Tennis Serves: An Introduction, Types, Techniques, and Tips for Better Results.
Well-executed tennis serves are the core of the game. These help the player dictate the pace of the game.
However, a poorly executed serve can put a player at a great disadvantage right from the start of the game.
This translates to lost points and, by extension, lost games.
‘Life is like tennis. Those who serve best usually win.‘ – David Foster Wallace
Tennis serves are crucial shots in the game. One reason is that it is the only shot in which you control the trajectory, speed, and power of the ball. 😲
Therefore, while serving, you should make sure that the ball bounces high or low enough off the ground to cause your opponent to have trouble keeping the ball in.
Applying the right technique and vigor will ensure that your opponent is on the defensive for most, if not all, of your service. 😉
But learning tennis serves can be particularly difficult for beginners; however, once you get the hang of it, it will become one of, if not the greatest, ammo in your arsenal.
👉 Generally, there are four main types of serve in tennis.
PRO TIP: The big professional players use different combinations of the four in search of good results.
For instance, a player may use a flat serve for the first serve. If there is a fault, he can settle for a slice or kick serve for the second serve.
Table of Contents
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What is a Tennis Serve?
A serve, also known as service, is a shot a player takes to start a point in a tennis game.
The player has to hit the ball so that it lands in the diagonally opposite service box. While at it, the payer also has to ensure that his ball remains with the boundaries of the court.
A player gets to serve twice in tennis, with a second serve being played in the case of a fault in the first serve.
For the first serve, the player has to stand behind the line and to the right of the center point and hit right to left.
For the second serve, the player has to stand behind the baseline, but this time, to the left of the center point. The player also hits from left to right.
What are the Outcomes Of A Serve?
A serve may result in any of the following:
- A good, well-delivered serve: This occurs when the server delivers the ball within the boundaries of the cross-court.
- An ace: Bull’s eye! This occurred when the opponent did not return a well-delivered serve.
- A Let: This occurs when the delivered ball hits the net’s cord on its way to the cross-court.
- A fault: This occurs when the attempt to deliver the ball to the diagonally opposite service box fails. This could be a result of.
- The server is not assuming proper positioning while serving.
- The server running or walking during the serve.
- The server’s swing attempt failed to contact the ball.
Why Do I Need to Learn Different Types Of Serve?
The four types of serves have their advantages and also their pitfalls. To put it simply, there is no one grand serve for a surefire ace.
Each serve has situations they work best in and conditions where they do not perform so well. That said, it’s a good idea to blend different types of serves to land favorable results.
The reasons to learn different types of serves are as follows:
- To avoid predictability: One of the things you don’t want in your tennis game is for your opponent to easily see through your moves. And for good reasons.
Let’s say hypothetically; you can only do the flat serve. Your opponent knows what to expect, only flats, and prepares adequately in anticipation.
Hence, the chances of him or her returning the ball, or even breaking you, are indeed high.
But, this is quite the opposite if you are skilled in the four serves. The opponent doesn’t know what to expect!
- Court Surfaces: Different types of court surfaces give the ball a different bounce.
Some court surfaces make the ball bounce high, while others cause it to bounce little. Flat serves work better in the grass and hard-court surfaces.
PRO TIP: Kick serves works better on clay court surfaces.
- Alternative: You only get to serve twice. In the first serve, most players go for a lot of power, flat serve. But sometimes, first serves may go south.
A player whose skills are limited to one type of services may not be able to pull through.
- Different heights of the opponents: fare well in tennis. It is important to notice the opponent’s height and serve them with a ball they will struggle to attack.
- Playing against a relatively shorter opponent, it is best to try a kick serve, as this will help to take advantage of the gap in height. This will keep the ball outside their striking range, making the ball harder to return.
On the other hand, if Mr. or Mrs. Opponent is a really tall fellow, you should never try kick serve. That is because they will easily return it.
You might want to try slice serve. The tallest players will need time to re-position and return the ball from serve.
- Versatility: Tennis serves helps you to learn, so the more solid and superb your ‘A-game’ is.
What are the Types of Serves?
There are 4 main types of tennis serves. They include:
#1: The Flat Serve:
This is the power serve because it is hit with max power and little if any spin.
Because of the amount of force on the ball, it keeps low after bouncing and maintains a straight course. It goes without saying that the fastest serves are flat serves.
🎾 RECORD ALERT: The fastest ever flat serve was hit by John Isner on the ATP record, with a speed of 157.2mph [253 km/h]. The flat serve is the most popular serve, and a sizeable number of flat serves end in aces.
The goal in a flat serve is to deliver the ball into the cross court with the maximum amount of power. To do that, pay attention to the techniques
- The Grip: beginner can start with the forehand grip but must learn and switch to the internationally accepted ‘continental grip.’
- Starting Stance: the feet should be your shoulders’ width apart. One foot should be pointing towards the net. This position enables you to shift your body’s weight in order to play
- Toss Placement: to achieve the ideal toss in flat serve, the toss arm goes up and releases the ball upwards at about eyes level. After the release, the toss arm still continues upwards until it is fully extended.
As the ball approaches its peak, the body should lean a little bit forward to re-adjust the body in anticipation of the strike. The ball should be tossed so that it is about 14 inches in front of you and about 6 inches to the right of the tossing arm.
- Launching and Racket Contact: to hit a powerful ball into your opponent’s box, you have to strike the ball firmly from behind, no brushing.
Imagine the tennis ball as a clock face. You should aim to hit the ball straight over the top, from 12 o’clock through 6 o’clock, with true pronation of the wrist.
✌️ Flat Serve Tips
- Do not overuse the flat serve: Because the flat has a low margin of error, many tennis players may not be able to deliver the ball without faults.
Once a player’s first serve is ‘faulted,’ a chunk of his or her confidence is taken from him and added to the opponent.
That said, the flat serve should not always be in use but alternated with other serves to achieve good results.
- Use flat serves strategically: Still, you might want to evaluate the risk-reward ratio before you hit because the margin for error is narrow.
If you are a strike away from closing out a game [e.g., ad:15], you could go for a big flat serve. But if you are on the opposite end of things [15:ad], it won’t be advisable to risk it all with flat serves.
- Best use the flat serve in the middle of the net because that is the lowest part of the net.
✌️ The Advantages of Flat Serve
- Power of the Serve: There is a lot of pace and power in the ball; this will make your opponent have little time to react.
- Increased chances of hitting an ace: Most aces hit in tennis were through flat serves.
The Disadvantages of Flat Serve
- Low margin of error: the flat serve is not a really consistent and reliable technique. That is because it has a very low margin for errors.
- Risk of Backfiring: If you are up against a really good opponent that can return the ball well enough. Using the flat serve could backfire. That is because you will have less time to react.
#2: The Slice Serve
As the name suggests, the ball is hit with a slicing, brushing motion from behind that gives the ball a side spin inward.
Compared to other tennis serves, the slice serve is not that fast. But what the slice serves loses in speed; it gains in rotation.
NOTE: It is highly effective when mastered and a safer alternative to flat serve.
- The Grip: Continental, but preferably the Eastern grip.
- Starting Stance: same as in flat serves. Your feet should be separated by a distance of the width of your shoulders. One of the feet should point straight ahead towards the net.
- Toss Placement: the non-dominant arm goes upwards and releases the ball upwards at approximately the same level with the eyes. That arm continues upwards and stops when the palm is now facing the sky.
As the ball ascends to its peak, the body should be leaned forward in order to strike. The ball should be tossed so that it is about 14 inches in front of the player and about 6 inches to the right of the tossing arm.
- Launching and Racket Contact: generally, to generate the side spin, the racket will have to hit the outer edge of the ball.
If imagining the ball as a clock face, the aim should be to hit from the 3 o’clock position anti-clockwise [upwards and around] to the 12 o’clock position.
✌️ Slice Serve Tips
- Mind the Court Surface: The slice serve does well when used on different court surfaces but performs particularly well on grass. The ball tends to bounce less on grass. Hence the ball is low, and the opponent should have a hard time returning that.
- Avoid over-hitting: it is quite easy to overhit in an attempt to side spin the ball.
- Go out wide: try to draw the opponent out of court by hitting the ball into the defensive area.
- Avoid pronation of your wrist: if the wrist is pronated while trying to generate side spin, the ball will be hit flatly.
✌️ The Advantages of Slice Serve
- Easy: If you are quite comfortable with the continental grip, you will discover that slice serve is one of the easiest and most natural serves around.
- Opening of the court: The slice serve can make the ball land at the very corners of the box, opening up the court. As such, it widens the shooting-range
- Low bounce: unlike in flat serves, where the power of the ball is the winning feature, in slice serve, you win on the bounce and spin of the ball. A well-executed slice serve bounces low, making it difficult for the opponent to attack.
✌️ The Disadvantages of Slice Serve
- Slowness: what the slice serve gains in rotation; it loses in speed. In other words, it is a slow serve, and the chances are that your opponent could return the ball forcefully.
- Inconsistency: because slice serve are very easy to overhit, most beginners would be very inconsistent at first.
- Telegraphing: some players to try to achieve an effective side spin end up ‘over tossing the ball. The opponent might anticipate from the toss that the player is planning on slice serving.
With this clue, the opponent could position better to return the ball, potentially winning the point.
#3: The Kick Serve
One of the tennis serves that is challenging as well as in-demand can be found here. If the first serve is faulty, the second serve is excellent.
This serve in tennis is famous for its outward curve, but also for its high bounce, which is a reflection of its amount of topspin.
- The Grip: A Continental grip is the most suitable grip for a kick serve
- Starting Stance: Same as in flat and slice serves. Your feet should be separated by a distance of the width of your shoulders. One of the feet should point straight ahead towards the net.
- Toss Placement: Same with flat and slice serves. The tossing arm goes upwards and releases the ball upwards at approximately the same level as the eyes.
Unlike in flat and slice serves, toss the ball above and a bit behind and to the left, if you are right-handed or to the right for the left-handed.
As the ball reached its peak, the body should be leaned forward in order to strike.
- Launching and Racket Contact: Generally, to achieve the kick serve, the ball will have to be brushed from underneath with the racket.
If imagining the ball as a clock face again, the aim should be to hit from the 8 o’clock position clockwise [ups and around] to the 2 o’clock position.
✌️ Kick serve tips
- The speed of racquet: To create a topspin, you will need the racquet head to move faster than it does in flat and slice spin.
- Brushing: to achieve topspin, you will need to brush from bottom to top
✌️ The Advantages of Kick Serve
- High margin of error: The kick serve is a very consistent and reliable serve. It doubles as both a safer and a very efficient alternative to flat serves.
- High bounce: the topspin applied to the ball causes it to spring into the air immediately it touches the ground. For this reason, the kick serve is challenging for opponents to return.
✌️ The Disadvantages of Kick Serve
- Slowness: The huge amount of spin applied to the ball makes the ball slow. This allows enough free time for your opponent to return the ball.
- Topspin: For the kick serve to really kick, you will have to get a lot of topspin into the ball. If you don’t apply, spin your ball won’t spring enough to cause a problem for the opponent. He or she will easily return the ball.
#4: The Underhanded Serve
This is the tennis serve with the least publicity, and in recent years has been a subject of controversy.
The antagonist believes it is not sportsmanlike, as the player takes advantage of drop serves. Protagonists believe it is legit, so long as the player positions correctly before the serve.
Whichever way, there are no rules in print that forbid its use.
The underhanded serve makes use of different moves. In the past, players like Nick Kyrgios in ATP 500 in Acapulco, Mexico, and Alexander Bublik have employed this type of service
- The Grip: The Continental grip is best suited for the underhanded serve
- Starting Stance: Same as in the other serves. Your feet should be separated with one foot pointing towards the net.
- Toss Placement: Unlike the rest, the high ball toss is not needed in the underhanded serve. Just keep at the level of your waist on to the open face of your racquet.
- Launching and RacketContact: Swing the racket sideways to add side or backspin. This will keep the ball low to the ground, which is difficult to return.
✌️ The Advantages of Underhanded Serves
- Very easy to use
- It can help you gain easy points
✌️ The Disadvantages of Underhanded Serves
- Banking on underhanded serves to gain points may hinder your overall development as a tennis player.
To conclude, the tennis serves are the most important shots, as it is the only shot you have total control over.
It must be done with the right technique and vigor to be successful. There are essentially four types of serves, viz: the flat serve, the slice serve, the kick serve, and finally, the underhanded serve.
You must gain mastery not just in one serve, but in all the serves—this aids in adding newer dimensions to your game and keeping your game fluid.
Whatever serve you choose, make sure you read the fine print about the techniques, tips, advantages, and disadvantages.
This will help you to fully know what you are getting into and where there are pitfalls to expect them.
Don’t forget to practice the skills you have read in order to achieve mastery in due time. 🙌
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Review by Marc Peppin – Won 40+ International Titles – Canadian #1