The Serve Plus One Tactic

If you’ve ever watched Rafael Nadal on the TV then it’s likely you’ve heard the serve plus one mentioned.

That’s because Nadal is simply unbelievable at it. The serve plus one is a tennis tactic where you view the serve and the first shot after the serve as a package and use the serve to set you up with the shot you want on the second shot.

In the vast majority of cases, as it is with Rafa, this is the forehand. When you use the serve plus one effectively, it gives you a brilliant platform to start the point on the front foot and take control of the point.

The reason Nadal is so good at it is because when you look at the numbers, he almost always manages to hit a forehand as his first shot after the serve.

What’s more, when he successfully implements the serve plus one, he wins an incredibly high percentage of points. Tennis is a game that is decided by small margins.

Even if you lost 6-3 6-3, the chances are your opponent only won a few more points than you. This means that small tactical tweaks such as the serve plus one can result in a big impact on the result of the match.

A Mentality

The serve plus one is as much a mentality as it is a tactic.

When you’re serving you need to plan how you’re going to use your serve to get the ball you want, and you need to react quickly to be able to get into position to turn the 2nd shot into a forehand.

You’ll see when you watch Nadal that he turns shots that should be backhands into forehands all the time. Now, the majority of us don’t have the kind of footwork Nadal does, but we can all turn the balls that drop just to our backhand side into forehands just by being alert to the possibility.

Turning a backhand into a forehand for your first shot after the serve can be the difference between starting the point 50-50 and starting the point 70-30 in your favor. To do it consistently though, you’ve got to be constantly alert to the possibility.

Why The Forehand?

In the vast majority of players, the forehand is the main attacking weapon.

Even with players that have unbelievable backhands like Djokovic, they’re constantly looking to get their forehand into play. That’s because the forehand generally offers a lot more possibilities for attacking.

This means that the serve plus one is effective even for players who favor the backhand side. You might be able to rally and defend better off the backhand side, but the likelihood is, when you’re playing off the front foot, you’re going to have more options with the forehand.

Understand Returning Patterns

Understanding where your opponent is likely to return the ball to can help you to better use the serve plus one. In the diagram scenario, if you’re serving to the black numbers, then the most likely returns are as follows.

  • Zone 1 to zone 1
  • Zone 2 to zone 4
  • Zone 3 to zone 1
  • Zone 4 to zone 4

Of course, different players are going to vary their returns, but as a general rule, you can use these patterns to work in as many serve plus ones as you can.

Win More Points with the Serve Plus One

Implementing the serve plus one is a small change in mentality that can have a big effect on the number of points you win.

It’s invaluable to get your attacking weapons into play, and the earlier you can take control of the point, the more likely you are to win it.

Winning tennis matches is about finding ways to win a couple more points than your opponent, and the serve plus one is an excellent way to turn that balance in your favor.

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