How to Improve Your Tennis Serve?

Serving in tennis is a simple but technical process that goes a long way in determining your game performance. It could be a useful weapon to ground your opponent and an added advantage if done well. This is why it is crucial to work at mastering the right technique and perfect body coordination that will yield the maximum result.

Some beginner players believe that simple tennis serving tips are enough to help them serve correctly. But you can ask any expert player if this is true, and the response you’ll get is an emphatic no. Basic serving tips are useful but not sufficient.

This is why I am bringing up these step-by-step sequences that will culminate into a killer serve motion.

If you religiously follow the steps explained below, I guarantee that you will be more adept at serving a tennis ball. This article will come in handy, especially if you are a beginner looking forward to learning how to serve correctly.

As earlier mentioned, serving is a simple process, but only after you have mastered its tricks. As you learn each step here, you should practice them until you get the hang of them.

Now, let’s take the ride, shall we?

Step 1: Watch Your Stance

Your starting position is of utmost importance if you are intentional about winning points. You cannot afford just to stand whichever way is convenient for you and expect to excel.

You need to position your feet strategically to get your tennis stance right. The front foot should point towards the net post (right or left net post depending on the hand you use), and the back foot should be on the same line with your front foot heels. Also, position your racquet at hip height in front of your body while pointing towards your target.

This is so you can maintain proper balance in all directions. Just as the back feet align, their toes should also match up with the front foot heel. This prepares you ahead of the full serve motion.

If you watch expert players, you will discover that there are two popular types of stances used to serve. These include the platform stance and the pinpoint stance.

The difference between these two stances is your feet’s movement as you push upward for the ball. While in platform serve posture, your feet are apart and fixed on the same spot throughout the service—even as you bend, coil, tilt and launch upwards into the serve—in pin-point stance, you close the gap between the back and front foot as you launch upwards for the ball.

You may ask which of the two stances yields a better result. Well, it depends. The platform stance is mostly suitable for players seeking acute power, while the pinpoint stance is better suited for players who do not need so much above-ground sharp power.

You may have to practice the two types of stances for some time before deciding which works best for you.

Step 2: Use a Proper Grip Technique

Just as you won’t find a soldier handling his weapon inappropriately, you can’t also afford to hold your racquet wrongly. The way you grip the racquet is a determinant of how effective the service will be. This is why the proper grip is an essential part of serving that you have to get right. You can only achieve your aim of consistently hitting powerful groundstrokes and shots by choosing your grip wisely.

There are up to eight bevels (angles) on a typical racquet handle, starting with the first one lining up with the head of your racquet. Whether you are a right-handed or left-handed player, your hand will align with some of the bevels at different levels, based on the type of grip you choose.

For tennis players worldwide, the best grip technique is the continental grip. Some beginner players learn to start with an eastern forehand grip before transitioning to a continental grip. This is because the eastern grip is more straightforward to master than the continental grip. However, no matter how difficult it seems, learning both the continental and eastern grip is just a matter of time, focus, and training. It’s not rocket science, trust me.

A continental grip can also be called the hammer or chopper grip: you hold the racquet like a hammer, as though you are about nailing the ball to the ground with the racquet’s edge. This grip offers you the right flexibility you need to get the proper spin to engage your game. It is best for both slice and overhead serves. With it, you can easily pick up shots, handle low balls, and slide in some underspin and sidespin.

If you are all about more power and speed, then the eastern or forehand grip (where you hold the racquet as though shaking hands with it) is your best bet. With this grip in place, you can easily hit flat shots, thereby adding more power and speed to the ball.

You must note that the continental and eastern grip are not the only types of grip used in tennis serve. We also have a Semi-western grip, an all-around grip, a compromise of both eastern and western grips. Using this grip, you can switch from one hold to another, depending on the purpose.

But beyond all, the continental grip has proven to be the best at serving. You should practice it during training and try it out during a game.

Step 3: Work Your Way into the Trophy Pose

If you are familiar with how tennis trophies look, you’ll agree with me that it is typically an athlete holding the ball in the air with their dominant hand holding the racquet at ninety degrees, face-up, ready to serve. Pretty close, isn’t it?

The trophy pose or position is vital to your service because it prepares you ahead and positions your body for the swing motion to generate the right power for an effective serve spin.

As you get in the pose, you prepare to channel your power through the racquet to the ball. This pose is also a foundation for whatever type of service you want to deliver, either flat, kick, or slice.

Three motions take place simultaneously and lead up to a trophy pose. I will explain each of the movements below, hoping that while you practice them one after another, you’ll also practice and master them as one coordinated sequence of actions.

Backswing

With the trophy pose in mind, the first thing to do is the backswing. Before doing this, make sure you are already in the right stance and your grip is correct. Then, let both hands drop together. On doing that, raise the hand holding the racquet (dominant hand) up in a pendulum swing backward until the racquet goes behind your head and your bicep is almost parallel with the court (the forearm should be roughly at ninety degrees with your bicep). Just as the name implies, your backswing motion is complete. Now the toss.

Toss

The toss is to happen at the same time the backswing happens. It goes this way: the other hand holding the ball is swung forward and set up in the air, allowing you to toss the ball upward into the sky.

Many players don’t understand the necessity of getting the toss right until they deliver a subpar serve. Don’t be that kind of player. Toss the ball so that, when it drops, it meets the racquet at the best of angles to ensure proper contact.

These tips will be of help:

  1. Place the ball in the middle of your hand and hold it down with your thumb for a while.
  2. Ensure your arm is straight
  3. Follow the ball with your eyes until the level where you release it.
  4. Note that it is okay if the tossing arm is stiff when lifting the ball, but the serving arm has to be at its most relaxed state.

 

One way to master this is to take simple drills where you: reach your trophy position and begin tossing the ball and catching it back in your hand on the same spot. When you can successfully throw the ball and maintain your trophy position, then you can proceed.

Don’t forget, both the backswing and toss are to be in synchronization. Both hands should be raised (one back-swinging with the racquet and the other ball-tossing) at the same time and dropped at the same time.

Knee Bend

With the backswing and toss in motion, the knee bend also comes into play. This brings about coiling and uncoiling. Just at the moment when you set the backswing, and the tossing hand is high up in the sky, you must have bent your knees. This means that as you raise your hands, you bend your knees. The bending degrees vary among players depending on factors like height and how much power is needed to serve.

In essence, the bent knees give you some power for a good spin, springing you up and allowing you to hit the ball properly. When the knees are bent, transfer your body weight to your front foot, in a forward motion, towards the court.

When you duly follow all of these three steps, you’ll be standing right there ‘wearing’ the trophy pose. Note that you should keep your head up to maintain contact with the ball and keep your shoulders right in place. Also, both the upper and lower body should not fall out of synchronization as you work up to the trophy pose. Keep your body relaxed. Don’t tense up, or it may affect your service and produce less acceleration and racquet head speed during the serve.

You may not feel comfortable trying out the trophy pose at first, but don’t panic. With much practice, you’ll soon find out that it’s easier than you think.

Other Useful Tennis Articles

Step 4: Hit The Ball Rightly

Hitting the ball correctly is as vital as getting the proper stance, grip, and trophy pose. In other words, your posture, grip, and trophy pose won’t yield the expected result until you hit the ball rightly. Here is where the actual service is determined.

The previous steps listed here only help you gather enough power and get you into the right posture to smash the racquet into a ball and produce an explosive spin. If you observe those steps and miss out on this, then nothing applaudable would come of your efforts. The earlier stages are only actions that will build-up to the right serve. Learning to hit the ball rightly will require us to revisit some parts of the steps mentioned earlier.

As you fit into the trophy position, be sure not to make the common mistake of having a shallow drop. This is common with players who rush not to miss the contact point but lose the spin power while at it.

You should execute the toss and backswing in a way that you’ll be able to make contact with the ball at the right point.

There is a power move that comes from the trophy position. This happens as your racquet drops, and your body, which is partially sideways, starts to rotate forward (that is, your body turns through your hip and then uses your trunk and shoulders to rotate forwards, the racquet trailing behind). If these two movements happen simultaneously, the hitting arm and the racquet will generate power without unnecessary effort. This is where your body stretches like a giant rubber band ready to snap back to its original shape.

As you may have known, this is where a lot of professional players generate their serving power. It is merely about transferring the force built through those subtle moves and relaxed muscles to their dominant arm.

It is very natural to think that if you tense your muscles and just hit as hard as possible, the service will be forceful. Well, that’s not entirely true. Even if you can pull it off with tense muscles and achieve some speed, serving this way is not ideal. Or simply put, you would have done the same hit with the same racquet head speed with lesser effort and saved some energy for later use.

Allowing your body to stretch in this way comes from relaxing your muscles—yes, despite your mind telling you that you need some stiffness to get a fast service done. You will have to change that mindset and pull out of the league of players who serve wrongly and soon reach the zenith of their speed too soon.

If you are a beginner, you may want to think the stretch is only for pros. Well, it may seem a little bit much, but it is what you can achieve through practice. As you practice, you will understand how as the body snaps back, it creates a whip effect for attaining maximum racquet head speed.

Step 5: Pronate Properly and Follow-Through on the Serve

This is another crucial step that you must get right. The best way to achieve a good tennis serve is to pronate well. Not knowing how to pronate means you are already leaning towards a bad serve. While getting the hang of pronation is usually tricky for many beginner players, it doesn’t always have to be.

A waiter’s serve (where with a forehand grip you open the racquet face too soon) won’t help you learn pronation easily. However, holding the racquet with a continental grip is one of the best ways to learn pronation. It involves taking your time to practice how to approach the ball with the racquet’s edge and then rotating your forearm downwards (pronate) just before contact. Make sure you allow your arm to align the ball to the strings naturally.

Pronation tends to happen too early, thereby making the racquet open before time. To avoid this, you may consider pronating a bit later than you feel the urge to do. Just lead with the racquet edge, hit the ball with a slow slice, and pronate after the contact. Try this slowly, and with time, you’ll get it right.

As you progress, you’ll understand that after pronation, especially for the pros, they end up at the other side (on the left if they are right-handed, right if they are left-handed). It feels excellent and proper.

They don’t do the follow-through merely for the fun of it or intentionally. It is just the way their body relaxes following the swing of the racquet. It happens so naturally that they don’t notice it.

Different Tennis Serving Techniques and Other Useful Tips That Will Improve Your Tennis Serve

  • While you practice tennis serve, you have to practice different types of services to be versatile. You may alternate between each of the tennis services depending on your circumstances and skill level.

    A flat serve is mostly the fastest serve if you hit with a continental grip. It is usually forceful, and its speed may be an advantage for you over your opponent. You hit the slice serve with a sidespin that could bait your opponent to the deuce or ad side of the court, take them out of position, and thereby open wide other sides of the court. The kick serve features a heavy topspin with less power but more control. It requires a lot of practice to master its signature kick.
    Lastly, the less popular underhand serve: it is usually like a drop shot that lightly goes over the net and may bounce twice before your opponent reaches it. It is a controversial serve mostly encouraged for children and injured players.

  • In recent times, some players have found salvation in training aids. Training aids help you to focus on specific skills and acquire them. There are various training aids for different skills needed on the tennis court, and you’ll find ones that train you on serving well. An example is the Serve Master by Lisa Dodson, allowing you to swing continuously, simulating the whole service motion. It also ‘helps you re-establish the natural flow of the body.’

 

  • Many drills and exercises on the internet will improve your stance, grip, backswing, toss, pronation, and follow-through. They will only work out if you practice them just as instructed.

Final Words

For most players, the tennis serve is tasking. This is because they are yet to get their basics.

As said earlier, when you practice the relaxed way of accelerating the racquet and making the body into a rubber band, you get the right power than going the stiff/tense way.

If followed religiously, each of the tennis serve tips above will help you improve your serve technique and give you a platform to entirely spring on to more advanced components of the service and your tennis game.

I must also note that you need hours of serious practice to master the art of serving in tennis correctly.

I hope this article has been helpful in one way or the other. If you have found it useful, do share it on social media. And if you have any questions, drop them in the comment section below. Thanks.

Kevin Fitzgerald
Kevin Fitzgerald
Kevin Fitzgerald is a tennis coach based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Kevin was introduced to tennis by his father at the age of 3. Tennis quickly became a passion, and he started coaching at the early age of 16. Kevin now writes for several tennis related blogs and magazines.