You might think that your serve is just the shot that kicks off a point, the thing you need to do to get a rally going. But it can be so much more than that! Whatever your style... whether you rely on power, precision or counter-punching, improving your serve is a guaranteed way to win more points and get ahead in match play.
There's more than meets the eye with the serve. Improving it doesn't simply mean hitting it with more speed. You can work on your serve with a few simple training drills, all of which revolve around timing, accuracy and spin - not just power.
Serving with targets
Despite its simplicity, this drill is perfect for players of all abilities. With no opposition player required, a range of targets can be used to help you improve your serving accuracy. Try placing six targets (maybe a tennis ball canister or small cones) evenly spread along the service line. Beginning on the deuce side of the court, pick a target, before hitting 10-15 serves aimed at this point. Following this, move to the ad side of the court, repeating the process with a different target.
Getting your serves to land where you want them is the starting point. Be sure to keep track of how many targets you hit. Improving these figures over time is an easy way to track your progress.
The kind of serve you need to hit will depend on the situation in the match. You might be searching for easy points and need to hit a serve out wide with power. Or you might be one double-fault away from losing the set.
There will be certain times within a match when it's vital that you make your first serve, even if it's not flying through the court at 100%. This drill will help you in that kind of situation. It's pretty simple, and encourages you to serve continuously and get into a good rhythm.
Begin by hitting four serves, switching sides from deuce to ad after each one. Count how many times it takes you to make all four in a row, before increasing the number of serves required. See how high you can go.
This drill is all about building consistency. It also recreates that pressure that you will experience during matches. Miss and you have to start all over again!
Serving under pressure
You'll need an opponent for this serving drill.
It's your serve. Start at 30-40 down and see how many times you can go on to win the game. Obviously, you will need to win the first point to stay in it, so your serve is going to be vital.
This is a great drill to help you find the right balance between caution and aggression on your serve. You'll want to hit your serve with enough power and accuracy to get an advantage in the point, but you don't want to risk too much and miss your 1st serve.
The pressure of the situation will build your confidence and this experience will come in handy when the same situation arises in a match.
If you go a break point down during match play, it's likely that you will look to play more passively. But that's not always the best idea. Drills like this will help you think about how to focus on your opponent’s weaknesses. Experimenting with kick serves out wide or a slower body serve are just some of the ways you can get the upper hand.
The sit-down serve
We've already said that power isn't everything when it comes to the serve.
Having said that, a quick, flat serve is definitely a shot you should look to develop. Your potential for cheap points will definitely rise if you can master it. You might believe that more power is generated by a quick arm movement and good ball contact. That's right to an extent, but that power has to come from somewhere.
There are in fact many factors that contribute. You leg movement is towards the top of that list. Generating power from bending your knees after the ball toss is something that's often overlooked.
Try placing a chair to your side or behind you, depending on your technique, practicing your service motion to make sure you get low enough to the ground. You should not hit the ball unless you have touched the chair with your backside. Bend those knees, transfer that weight and see the difference in power.
No ball toss
A key part of a successful serve is the toss. You need to be able to toss the ball up consistently and accurately.
This is a simple drill to help build the muscle memory required to consistently produce effective serves. Practice your toss over and over again, focusing on the fundamentals of your technique, the height and the speed. Without ever making contact with the ball, teach your muscles the required motion.