One of my subscribers recently shared a story. He told me how he is teaching a young man, whose serve is great during his lessons, when there is no receiver at the other end. During the tennis matches though, when there is the pressure of having somebody return the serve, his student often chokes.
He wanted to know what he can do to help him…
My advice (which I’m hoping you will find useful too) was the following:
His student is probably too concerned with what the opponent’s reply will be. He’s anxious about the return and therefore he cannot relax when serving.
He must be taught to focus (when serving) on things like breathing, spin, and visualization (seeing the ball go to a certain spot inside the service box, etc.) – this would help him take his mind off of his opponent.
He should also have somebody return his serve (e.g. his coach, practice partner) most of the time he practices it.
Of course, his coach will have to stay next to him and correct the serve technique most of the time, but they should change it up sometimes.
For example, the student can hit 20 serves with the coach next to him, then 20 serves with the coach returning the serves – in that case, the student should be doing it until the coach/practice partner returns 20 balls; and so on.
My overall point is that every time someone works on their serve, they should do some pressure practice of it too.