The serve is one of the most crucial aspects of tennis. Because it’s the only shot in a match where a player has complete control over the timing, positioning, and execution. For beginners, learning to serve can be a challenging but essential part of developing a well-rounded game. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to serve in tennis:
Understanding the Serve
Before diving into technique, it’s important to understand the purpose of the serve. So, a serve initiates play and can be a powerful weapon in scoring points. There are two main types of serves: flat serves and spin serves, with the latter including topspin and slice serves. As a beginner, the focus should be on consistency and control rather than power.
What Are The Different Serves In Tennis?
1. Flat Serve
- Characteristics: The flat serve is the most straightforward type of serve. Because there’s little to no spin on the ball, which allows it to travel fast and straight.
- Advantages: This serve is typically the fastest and can be difficult for the opponent to return.
- Usage: Players often use the flat serve for a first serve to try and gain a quick point or to put immediate pressure on the returner.
2. Slice Serve
- Characteristics: The slice serve introduces a side spin to the ball. When struck, the ball curves through the air and skids off the court, making it tricky for the opponent to handle.
- Advantages: The slice serve can force the receiver to stretch wide, opening up the court for the server.
- Usage: It’s commonly used on the deuce court to pull the opponent out wide or to create angles.
3. Kick Serve
- Characteristics: Also known as the topspin serve, this serve is hit with an upward brushing motion that generates topspin. The ball arcs higher over the net and kicks up high off the court.
- Advantages: The kick serve is an effective second serve due to its high net clearance and the challenging bounce it produces, often forcing the returner to hit the ball at shoulder height or above.
- Usage: It’s typically used as a second serve to reduce the risk of double faults, but it can also be used tactically on the first serve.
4. American Twist Serve (aka Twist Serve)
- Characteristics: This serve is a variation of the kick serve but with an added side spin. Therefore, it’s a complex serve where the ball curves one way in the air and bounces in the opposite direction.
- Advantages: It can be very deceptive and difficult to read, causing trouble for the receiver.
- Usage: It’s less common than other serves due to the difficulty in execution but can be an effective surprise element when used occasionally.
5. Underhand Serve
- Characteristics: An underhand serve is hit with a shorter, subtler motion, often with slice or topspin, from below the waist.
- Advantages: It’s unexpected and can catch an opponent off guard, especially if they are standing far behind the baseline.
- Usage: It’s rare in professional play but can be a strategic choice against players who struggle with short balls or as a variation to disrupt the receiver’s rhythm.
6. Body Serve
- Characteristics: The body serve isn’t about spin or pace but rather placement. It’s directed towards the receiver’s body, making it awkward to return.
- Advantages: It can jam the opponent, leading to a weak return.
- Usage: This serve can be used on both first and second serves to crowd the receiver and is especially effective against opponents with large wingspans.
7. Serve and Volley
- Characteristics: While not a specific type of serve, the serve and volley is a strategy where the server follows their serve to the net to volley the return.
- Advantages: It puts immediate pressure on the receiver to hit a strong return and can dominate the net play.
- Usage: This tactic is often employed on faster surfaces like grass or indoor courts.
How To Serve In Tennis
1. The Grip
The Continental grip is the recommended starting point for beginners. To find this grip:
- Hold your racket as if you were shaking hands with it.
- Place the base knuckle of your index finger on the first bevel of the racket handle.
2. The Stance
Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart:
- If you’re right-handed, your left foot should be in front, parallel to the baseline. Both feet should be perpendicular to the baseline.
- If you’re left-handed, your right foot should be in front.
3. The Ball Toss
The toss is critical for a good serve:
- Hold the ball with your fingertips, not the palm, for a consistent release.
- Extend your tossing arm in front of you, releasing the ball when it reaches eye level.
- Aim to toss the ball slightly into the court and at a comfortable height where you can hit it at full arm extension.
4. The Backswing
The backswing sets the stage for a powerful serve:
- As you toss the ball, simultaneously bring your racket back in a smooth motion.
- Point the butt of the racket toward the ball, with the racket head tilted back and up.
5. The Trophy Pose
Imitate the classic “trophy” position. Exactly the same position as if you were to throw a ball:
- At the peak of your toss, your body should be side-on to the net.
- Your tossing arm is extended and pointing at the ball.
- The elbow should be aligned with your shoulders.
- Your racket arm is bent with the racket above and behind your head, forming an “L” shape.
6. The Swing
The swing is where you generate power:
- Lead with your elbow as you bring the racket up to meet the ball.
- Snap your wrist as you make contact, striking the ball with the center of the racket strings.
7. The Point of Contact
Making contact in the right spot is key:
- Hit the ball when it’s slightly in front of you and at the highest point you can comfortably reach.
- Your body should be uncoiling and facing the net as you strike.
8. The Follow-Through
Complete your serve with a proper follow-through:
- Continue your arm movement in the direction you want the ball to go.
- Let your racket come down naturally across your body, finishing around your opposite hip.
9. The Recovery
After the serve, get ready for the return:
- Quickly return to a neutral stance.
- Prepare for your next shot, anticipating your opponent’s return.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Avoid tossing the ball too high or too low.
- Don’t rush your motion; a fluid serve is more effective than a hurried one.
- Make sure not to “foot fault” by stepping on the baseline before making contact with the ball.
Mastering the serve is a difficult journey, and for beginners, that journey always begins with the fundamentals. By breaking down the serve into manageable steps it will become easier to learn. And by practicing diligently, beginners can turn their serves into reliable starters and eventually, strategic weapons.