apply the relevant coaching points. A coach may say, for example, throw the ball higher, generate more racket speed, direct your serve and bend your knees. Dont try and include every point at the same time, work on each component individually. For example, when trying to serve out wide, put down a few targets to aim for. Then once progress has been made, move onto a different coaching point and aim to put all efforts into that particular aspect. Writing down these key points can often be useful too.

Serving drills
If youre stuck for drills, here are a few to keep you going

Serving under pressure
If youre involved in match practice then it can be a great idea to use the no-ad rule, so when at deuce, play a sudden death point. This encourages more concentration at pressure points. It may be challenging at first but once done enough times, it becomes a lot easier to serve on these big occasions during matches.

If youre not able to play a match then give yourself a challenge when hitting a basket of balls. Give yourself a target number of serves to get in the service box. For example, try and hit 7/10 serves into the box. Once you get to 6/10, you may tighten up which can act as the pressure situation and get you used to dealing with those tricky situations. After all, if you practice often and enough, it should translate onto the match court.

Grab a basket of balls, set up pyramids of balls in the service box in different places and then aim for the targets. Try to think about what has gone well when you hit a target. Also make sure you tell yourself where to hit the ball before you hit it. Therefore youre not just hitting the target by luck.

Improving the height of contact: Make contact at the top of the toss. Often, players hit the ball too low because they hit it too late, after letting it drop. Try to hit the ball while it’s still going up, just as it’s about to stop. This will also help you avoid an excessively high toss.

Start with elbow up: Many players meet the ball low because their elbow is low. Try serving for a couple of weeks without any windup. Start with your racket behind your back and your elbow up as high as it can comfortably be.

Go after the ball: Make sure you bend your knees as you get ready to strike the ball, then push up with your legs as you go up to swing. Direct all of your body’s energy upwards and explode up towards the ball.

A video
Take a look at this topspin serve drill.

Something to aspire to
If you enjoy Roger Federers serve, then take a look here and maybe you can translate this onto the practice court.

Do you need help?
Dont panic book an appointment now! Get in touch with your symptoms and keep an eye on our On Court channel for the solution.


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.