Picture the scene. It is a nice sunny day and you fancy going down to your local tennis courts to have a game with a friend.
You are warming up groundstrokes from the baseline and enjoying yourself. Not a care in the world. Then, that dreaded question comes… shall we play some points?
Why is this such a dreaded question for so many budding tennis players? For one simple reason, they simply hate serving!
This could stem from a number of different reasons, but to be perfectly honest, serving is not an easy thing to do.
Most recreational tennis players are not used to hitting above their head, let alone into a small box on the other side of the court that you can hardly see!
This makes the thought of serving to start a point quite an intimidating one for a lot of players, meaning that when their friend or hitting partner asks them to play some points, it can fill them with dread!
But, serving doesn’t need to be so daunting. Just because you may not be used to serving all the time, doesn’t mean you can’t develop a solid stroke that you can rely on.
There are a few key steps to break down when thinking about how to hit a serve in tennis, and it is important to address them individually so you understand their roles in detail.
So, if you are looking for a step by step guide of how to hit a great tennis serve, you have most certainly come to the right place!
The Importance of the Serve
The serve is arguably the most important shot in tennis. It is the only shot that you have 100% control over, as every other shot you hit will be a reaction to your opponent’s last shot!
Therefore, it is important to take control of your serve and turn it into a weapon rather than a weakness!
What you have to remember is, tennis is a game of controllables. There are certain things you can control and certain things you can’t.
For example, the weather, court surface, how your opponent is playing and even which version of you turns up on the day are variables you have little to no control over.
Sometimes, you can do all of the best preparation in the world and you still won’t play your best.
You also have to accept that if you want to play good tennis, you will lose a lot of points. It is a matter of which points you win and lose rather than winning every single point.
This is an important shift in mentality to make when thinking about the serve, as it highlights just how much time and effort should be spent on it.
Yet, when they actually start to play some points, they find that their game is dominated by serves and returns.
This is because nowhere near enough time is spent practicing serves or returns, yet these are the two shots that start off every point you play!
With that being said, the only one of these you can actually have complete control over is the serve. You have the ball in your hand and you can hit it wherever you like.
However, this doesn’t make it an easy shot to hit by any means. Simple, yes. But easy? No.
So, how exactly can you take control of your serve and start feeling confident as you step up to the centre line? Well, let’s find out!
How to Hit the Serve
There are a few key elements to consider when trying to hit a solid serve in tennis. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as standing at the baseline, throwing the ball up and hitting it!
So, here are a few simple things to think about for the next time you are out on court and wondering how to hit the tennis serve.
The first thing to think about is how you actually stand when you serve.
You want to be in a comfortable, balanced position that will allow you to transfer your weight forward as you step in and hit the ball.
So, if you are right handed, step forward with your left foot and place it just behind the baseline. You should be a couple of metres to the right of the centre line.
Point your left foot towards the net post on the right hand side of the court. This gives you a semi open stance, whereby your back is facing the left hand net post.
Your right foot should be pointing to the right hand fence, parallel to the baseline. The opposite of these steps is true for left handers.
You’ll want your right foot forward, facing the left hand net post, with your right foot back pointing to the left hand fence, parallel to the baseline.
This is your serving stance.
From here, you will have a nice wide platform to serve from that will keep you balanced and allow you to focus on the overhead elements of the motion without worrying about falling over!
If you are very new to tennis you may want to start off with a ‘frying pan’ grip.
This is when you hold the racket in effectively a semi-western forehand grip, so your palm is facing the same way as the racket face.
This means you can hit the back of the ball comfortably and not worry about moving your wrist too much.
However, if you are starting to add more power and spin to your serves, you’ll want to use a more conventional ‘chopper’ grip.
This is what we call the continental grip and sees you holding the racket like an axe ready to chop some wood.
The ‘V’ between your thumb and index finger should be running up the frame of the racket, allowing you to generate as much power or spin as you wish!
Make sure to use a grip that is comfortable for you, and check out our serving guide if you need any more pointers!
One of the most overlooked but vital elements of the serve is of course, the ball toss!
So many players just chuck the ball inconsistently in the air and wonder why they can’t hit the ball in the service box consistently!
Putting the ball in the same place before you hit it is a fundamental part of hitting a reliable serve.
In order to do this, you should hold the ball in your fingertips rather than your palms, this will give you more control.
Start with your throwing arm outstretched so you have as much leverage as possible.
Then, raise your arm up straight, through the baseline and let the ball go between shoulder and head height, so it is placed just in front of you.
If you imagine a large clock face in front of you as you throw the ball up, you should be aiming for 12 o’clock.
This will ensure you are on balance and can hit the ball from the same starting position time after time.
Once the ball is up in the air, you should let it drop slightly before actually hitting it.
This will make it a lot easier to time, so make sure you toss it high enough that you have enough space to hit it comfortably as it starts to come back down.
So, you’ve mastered the stance, grip and ball toss. Now is the time to actually hit the ball! So, you want to try and hit the ball at the highest contact point you possibly can.
This means getting the ball toss high enough and using your feet to step through the swing as you reach up and strike it.
From your starting position, as you start to raise your throwing arm, raise up your hitting arm at the same time.
As you let go of the ball from your throwing hand, bring your racket behind your head as if you were going to throw it up at the ball.
Then, as the ball reaches its peak and starts to come back down, accelerate your racket towards the ball and try to contact it at the highest point you can, with your hitting arm fully outstretched in front and above you.
If you have the ball toss in the right place, you should contact the ball just in front of your body and follow through across your body.
Then, fingers crossed, you will have hit the serve into the opposite service box and can jump for joy!
Of course, it is likely that you’ll need to practice this a few times and calibrate exactly where the ball toss should be for you.
This will depend on your height and what trajectory of the ball feels most accessible for you.
But, if you can produce a consistent ball toss, this will make contacting the ball a lot easier, as you’ll be able to predict exactly where the ball will be every single time.
Then, as you start to progress on to hitting more power and spin, you will be able to contact different angles of the ball for the desired effect.
But, for now we are trying to hit the back of the ball flat for the most consistent result.
After you have contacted the ball, you’ll want to finish your swing across your body, with your hand ending up in your left pocket (as a right hander).
This keeps the swing flowing in the most natural position for the body, meaning you will be able to repeat it time after time without risking any injuries.
After you have hit the ball, you’ll have a natural tendency to step forward as your body weight will have shifted over the baseline into the court.
So it is perfectly normal to take a small step forward after you’ve made contact (to avoid hitting a foot fault).
Always remember to recover back behind the baseline and be ready for your next shot!
The serve is the most controllable shot in tennis. Period. This makes it arguably the most important shot to master in your game, as it is the one that you have the most control over.
You can place the ball exactly where you want it before you strike and have the choice to hit it anywhere you want inside the opposite service box.
Therefore, understanding how to hit a solid, reliable, consistent serve is very important if you want to improve your tennis level.
This is of course easier said than done, as the service motion has a lot of moving parts and can be quite difficult for a lot of budding tennis players to get their head round.
But, with a little perseverance and practice, you’ll be able to develop a sound serve in no time and inject some new found confidence into your game!
Be sure to get out there and keep an open mind to learning new things when hitting the serve, there are often only a few small tweaks needed to go from hitting the ball in the net to over and in, so don’t get frustrated if you keep clipping the net tape!
Think about what you’re aiming for, take time to adjust, relax and hit with confidence.
So, follow the pointers in our service guide and you’ll be well on your way to hitting bombs! Good luck out there on court!