If you have begun playing tennis, one of the first aspects of the sport you will have to deal with and improve is your serve. In this piece we speak about the various tennis serve types, and the drills associated with tennis serves and how to practice getting better at it.
Before you get going, we would recommend you to read our tennis service rules guide here. Knowing the rules of the sport is a must and without understanding how singles and doubles serving works in tennis, it’s no fun learning the more advanced skills now, is it?
Here’s also our step by step guide on the basics of tennis serving for a beginner. This will help you gain the knowledge necessary to improve your tennis serving skills.
It’s not necessary to read these basics before you get down to the one below on tennis serve types and drills, but do so in tandem to get a hang of everything related to serving in tennis.
(Alternatively, you can also check out Tennis Online Instruction’s Free Serving Tips here ).
Introduction to Tennis Serving
The tennis serve may be the shot that is hardest for you, but once you have the style down pat, and the technique, you will see a huge difference to your game. It is with your serve that you can win a game, and a good tennis serve, of which there are different types, will give you a good advantage over your opponent.
The tennis serve is all about you.
Any shot that you play in tennis, EXCEPT for the serve, is reactive. Somebody is hitting the ball to you and you are reacting by hitting it back. The serve is different. You have complete control over the serve, which is why it is a good idea to perfect it.
When you start serving, your coach will teach you the ordinary flat tennis serve. This can take some time to get right. Once you have this serve mastered, you can move on to the other serves, with top spin or slice. The more you can vary your serve, especially your second serve, the more you will ‘throw’ your opponent.
What are the Different Kinds of Services in Tennis?
There are three main types of serves in tennis. They are:
- The Flat Serve
- The Kick Serve
- The Slice Serve
There is also the underhand serve, but this is not something that is widely appreciated in tennis, and is not worth you learning or needing to learn. Also, if you do even need to serve underhand, it will come naturally to you, especially if you can play all the other tennis shots.
Let’s start off with the flat serve, which is generally used for your first service.
The Flat Serve
The flat serve is a serve that is all about power. If you’ve watched professional tennis players, men and women, you will know about the power of the first serve. Often, the opponent doesn’t even see it; the ball can whizz past them at speeds of over 150 mph.
Because you have two serves per point, you can use power for the first serve. This does not mean you can be erratic – you should always be focused and aware of your technique.
It does mean that if you make a mistake, you do have a second serve to come, so you do want to use more power for your first serve.
The grip used is generally a Continental grip (an Eastern grip works well too) and if you watch this video, Nick from Intuitive Tennis, you will get an idea of how your grip is important, your foot stance is important, and obviously, your swing.
The grip will give you your power, as will your body positioning, the way you angle your body and follow through.
Technically, with a flat serve, this is what you are going to do:
- Use the continental grip on your racket. We have gone over this in an earlier article but take the V between your thumb and forefinger, and place it at 11 o’clock on your racket handle. It’s a bit like holding a hammer.
- Stand sideways and keep your feet hip distance apart. Your left foot will point towards your opponent, and your back foot will be almost parallel to the baseline. This is for right handed players, but if you are leftie, just reverse the stance.
- Hold the ball in your left hand, and bounce it a few times so that you focus.
- Toss the ball into the air. You are going to do this by raising the arm straight ahead of you, and throwing the ball up as your arm is at the same height as your head. You want to toss the ball at around 12 pm, and quite high.
- While you throw the ball, transfer the weight of your body to your back foot (simply put, arch your back and bend backwards a little), drop your racket, and then as the ball is coming down from the air, lift your racket over your head.
- You want to hit the ball flat on, which is why this is called a flat serve. You have gained a lot of traction and power by moving your body, dropping your arm and now swinging it up again.
- Your racket head will meet the ball and you will hit it towards your opponent’s service box, swinging all the way through to give the ball force.
- By the time you have served, both your feet will be up in the air, and your racket (again, this is for right handed players) will be by your left ankles. You then have a few seconds to recover, centre your feet and your racket, and be ready for the return.
Once you have your flat serve mastered, you can add a whole bunch of spin. The spin will change depending on how and where the ball and the racket meet, and your grip, but master the flat serve first, before playing around.
The Kick Serve
The Kick Serve is also a relatively simple serve, with a little top spin thrown in for good measure.
It is a sure-fire serve and this is the serve you are going to use if you really want to get the ball over the net and into the service court.
It is not that different to the flat serve, except the ball and the racket will meet anywhere between 7 and 12 pm, and you will not arch your body as much, or use as much power.
The ball will fly over the net and hit the ground with top spin, making it hard for your opponent to return it. It is not as fast as a flat serve, but it is tricky to return because of the spin.
You are going to use a continental grip, but you are going to move over to a backhand grip. This allows you to get up and over the ball, giving it the kick. You will follow all the steps above for the flat serve, just change your grip, the way you arch and the power you use.
If you are looking for professional help in order to serve better, check out Tennis Online Instruction’s Free Serving Tips here ).
The Slice Serve
Again, it’s all about your grip, your body arching and the power you use, as well as where the ball meets the head of your racket. For a slice serve, you are moving your grip from the continental grip to a forehand grip.
The more you move the V to the right, the better the slice. There is a backhand slice as well, but learn the forehand slice first!
A slice serve is not something you want to use too often, but it is a great second serve, especially when you want to surprise your opponent. Move between the kick serve and the slice serve for your second serve.
Remember, this is the serve that you need to get in, but you don’t want to make it too easy for your opponent to return.
There are a lot of tennis serving drills you can do where you practice your style, technique, speed and actual serve. Take a look below.
Body Rotation Drills
You are not going to hit the tennis ball in these drills, merely practice your swing, toss and reach. You can use a ball if you want to, but hit it loosely, or serve without a ball and just following the motion.
Once you feel you have a smooth technique and that your body rotation is good, you can move on to a drill with a ball.
You are going to work on the body rotation drill, but as you feel comfortable, toss the ball into the air and make contact.
Don’t worry about getting the ball in, just worry about your smooth body rotation, making contact with the racket and the ball, and hitting the ball over the net.
You can hit as hard as you want; this is not about power, rather it is about technique. You are learning the motions. Reach up, hit the ball, but don’t worry yet where it goes, just try get it over the net.
This is the part of your serve the gives you the power. It’s about your racket and the ball meeting at the right point, which is peak height of the ball. In the reaching drill, you will have practiced your toss. You want to hit that ball, at it’s height, and make a snap action.
Practice this, once you have the body rotation and reach well rehearsed.
Here is a good video from Championship Production that will help you a lot with tennis drills.
Reach, Snap and Aim
At the end of your drills, you are going to practice your aim. If rotation, reach and snap come easily to you, start working on your aim. Take a big bucket of balls on to the court and practice getting that ball over the net and into your opponent’s service box.
Practicing Your Tennis Serve at Home
You can practice your serve at home, even indoors, as long as you have a big enough space for you to drop your racket back, swing it up again, and to toss up the tennis ball.
You only have to practice the technique if you have a small space, without actually hitting the ball. It’s a good idea to practice at home, to strengthen all your body muscles, especially your back and shoulder muscles. Plus, the more natural your tennis serve is, or the smoother it is, the easier your serve will be.
If you have a big space at home, a back yard or so, you can include throwing up the ball and hitting it against a back wall or back fence. Remember, it is only once you have mastered the actual serving technique, are you going to worry about your aim.
Common Tennis Service Mistakes
If you have a tennis coach and he or she is teaching you the serve, you are going to hear the same words over and over again.
- Toss the ball higher.
- Bend your knees.
- Look at the position of your feet.
- Watch your elbow
- Follow through.
And the most common one – KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL!!!
Keeping your eye on the ball is crucial, it honestly is. If you take your eye off the ball for one second, you lose concentration, speed and aim.
You will hear more but some of the most common errors in the tennis serve is the service toss. Players are often impatient, throw the ball too low, but hit it anyway.
If your toss is not correct, rather leave it and try again. You want to throw the ball high enough so you have enough time to get your body into position to hit your serve with maximum speed.
What about Serving and Volleying?
The serve and volley is one beautiful smooth motion. You serve, your feet move forward, you follow through and you keep moving forward, heading to the net. It is one movement. Your footwork needs to be seamless as anything clumsy will make you lose speed, rhythm and focus.
The footwork in a serve consists of three steps.
After hitting the serve (again, we are looking at right handed players), the right foot moves forward, then the left and then the right again, before coming into the split step, which gets you ready for the volley. It’s smooth, it happens without thinking, it is not clumsy and it is a good flow.
It’s all about muscle memory, strength, speed and focus. The serve and volley motion needs to be practiced until it becomes second nature.
Of course if you are a left handed tennis player, your footwork is the opposite. Serve, the left foot moves forward, then the right, then the left, and then you get into the split step and ready for the volley.
When you run towards the net for a volley, you are going to follow the trajectory of your own serve. Whichever way you have placed the ball is the way you move forward.
You are almost always going to want to land in the centre of the court, so you are ready for the ball that comes at you, but you do this by following the momentum and aim of your serve, and then steadying and righting yourself.
There are different kinds of volleys, and we will focus on this in our actually Serve and Volley article. The volley is one of the most satisfying tennis strokes, especially volleys that are winners.
Volleying is quick, and those games where there are volleying rallies are incredible. You don’t necessarily want a rally though, you want to learn to put your volley away!
There are forehand volleys, backhand volleys, spin and slice volleys, drive volleys, swing volleys and flowing volleys. There are also smashes, totally different to volleys, but these are supremely satisfying too! You do need good technique though, and cannot take your eye off the ball for a second.
Mind you, in tennis, you should never take your eye off the ball!
If your serve and volley game is working for you, keep at it. But if you are trying to serve and volley in a match and you are losing the points, try a different strategy.
Your serve might not be hard enough for this kind of game and it may just need a whole lot more practice. The serve and volley technique cannot always work; it also depends on your opponent. If your opponent has an extremely fierce return of serve, you may just favor staying at the baseline.
You need to focus on where you are placing your serve, and you also need to focus on where you are returning the volley.
Being at the net can leave you in a vulnerable position, so you want to volley the ball back, out of your opponent’s reach. It takes practice and it is well worth adding a whole lot of serve and volley drills to your tennis practice.
Work on your technique, obviously, but also on strength and placement.
Practice really does make perfect.
Final Words on Improving Tennis Service
A serve can be tough on the body (which is why some older players start playing paddle tennis, for the underhand serve) but if you are strong, agile and have been playing tennis for a long time – keep at it.
Practice makes perfect and there is nothing more satisfying than a fabulous and fast first serve!