Here’s how I fixed the Serve problem of one of my students.
This particular lady used to take lessons with me a couple of years ago. She called me on a Wednesday afternoon saying that she was lacking consistency and did not know what was the problem with her Serve.
We met the next morning after my usual 8:30-9:30 am class, and after she warmed up, I made a few steps away and looked at her while she was delivering most of her serves long, just a foot beyond the service line. Over and over…
I soon noticed the problem: She was releasing the ball very early and then lowering the tossing arm right away. This caused a loss in balance and low contact with the ball.
So here’s what I did to fix her Serve consistency within a few minutes…
I asked her to continue serving focusing on one thing only: keeping the tossing arm up extended towards the sky after releasing the ball until she sees the ball coming down. She got her balance back and made contact a lot higher. The result: more power and… more serves landing inside the service box.
There are a few technical elements that players need to be aware of in order to deliver the Serve with consistency and power. These elements can make a big difference in someone’s game.
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I’ve always considered that a high percentage serve deliverability, especially under pressure, depends on… the player’s mental strength.
As a player prepares to hit the second serve, thoughts of “I’m going to hit it into the net”, “My opponent will attack me” or “I’m going to miss it” often distract and impede him/her from hitting it with confidence.
You see, when players get ready for the first serve, there is very little pressure involved other than the desire to go for a winner or place it strategically (e.g. to opponent’s weak side).
But when the second serve is about to be delivered that’s when our thoughts begin to challenge us.
One must understand that the serve is very sensitive to the negative thinking: your racquet “becomes” heavy, the arm too tense, the whole body gets shaky…
To avoid these feelings before you are about to serve (second serves in particular) practice the following:
Think positive thoughts (“I know I can”, “I have confidence”, “I can do this”).
Visualize positive outcomes (“see” the ball going over the net and inside the desired service box).
Have a ritual (bounce the ball a certain number of times, etc.).
Relax your body (exhale slowly).
Take your time… Position your feet, adjust the grip and hold the racquet in your most comfortable way. Take one more look toward your opponent’s position and at the service box you are about to send the ball to.
“If you believe you can, you might. If you know you can, you will.” ― Steve Maraboli
There are many variables that must go together in putting the ball in play against your opponent’s serve but in this short article we’ll just focus on the preparation and footwork. If you get these two right, the rest should follow.
Serve Return Preparation – get the most comfortable ready position grip – the one that allows you to switch quickly between forehand and backhand (I am not going to advise you in this regard because you will have to find what grip works best for you). – body weight should be evenly distributed on the balls of your feet. – pay attention to your opponent and try to figure out (based on his toss and racquet path) what kind of serve (spin wise) he’s intending to deliver. – position yourself in a place that is halfway between your opponent’s possible angles, or you can open up your strong side to invite the server to deliver toward it (this could be a tricky one and you should be ready to quickly cover it if the serve goes there).
Serve Return Footwork and Body Balance – as the server begins tossing the ball, you should make a “comfortable” step forward followed by a split step. This initial step up will get the body moving into the incoming ball and the split step will get you balanced and ready to spring into the direction of the serve. – right after the split step you should be loading the foot closer to the trajectory of the incoming ball, even stepping into it with the other foot to cover the distance.
There is so much more (mentally and physically) that goes into a successful return of serve but for now go out on the tennis court and practice these tips.
I’ve always found that my tennis serve delivery depends on my mental attitude.
As I prepare to hit the second serve, thoughts of “I’m going to hit it into the net”, “My opponent will attack me” or “I’m going to miss” often distract and impede me from hitting it with confidence.
It took me years of playing and analysing that what was happening on the court was the result of what was going on in my mind.
You see, when we ready for the first serve, most of the time it is just excitement of hitting the ball hard or placing it strategically. But when the second serve is about to be delivered that’s when the nerves take over. It is then when you must be in control of what happens between your ears. (Serve/Return Tennis Drills)
One must understand that the serve is very sensitive to the negative thinking: your racquet becomes heavy, the hand too tense, the whole body gets shaky…
To avoid these feelings when you are about to serve (second serves in particular) practice these:
1. Think positive thoughts (“I know I can”, “I have confidence”, “I can do this”)
2. Visualize positive outcomes (ball going over the net and inside the desired service box)
3. Have a ritual (bounce the ball a certain number of times, etc.)
4. Relax your body (exhale slowly)
5. Take your time… Position your feet, adjust the grip and hold the racquet in your most comfortable way. Take one more look toward your opponent’s position and at the service box you are about to send the ball to.
“If you believe you can, you might. If you know you can, you will.” ― Steve Maraboli
I just finished shooting the videos for the “Strategic Serve Practice” and as I was presenting the best possible serve strategies I came to the conclusion that, if one wants to begin the point right, she/he must consider practicing, improving and using the body serve.
The body serve is the one which the server aims directly at her opponent.
I do not mean you shouldn’t go for the returner’s weak side (if she clearly has one) but in case there is not a significant one, the body serve has many advantages:
– if hit with a decent pace the body serve can jam the returner and the result can be a floating return in the middle of the court (which the server can attack) (Serve Tennis Tactics)
– a body serve does not allow the returner to create angles (as opposed to a wide serve which gives the opponent many options to play with)
– it forces the returner to hit the ball while moving away from it (blocking or pushing the ball) – most of the players practice hitting balls while moving to and not away from them
– the body serve is great for serve-and-volley players because the return is most of the time weak due to the before mentioned reasons.
Most of the teaching resources tell you to serve with a Continental grip but if you want to add more spin to your serves try moving your hand on the grip slightly to the left (if you are right-handed player)…
This type of grip (also called Eastern Backhand) will allow you to hit better kick serves. Of course you will have some troubles with the flat serve and you might lose some pace but you will gain the necessary spin to improve your serve consistency. (Quick Tennis Fixes)
There are many players who choose to hold the racquet with a Continental grip on the first serve (for power) then they switch to the Backhand grip for their second serve.
Note: A Continental grip is holding the racquet (bottom towards you, tip points in front of you) so that it feels like you could hammer a nail with the edge of your racquet – see photo below. Your hand is on top of the bevel 1 of your racquet (the side that extends the racquet edge).
(open the picture in a new tab for a larger view)
Personally, I prefer to use an Eastern Backhand grip on both my first and second serves. On the power serves I let my hand be very loose and on top of bevels 8-1 for more penetrating contact through the ball; but on the second attempt, my hand is more toward the bevels 7-8 which helps me with brushing over and/or the side of the ball for extra spin.
I recently watched an instructional tennis course with Patrick Rafter and he mentioned he used to kick serve on both – first and second. Obviously, as a serve-and-volley player as he was, this kind of serve was necessary but if you think about it for many players when they apply this tactic (heavy spin on both serves) their first serve consistency is greater and as a result they don’t have to go through the pressure of hitting second serves too often.
This Eastern Backhand grip approach on the serve will give you peace of mind that your consistency will be greater, the opponents will have to worry about controlling your heavy spin and, mentally, you will be more relaxed knowing you don’t have to deal with too many second serves.
Give it a try – let me know how it goes for you!
Cosmin Miholca WebTennis24.com
If you like “serving with an eastern backhand grip” tennis tip check out Tennis Tips video section for more technical and tactical lessons.
Wide Serve… Federer uses it beautifully, every smart tennis player uses it often. Why should you too? Actually, why shouldn’t you too?
We all know that our opponents have a harder time hitting / controlling balls on the run therefore we should make them run often. When on the run, the player must control balance, change direction quickly and recover as soon as possible. Serving the ball wide has the following advantages: 1. gets the opponent off the court and as a result you will have the open court to attack with the next ball; 2. makes your opponent hustle to cover the open court (hitting the ball on the run). These two situations give you control of the point. That means you can either hit the ball to the open court or behind the recovering player. Either one of the options will make you opponent struggle to get the ball in play. Rarely you will find a player that is comfortable hitting great shots while running full speed.
How to angle the serve wide (as close as possible to the side line)?
1. From the deuce side, if you are right-handed player, use slice. Practice aiming for a cone (or, as I saw Djokovic at Indian Wells a couple of years ago, using cans of balls placed inside the service court) that you sit about 1 foot inside the singles line and roughly 5 feet inside the service line. Do this tennis serve practice drill: hit 10 balls and see how many get within 1 foot from the cone (or even hit the cone/can of balls). Technically you must visualise that your strings will, at contact, brush the outside of the ball: if you are right-handed see the racquet brushing the ball toward the right and over 3 o’clock (if the ball would be seen as the face of a clock).
2. From the ad side, if you are right-handed, use the kick serve. As you did with the slice, practice hitting kick serves to a cone placed very close to the right side line and service line in the opposite ad service box.
Technically, visualise your racquet’s strings brushing the ball up and away on the back of the ball (or from 7 to 1 on the face of a clock).
Do drills like “Serve Wide and Put-Away” (above) often either with your coach or your tennis partner.