As we all know if you can’t get the point started in tennis, with a good serve or return, it makes things much more difficult. The serve is your first chance to strike in the point, so why not make it a good one? Let me give you tips for a great tennis serve.
As as my tennis game developed and as I have taught more, all different levels of players, I have noticed there are a few key points that make all the difference in the world. No matter what kind of technique you have hopefully you can find one or more of these eight tips helpful to improve your tennis serve!
Having the proper grip is going to help you get the most out of your serve. It is hard to learn and get accustomed with in the beginning but soon enough it becomes a good habit. The butt of a tennis racket is in the shape of an octagon. I am going to call each side of the octagon a notch.
Now, hold the racket with the head pointing up to the sky on its side. If you are right handed take the soft part between your thumb and pointer finger, of your right hand, and run it down the edge of the racket to the bottom of the grip. This is called the Continental grip, or notch #1. The other notches will be used in other strokes, but for serving this is where you stay! Click here to see a great picture of a continental grip.
2. Foot positioning
Like everything, starting with a good base is key. How you stand can determine where your ball goes. If your hips and shoulders are too open at the start then it doesn’t give you any room to rotate , and if you do, well then you will being going the wrong direction.
The serving motion can be compared to how you would throw a ball. You would never see a baseball pitcher stand face forward before he tried to throw a 120 MPH fast ball would you? Probably not! Thus is the same with the tennis serve. You need to position yourself where you aren’t too open but not too closed.
A very basic visual I can use is, if you point your left foot (for right handers) directly at the net post to your right. By creating this angel with your body it gives you room to rotate your shoulders through the serve, thus giving you more momentum into the court.
3. Height of toss
This one and #4 go hand in hand. The toss is the most important part of the serve because of it’s not in the right place then none of the other technique means a whole lot. Getting good extension on the serve can only happen if your toss is high enough. Why is good extension important?
Well, because what goes up must come down, but it can’t come down well enough if you never got underneath it. Like all other strokes in tennis you must get underneath the ball to get some spin, to bring the ball back down in the court.
If your toss never gets more than 3-4 inches above your head then, unless you have T-Rex arms, it’s going to be tough to get good extension.I am a visual learner and need things explained to me in simple terms.
My dad/coach gave me a good rule of thumb, he said, “you know it’s high enough if you can see the bottom of the ball.” Well, that’s silly, the ball is round there is no bottom! But there is a bottom, you just have to be brave enough to toss it that high. Most tennis players, regardless of their skill level, have a hard time with the toss.
There are a few of you out there with a very high toss, but that is a topic for another blog. Another way to know if your toss is high enough is at contact if your arm is fully extended (straight) your toss is where it needs to be!
4. Toss zone
So we have covered how high the ball needs to be on your toss, so now let’s cover where it needs to be. Get in your serving ready position (step #1), now picture a clock. When you look straight up that is 12:00 and as you move clockwise the toss gets further to your side or if you move counterclockwise it gets further behind you (opposite for a lefty).
We covered in step #2 how serving is the same motion as throwing a ball. As you throw a ball your release point is usually out in front of your body, hopefully. The release point is going to be the same as your contact point when the ball and the racket meet.
So, now going back to clock, when you get set to serve and look up at 12:00 ideally you want your toss between 1:00/2:00. Any further clockwise and you start hitting side-arm serves, and any further counterclockwise you loose track of the ball.
Making contact with the ball behind you or to the side can cause damage and injury to a players shoulder over time. There are a lot of different ways to practice the toss, but I am going to teach you one of the easiest ways.
Set your feet as if you were going to serve, then take your racket and place it on the court with the butt of the racket touching your toes and the racket head pointed at the net post.
Now, toss the ball using your tossing hand, if you are right handed use your left hand, and toss the ball up as if you were going to hit it, but let it bounce and see where it lands. The goal of this drill is to have the ball land on the strings of your racket, that would be a perfect toss! By letting it bounce you can see where your toss needs adjusting.
5. Relaxed arms
This might seem like a silly step, but it really is quite important. Being relaxed makes all the difference. By relaxing your arms you allow yourself a bigger range of motion and more racket head speed.
I remember one of my first tennis lessons learning to serve my instructor told me to have “spaghetti arms”! This silly saying has stuck with me and helped me so much in my career.
Also, when you are playing a match and the score gets tight, what is usually the first thing we do? We stop moving our feet, get tense, and try to force shots that aren’t there. We’ve all done it, sadly.
By reminding yourself every time you step up to the line to serve to keep your arms relaxed you will transition that into the rest of your game.
6. Legs/knee bend
The majority of people are stronger in their legs than in their arms, right? Okay, so why would we try serve harder with our arms than with our legs? Your legs are where you are going to get most of your power from, but you can’t jump without bending your knees!
When you get a good knee bend you use the strongest part of your body to explode up into the ball better. Your goal, when going up to get the ball, should be to end up in front of the baseline.
If you find that you aren’t ending up in front of the baseline try using more legs/knee bend and keep that toss in front of you. It will be very hard to use your legs properly if the toss is behind you or too far to the side.
Think of all the big tall men playing on the Pro Tour, John Isner, Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro, Djokovic, and so many more. Now other than being tall what else do all these guys have in common?
That’s right, they all have big serving games! Okay, so I am correlating being tall and having a big serve. Now, just because you aren’t tall doesn’t mean you can’t have a big serve, but it does certainly help.
So, height and extension give you more power. Who doesn’t want more power on their serve? By utilizing your legs better, like I discussed above, it helps you extend further and more powerfully up into the court.
8. Follow thru
So, you have your feet set, you get your toss perfect, your arms are relaxed, you bend your knees and use your legs, get good extension, now what…? This is the easy part, the follow through.
Once you make contact the easiest way to follow through is to swing your racket towards your target, snap your wrist, and let the racket come through and finish on your opposite side.
Snap your wrist?! What? Maybe you have heard it called pronate, but it’s all the same. The easiest way to explain this is to use your hand more than your arm. As you are making contact with the ball snap your wrist just a little bit, at the very end, to bring the ball down into the service box. The longer you keep the ball on your strings the better placement you can have with your serve.
I hope you have learned something new and can make some little or big changes to one of the most important parts or your game. Please leave comments I would love to hear from all of you.