12 Tennis Serve Tips
The serve is the cornerstone of the game of tennis. A basic fundamental, it is imperative that anyone wishing to step foot onto a court knows how to serve the ball and serve it well.
It is how the game is begun and how a player can truly demonstrate their technique, talent, and skill. Although some may think that serving is a truly easy affair, there are a number of techniques that must be used to hit a successful serve; it isn’t as easy as it looks. That said, after practice, most players will very quickly get the hang of it.
This article will act as a complete guide on how to serve, comprising 12 different tennis serve tips and tricks that are handy to know about.
By walking through various tips that can be used to better a player’s serving technique, you’ll be equipped with all the knowledge needed to go and hit a decent serve by the end of this article.
Serve Tip - 1. Adopt A Proper Stance
A correct tennis serve stance requires the front foot to point towards the right net post (for right-handed players) while keeping the back foot parallel to the baseline.
The advantage of this basic stance is that it offers a good balance in all directions, as the back foot’s toes should be slightly aligned with the front foot’s heel. This basic stance can be altered depending on which direction the serve is going in.
A serve can be hit from two different stances, the platform stance and the pinpoint stance. For the platform serve stance, the feet will stay in the same position during the entire service motion.
All the player needs to do is bend the knees, coil, and tilt the body, pushing off upwards into the serve.
The pinpoint serve stance is when the serve is begun from a platform stance, but as the ball is tossed up, the back foot is brought closer to the front foot before jumping upwards towards the ball.
Both of these stances are suitable. However, more explosive players usually use the platform stance, whereas tall players use the pinpoint stance that doesn’t necessarily require explosive upwards push from the ground.
To better understand the different types of stances, check out the following video to learn some drills that can be practiced:
Serve Tip - 2. Choose the Continental Grip
Holding the continental grip is the proper tennis serve grip technique.
To assume this grip, hold the racket like a hammer, with the edge perpendicular to the ground. Then, the left index finger should be placed in the dip between the thumb and the index finger of the right hand, adjacent to the thumb bone. The left index finger should be pointing on the racket handle as a result.
For an easy-to-follow tutorial on how to hold the continental grip, watch the following video:
Serve Tip - 3. Practice the Backswing and Toss Together
It is recommended that the backswing and the toss are practiced together, as they happen simultaneously.
A piece of advice is to not opt for the very common toss drill that sees a target or racket being placed on the court in front of the player, as it doesn’t allow players to get into the same serving position as they realistically would during a serve.
This is due to the lack of movement of other body parts when simply tossing the ball, which is inaccurate. As the body naturally turns to the side, the dominant arm will swing back, and the player will lean and coil when serving.
It’s advisable to consider backswing as toss as one process.
An important part of the backswing and toss sequence is turning the body parallel to the baseline at the start of the process.
Everything will need to begin first through the body’s rotation, as this creates the first prompt for the swing. This also initiates the coiling stage, which generates a lot of power once uncoiling takes place.
If the ball is tossed before the coiling process, this will shorten the coil time as the ball is already up in the air and on its way down.
Although turning the body first and then starting the toss and the backswing makes it harder to place the ball in the ideal contact area accurately. That said, practice is key here and will help players build up their technique.
Serve Tip - 4. Keep the State of Both Arms In Mind
As the dominant arm swings upwards, the tossing arm will also move upwards.
However, this can get slightly difficult as the tossing arm is much, whereas the serving arm must remain very relaxed.
It’s, therefore, a useful tip to remain aware that keeping each arm in a different state of rigidity isn’t a very natural feeling, as this will help players to make a conscious effort to ensure the tossing arm is stiff and the serving arm is looser.
Serve Tip - 5. Master the Toss
It is useful to imagine the toss more than a lifting motion rather than a throw. The way the ball is held is extremely important and can make a big difference.
The ball should be placed in the middle of the hand, where the palm spreads out into fingers, with the thumb gently resting on top. The toss should always come from a straight, rigid arm, using just the shoulder joint.
The ball should be released around eye level, and the arm should continue to lift up following the ball.
It’s useful to think about holding the ball as if holding an ice cream cone. Relax the wrist and hold the ball between the curled forefinger and thumb, just as if holding an ice cream cone.
The cone grip avoids adding momentum across the forward/backward axis as the wrist is locked.
Serve Tip - 6. Practice the Trophy Position
The trophy position is a key ingredient in mastering the tennis serve.
To get into this pose correctly, the tossing arm should be extended towards the sky while keeping the serving arm bent at around a 90-degree angle, the shoulders turned, and the knees bent.
Instead of curving the lower back, the hips should be ever so slightly pushed outwards, with the wrist kept neutral.
It’s recommended to consistently practice the trophy position drill at least three times a week. It’s crucial to ensure the legs are kept straight at the start to maintain rhythm and balance, and the bend of the knees should happen simultaneously with the bend of the elbow.
Bending the knee with the right amount of power is advantageous, as it will allow for more power to be released from the ground up into the ball.
Do not squat! It is also suggested to avoid vertically facing the racket in the trophy position, as it usually falls back into a flatter position because of the forces of gravity.
To discover some particular drills that can be practiced to better the trophy position, check out the following video for 5 different exercises:
Serve Tip - 7. Work on The Bounce Movement
Although the most useful way to fully get to grips with how to serve is by breaking down each movement into separate processes, this can be slightly dangerous as it avoids thinking about the natural fluid motions of the body.
Therefore, it is necessary to imagine a “bounce” motion when dropping the racket in preparation to serve, as this will help garner more energy and power rather than swinging up from a completely static position.
Think of the arm loosening when swinging up rather than keeping it rigid.
Serve Tip - 8. Drop The Racket Deeper
When looking at a beginner’s serve, there is very minimal racket drop; sometimes there’s even none at all.
As a result, there will be much less power on the serve, ultimately hindering the full potential of the shot.
Conversely, an advanced tennis player will drop their racket significantlyto generate much more power and therefore hit a much more confident serve that will soar through the air and begin the game nicely.
The more you drop the racket, the more momentum and speed the racket head can build before impacting the ball.
Serve Tip - 9. Don't Forget the Pronation
It’s a common misconception among tennis players that the serve is one single swing through the ball that follows one straight motion of the arm.
This is common because, at first glance, it does look like the serve is just one smooth movement. However, it’s important to understand that the swing towards the ball and the movement of the forearm after contact is, in fact, not the same line.
These two different racket paths before and after the hit are formed of the internal rotation of the upper arm and the pronation of the forearm.
It’s, therefore, crucial to imagine swinging towards the ball at a 45-degree angle, leading with the edge of the racket.
Once the racket has come into contact with the ball, the racket head should be pushed straight towards the net, ending up on the right side of the body with the but cap pointing skywards at approximately a 45-degree angle or more.
It’s essential to fluidly merge these two movements in order to master the serve.
This will eventually prevent any form of racket flatness from occurring, which is the result of bad technique. It’s also important to keep in mind that the pronation should be a by-product of good technique and therefore doesn’t require much thought.
Serve Tip - 10. Accelerate Before Contact
Instead of keeping the swing at the same speed throughout the entire motion, it’s key to accelerate the racket, starting off at a slower tempo, then speeding up just before contacting the ball, gradually building upon the momentum.
As a consequence, maximum impact at the point of contact and power can be created more effortlessly.
Serve Tip - 11. Jump!
Although not often a part of a beginner’s serve, jumping is a key part of a serve for the more advanced players out there.
It’s the last element of the serve, where the server jumps up to gain height, landing on the opposite leg to the dominant arm. For instance, a right-handed player will jump onto their left leg, and vice versa for a left-handed player.
Jumping results from the forward and upward momentum of the stroke and has a very explosive touch that a beginner’s serve simply doesn’t have. For those who want to move to a more advanced level of tennis, the jump can’t be left out of the serve!
For a visual representation of how to jump effectively during the serve, watch the following video for a full guide on how to do it:
Serve Tip - 12. Don't 'Do' The Follow Through
The simplest way to successfully finish a good serve is not to do anything at all. Many players think that the follow-through process requires real effort and movement to make sure the racket ends up in a specific place.
This isn’t the case. When following through, the racket should end up on the opposite side of the body to what side was swung on. For right-handed players, this is the left side and vice versa.
It’s crucial to understand that it is simply the inaction and relaxation of the body and the serving arm that causes the racket to swing in the other direction.
So, the follow-through doesn’tneed to be ‘done, it just needs to be allowed to happen naturally!
After swinging outwards to the ball, and the pronation occurs, as a result, the body starts to be relaxed as the work is done and the ball is traveling, which ultimately causes the arm to move over to the left side. The follow-through is not intentional – this MUST be remembered.
To conclude, serving in tennis is no easy task, even though it may seem like it is at first glance.
Composed of numerous different stages, mastering the serve is an intricate process that requires a lot of thought, movement,and good technique.
Hitting an effective serve is the fundamental foundation of any tennis match, so it is crucial to be aware of all the different tips and tricks that can be put into practice to better the serve.