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How to Serve in Tennis: 7-Step Tennis Serve Tutorial

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Aug 13, 2020 • 5 min read

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Serena Williams Teaches Tennis

The tennis serve is one of the most important shots of the game. There are many different types of serves tennis players can use, from hard and flat, to angled with sidespin. With solid form, consistent momentum, and just the right timing, you’ll be hitting aces in no time.

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What Makes a Good Tennis Serve?

Aside from a meditative, pre-serve routine, there are a few ways to nail the proper serve technique and hit a good tennis serve every time:

  • A clear mind. Put the last point behind you and forget about the score; you need to devote all your focus to your form and your serving strategy. A great form will give you effortless power, and shouldn’t put any extra strain on your back or shoulders. You’ll have to ready yourself mentally every time you set foot on the tennis court, so make sure you’re not overloading your mind with extraneous things.
  • Consistency and control. The most important qualities of a great tennis serve are consistency and control. While power is beneficial for first serves, consistency is more important for second serves and controlling the direction of the ball. Control is how you determine where the ball lands and how the ball bounces.
  • A proper serve toss. Your whole serve starts with the ball toss. If your toss is off, it will affect your point of contact, which means you won’t be able to serve the ball where you want it to go. You’ll need to toss the ball up straight and hit it at its highest point for a proper toss, only changing position slightly depending on whether you’re going for a kick serve or a flat serve (an obvious toss may give away your strategy).
  • Accuracy. Knowing how to position your body, when to bend your knees, when to uncoil, when to make contact with the ball, and then follow-through are integral to guiding the ball to the desired position in the service box. You want the serve to land in every time. Pairing the right timing with the right momentum and pronation can determine whether you hit the ball in the out-wide corner, or solidly down the “T.”

Why Is Learning How to Serve Important?

A good serve is an asset that can alter the tennis ball’s trajectory to drag your opponent way off-court or force a ball to their weakness, giving you a definitive advantage in every game you serve. The serve starts off every point you play, with players alternating serving each game.

  • A good serve puts you in a position to win. The first serve is often a powerful technical shot to set up the point. The better your serve, the weaker your opponent’s return will be. Most players use a serve to try and ace (win the point on a serve without the other player making contact with the ball), or catch your opponent on the defensive.
  • A bad serve can lead to a double fault. The second serve is for when the server faults on the first attempt—they either step over the baseline (also known as a foot fault), hit the ball out or hit it into the net. Since servers only get two tries per point unless they hit a “let,” failing to make the serve a second time will lead to a double fault and loss of the point. In a tennis match, every point counts, and you want to make as few unforced errors as possible.
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How to Serve in Tennis

To execute a flawless serve in tennis, you need more than just the right serve motion. For a step-by-step guide on how to hit your best serve, see below:

  1. Set your serve stance. Your playing hand determines which stance you’ll need, and will remain the same whether you serve from the deuce or ad side of the court. For a right-handed player, the front foot (the left foot) should point towards the right net post, and the back foot should be parallel to the baseline. For a lefty, the front foot is the right foot and should point towards the left net post. Both feet should be behind the baseline, and they cannot touch or cross the line until after the server has made contact with the ball.
  2. Pick a grip. The Continental grip is a commonly used serve grip (and a popular grip for volleys and overheads). However, some advanced players prefer to use an Eastern forehand grip, depending on how much spin or wrist snap they need.
  3. Choose your serve. For a first serve, you may want to hit a flat serve or a slice serve. If you’re on your second serve, you may want to play it safer with less power while still packing a punch by using the kick serve technique. The serve you want to hit will determine your service motion and how you follow-through (whether you finish in a chopping motion or pronate your wrist).
  4. Perfect your serve toss. The key to a consistent serve is a consistent ball toss. It’ll be much more difficult to hone your serving motion when the ball flies in different directions every time you toss it.
  5. Hit the ball high. Every serve needs to clear the net without touching it to be in play. Taller tennis players have an advantage, while shorter players need to make sure the contact point with the ball is at the peak of their toss to get enough clearance.
  6. Get it in the right box. The first and second serves must travel cross-court and land diagonally within the opponent’s opposite service box to count as in-play.
  7. Follow-through. Depending on which serve you choose, you’ll have to follow-through in a specific way. For example, with an underhand serve, your tennis racket head will stay low beneath your shoulders through the swing and follow-through. For a flat serve, you’ll have to pronate your wrist to avoid putting too much spin on the ball.

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