The first and most important shot in tennis is and will always be the serve. Think of it is the essential shot that starts every point. Serving has changed over the years from becoming just a shot to start every point, to a massive weapon that can be bombed upwards of 155 mph professionals and amateurs alike. If you want to make yourself into a modern tennis player, you must be able to master the service motion, the most fundamental part of your game.
You can use the following guide on the proper tennis serve technique to master your ability to serve. I first will talk about the beginning of your serve (the grip and the toss), the middle, (knee bending and racket motion) and then the finish, (hitting your serve and pronating your wrist). I will even talk about the three serves (kick, slice, and flat).
Pick a position
You will need to be parallel with the baseline in order to start your service motion (With your right foot if you’re right handed). The best place to be is approximately six to eight inches behind the baseline place your left a few inches in front of your right foot in order to form a T. Move your left foot up to the line and place your left foot in about three inches.
Get a Grip!
The typical grip you are looking for is the “shake-hands grip” called the Continental Grip in most tennis teaching circles. You literally want to pick up the racket and hold it on the edge like you are going to hammer a nail with the frame of the racket. This Continental Grip is what you will use for your Serve. It will be used for the “Overhead” or smash shot as well as the grip for volley shots but those will be discussed in a later post.
Toss it up
You will NOT have a good serve until you can control your toss. This is as close to an absolute truth in the tennis realm as it comes. Without a toss that is consistently above the head at the right height, the correct lack of spin, and tossed from the fingertips instead of the palm, can only get so far. I like to teach my students that you should take your racket arm and ball arm in different directions(racket arm down, ball arm up) and imagine the racket is an extension of your arm and the racket face is your hand, think of your hand as throwing, not hitting the ball and your racket meets the ball at the peak of your toss. Your toss should be landing six to eight inches in front of your front foot if you tossed it up correctly.
Bend it like Beckham
As soon as you throw the ball make sure that your arms are moving in opposite directions as well as your knees are slightly bent. You will have to practice “throwing” the ball and hitting it with your racket. It is also optimal to have the toss mechanics under control before you attempt to add lower body mechanics to your serve. The lower body mechanics need to be in-sync with upper extremities and ball/racket movements.
Contact with the Ball
As you contact the ball make sure you imagine the racket as your hand and the contact point as the point of release of the ball. Keep your feet on the ground; as you get better you can start jumping up. The key to a great serve is a balance; if you’re not balanced, your toss is going to end up too far either in front or behind you a lot of the time.
Follow all the way through
For the complete benefits of a proper serve, make sure that after you’ve hit the serve, keep your head up and finish the stroke by bringing the racquet down to your left pocket. Your wrist should be pronating. Look up a video on wrist pronation to get the full benefits of a complete pronation. Only after you finish the stroke, then look down the court.
Timing is key.
With practice, you will learn that there is subtle nuance and timing to every part of your serve. Most of the professionals on the ATP World Tour can make this motion flow within their body and each little part of them flow effortlessly and in a linear fashion. What I want you to do is flow in a linear fashion from the toss to the follow through. and follow the exercises and keep practicing in order to achieve this.
The Flat Serve
The first serve variation and often the most common is the “flat” serve. You can replace flat with the word speed and it would work. The aim of this serve is to get little to no spin and all power on your ball. Most of these serves are placed towards the body or T of the service box in order to ace or win a quick, free point. When hitting this type of serve (I recommend hitting the kick serve first) you toss the ball 6 to 12 inches to the right of your right shoulder and follow the previous progressions mentioned in this post to hit the ball. You really want to do some shadow swings and to practice with your racket hitting straight through and forward to the ball and make sure that racket it following through forward as well.
The Kick Serve
The second and most essential variation of serving is called the kick serve. It gets its name from the vast amount of spin that is generated from the pronation and racket to ball contact of the ball. It is said that a player is only as good as their first serve. Most club and professional players used some type of kick serve as a second serve. I would certainly recommend using the kick serve as your second serve. In order to hit this serve you need to toss the ball directly above your head and when you make contact with the ball you are brushing up against the ball, pronating with the wrist to the right and following through with your racket to the right. One of my teachers always said to think of the kick serve pronation as your racket is your hand and the tennis ball is a “beach ball” and you’re rolling the beach ball in the sand just to emphasize the brushing motion.
An exercise you can use to practice your kick serve is to hold your racket above your and trap a tennis ball in between your hand and the racket as you’re holding it above your head. Once you have this position roll the tennis ball on the strings of the racket with your hand and practice brushing up the ball with your racket so the ball comes out. It may take some time to master this pronation technique but it is certainly worth it.
The Slice Serve
The Slice serve is my personal favorite serve since I like angles and if you can master the slice serve it can be used to open up the court for a vicious forehand or just to simply catch your opponent off guard. The toss position for this variation is tough to really pinpoint, but ideally, you want the toss to be to the right of your right shoulder. For the exercise, I have to give credit to Pete from crunch time coaching on YouTube.
His drill went something like this: You remember skipping rocks as a kid right? Well to practice the slice serve you are doing exactly that. You begin by flicking your wrist below your waist, then progress to flick your wrist with your racket cutting into the ball with your strings. You then toss balls and stand at the service line flicking your wrist with the racket and toss the ball trying to get it over the net into the service box. You then progress from flicking your wrist below your waist to positioning it above your head and making sure it goes over. If you can flick your wrist correctly you will have the strings working in a great way to apply slice to the ball and practice this variation of serving.
Mastering your serve.
In order to master the proper serve technique, you will need to master the progressions of the service motion. This really cannot be stressed enough. It all starts with listening to instruction, following through with practice, and not getting discouraged. You will have all the tools at this website. To review, we talked about positioning, which leads into the correct Continental Grip, into the racket mechanics which lead to body mechanics and follow through. We talked about the three serve variations and each exercise for each variation. Follow the exercises and keep practicing in order to achieve the perfect flow of your service motion and once you have mastered a fluid service motion you will be well on your way to mastering the game of tennis!