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Back to basics: Perfecting the serve


Originally published on: 26/02/10 16:30

The irony of the serve is that without it you can’t start a rally, yet many players find it boring to practice and so neglect it.

There’s no excuse for not having a decent serve you don’t need a practice partner to get out there and perfect the action and it’s the only shot in tennis that’s not affected by your opponent.

We’ll tackle more advanced serving another time, but here’s the basics to make sure you have a good foundation to the stroke.

1. Use the chopper grip if you can – once you’re serving consistently, this will make it easier to introduce different spins and hit a greater variety of serves.

2. Start sideways on and make sure you have a balanced stance. Generally speaking you should line your feet up with your target area. Your front foot should be at an angle and your back foot should be parallel to the baseline.

3. The ball toss. Place the ball in the air let it roll off the ends of your fingers and try to get it slightly in front of your body, in line with your head. It should be just high enough so you have to reach up to it but not so high that you’re waiting for the ball to drop before hitting it and disrupting the rhythm of your serve. Make sure your left arm is straight at the top of the toss and don’t let the arm drop too fast. (Also bear in mind that some players keep it up there too long.)

4. While you’re non-playing hand is putting the ball in the air, your racket arm is working in tandem by beginning the throwing action. Many players don’t drop the racket far enough behind their head. Re-create the action with a hammer. You’ll get the feeling of the weight getting right behind the head and down your back.

5. The racket then comes from behind the head and up to the ball with a throwing action. You should be reaching right up to the ball when you make contact. Try to ‘snap’ the wrist through the shot to generate more pace.

6. Finish the shot with your racket coming down the opposite side of your body and try to recover as quickly as possible so you can react to your opponent’s return.

The tactics

As is the case when learning groundstrokes, if you haven’t been playing very long, the first thing you need to do is get control of the serve and then be able to hit the serve with direction. Practice serving in different directions, but not too hard. Once you have control and direction, then you can think about increasing the pace.

Sammel says…

Problems with the serve can often be solved by tweaking the action here and there. Here’s a list of common problems…

  • Do you watch the ball long enough, or is your head dropping too early?
  • Is your ball-tossing arm dropping too fast, so as you go to make contact with the ball the dropping arm pulls your head down too early?
  • If you’re serving long, is your ball placement too far back?
  • If you’re serving into the net, is your ball placement too far in front?
  • If you haven’t got enough power, try to stand tall and hit the ball at the highest point and once you feel that you’re really stretched on the contact, then start to slap the ball down with your wrist.
  • If you start to net with pace, then you’re possibly snapping the wrist over too quickly.
  • If your serve has no penetration, are you actually jumping and landing inside the court? You should be landing at least over the baseline, to be having any kind of penetration.


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.