How to Serve in Tennis
With second serves being allowed in tennis, you essentially have two shots at creating the perfect serve.
The direction of serve, type of serve, and placement of serve are all essential ingredients that play a major role in the success of your shot, and therefore, your likelihood of earning a point.
This article will act as a guide on the importance of serving, offering advice and steps on how to perfect your own.
Three different types of serves will then be discussed, providing techniques and tips to help you become a master.
How to Serve
Tim Henman suggests that trying too hard is one major faux pas committed by many players that leads their serves to go horribly wrong.
According to him, being relaxed is key, and practice makes perfect. Different exercises can be done to improve serving, with target practice being helpful.
There are several steps to check to create the perfect serve. These will be discussed in depth below, with links to videos placed below each point to demonstrate and provide a visual representation which will be a great aid.
It is very important to ensure that each step of this sequence is perfected, as any deviation or lack of perfection can cause the serve to go wrong.
Upon looking at professional players, it can seem as though a serve is one smooth movement. However, for an accurate serve there must be two swing paths of the racquet.
This includes the transition into the pronation (turning your palm to face away from you) just before contact, rather than one straight swing without any pronation.
The stance: adopting an appropriate stance is the first step to ensuring a good serve.
The basic tennis stance is when your front foot is the right side of the net (left side if you’re left-handed), and the back foot is parallel to the baseline.
This stance gives you balance in all directions, but the pin-point and platform stances are other techniques you can use once you feel more confident.
During a platform serve stance, the feet remain in the same position throughout the entire service motion. In contrast, for a pin-point stance, the serve is initiated from a platform stance, but as the ball is tossed up, the back foot is brought closer to the front and pushed upwards towards the ball.
The grip: the continental grip is considered the proper tennis serve grip.
The racket should be gripped as if it were a hammer, and the edge should be perpendicular to the ground.
The left index finger should be placed in the “valley” between the thumb and the index finger of the right hand (for right-handed players), just next to the thumb bone.
The left index finger should point to the top left edge of the racquet handle.
The throw: when tossing the ball up, the racket-bearing hand will move slower than the tossing arm.
As your body weight shifts forward, you will push your hips forward and shift your body weight to the front.
Advanced players will stretch their bodies into a bow-like shape (Tennis Gate), so it might be worth watching their movements in slow motion to comprehend and visualize how the throw is done fully.
The hit: the hit is the focal point of a serve; it is at this point when you will know if the serve’s outcome will be a success or not.
The swing path should include the internal rotation of the upper arm and the pronation of the forearm.
Once contact with the ball is reached, the racquet’s head should be pushed straight towards the net, then finishing on the right side of the body with the butt cap pointing upwards at around a 45-degree angle or more, and the string bed pointing towards the back fence (Feel Tennis).
Backswing and toss: the backswing and toss happen simultaneously, so it is crucial to always practice them together as one.
Before tossing, the ball should be placed in the middle of your hand, with the thumb held gently on top.
The toss should happen from your shoulder joint, and a straight arm must always be used. The backswing should be relaxed, almost looking like the movement of a pendulum.
Power move: this move is often conflated with tensing muscles, as players often believe this will give them more strengths and power.
In reality, this is not the case, rather the stretch and snap idea is what generates the most power behind a serve.
Like a rubber band, you should outstretch your body, and the momentum should then be transferred to the arm, rotating the arm in a relatively fast movement.
The power comes from this, rather than from the structure and tenseness of your body; it is very important to separate this idea from making a powerful serve.
If you employ the correct technique, there will be no need to tense your body muscles, this will only tire you out more.
The follow-through: if you watch a professional player serve, they will finish their serve on the left side of their body, if they are right-handed (and vice versa).
It is important to acknowledge that this isn’t the result of intentional switching, it is simply the relaxation of the body that swings the racket in that natural way.
This is,therefore the part of the serve that is unintentional; it’s a natural occurrence that shouldn’t be given too much overthought. It’s at this point you can allow your body to relax, but not too much as you have to be ready for the next hit!
Visual Indicators to Change Strings
When the racket makes contact with the ball, the stings are rub together, which produces friction. This friction causes the strings to notch.
Upon looking closely, you will see some grooves formed where the primary and cross string cuts. This type of condition is more evident in the upper middle of the racket, which is the area that gets contacted with the ball the most.
If the racket’s strings start notching, then it’s time to restring it.
The sooner you replace the old string with the new one, the better your racket will play. A stitch in time saves nine.
Fraying is another common visual indicator that you need to get the racket re-stringed.
The strings usedin the racket are made up of tiny fibers that are intertwined together to give it the required strength to control and hit the ball.
Freshly strung strings have a coating on them which wears out with time.
This means that the fibers start to fray. It is not something to worry about as it is part of the play. The more you play, the fiber will come in contact with humidity and moisture, which becomes the reason for the fray.
You should be more concerned about getting the racket re-stringed before the fray reduces the gauges of the string to a point where it breaks.
Non-Visual Indicators to Change Strings
New players might not be able to detect the non-visual indicators.
They might not feel the subtle changes in the string.
However, once you begin controlling the game and knowing how your racket plays and feels, you should notice when it starts to play differently from how you expect.
You will notice that when the strings lose tension, they will make the ball spend more time on the bed, which ultimately will affect the player’s control and performance.
A player will have to invest more energy when compared to playing with strings with a higher tension.
It can result in making unforced errors, or the ball just might not be placed properly on the racket.
When polyester strings become loose, they lose snapback, making it more challenging to apply topspin to a racket compared to a newly strung racket.
How often should I Restring a Tennis Racket?
The players’ most important concern is how many times do they need to restring their racket?
The most straightforward answer to this question is resting is directly proportional to the time you play with the racket.
Rule of Thumb
So if you play 5 times a weeks then you should restring your racket 5 times a year.
Although the strings may seem fine, they still need to be changed because you may not see any noticeable difference, but the strings lose tension after hours of playing.
Restringing is essential for both professional and recreational players.
For aggressive players who strike the balls faster and harder, they need to keep analyzing their rackets, and may need to restring their racket more often.
It’s not uncommon for your racket to look fine but may not perform as you would like because of the strings. So keep these factors in mind when getting your racket restrung.
If the racket has a polyester string then you certainly cannot follow any calendar to restring your racket, you have to get the racket restrung immediately when the string breaks.
Generally, the polyester strings are harder to break, but if you are playing regularly, the strings will start to break down unevenly.
The uneven breakdown creates dead spots on the racket, which can cause errors in the performance.
Trainers and coaches recommend changing polyester strings after a few months to ensure good playability.
Restringing Modern Rackets:
- For the beginners, playing once a week you probably only need to change your strings once a year. Even then, some players can use the same strings for two or three years or until one breaks. At their level the difference in performance isn’t as noticeable.
- Intermediate players will need their racket restrung once or twice a year (depending on how often they play). You will notice the difference in play of your racket as the strings lose tension. If you start to play more inconsistently than you’d expect, it may be down to your worn-out strings.
- Advanced players. Some advanced players will resting a racket monthly and especially before important tournaments.
Cost of Restringing
The cost of the string depends on the type of string you are using, the brand of string, and the number of strings.
To restring a racket at a local club or shop will generally be about $15 – $60 (and often towards the lower end of that range). Expert stringers will charge more due to their experience.
To find a good racket stringer contact your local tennis club or a tennis shop. They should put you in contact with professionals in your area.
An inexpensive synthetic gut will cost you about $5, while a high-end natural gut will cost you $45 or more.
Some players bulk buy strings because they change them so often. Others buy from time to time when there is a need.
Material and Method of Restringing
Tennis strings quickly lose their tension.
Regardless of your level of training, your performance will usually suffer when the string tension in the racket diminishes.
Each string material has its own properties and characteristics. The following elements must be considered when choosing a string:
- Dynamic Stiffness
- Tension Retention
- Rebound Efficiency
- String texture
The types of strings are discussed below:
- Natural Gut is made up of the cow intestine and is best known for its tension maintenance and resilience. They rarely break, and comparatively, last longer than others.
- Synthetic gut strings are more affordable and offer very moderate tension coverage. Using nylon string means you will have to restring your tension racket more frequently.
- Multifilament is a form of nylon strings and a good alternative for natural gut strings. They are well priced and keep their tension well.
- Polyester tennis strings are the most commonly used strings. Their popularity is because of their low price and high spin potential. They do not break easily but will lose tension after time.
- Last but not least are the Kevlar string. These are durable and do a great job in maintaining string tension. These strings have a rough texture. These strings are not commonly seen on tennis players due to their uncomfortable feel.
A lot of people think that a tennis racket restriction is a personal preference, while others take it more seriously and change them more often.
It also depends on how often you play and your play style. Aggressive players who play frequently will change strings more often.
Some advanced players want a restrung racket before every game becausetheir performance is affected by worn-out or low-tension strings.
There are always two things to keep in mind before restringing a tennis racket: first is the tension loss, and the other being string performance.
So, there is no exact scientific formula to tell you when to restring a tennis racket.
For more clarity and understanding, go check out this video on youtube.