Serving is scary.
There’s no way around that fact.
It’s the only shot in tennis that you have full control over. You are the only one influencing the ball. You’re the one throwing it up, arching your back, and smashing your racket through it for that perfect shot. You can’t blame your opponent for messing THIS up for you.
So take a quick time-out and come find out what the key ingredients to remember are when you’re learning how to hit a serve in tennis.
How to Serve in Tennis: 9 Easy Steps
1. The Grip
Right, first thing’s first – the grip.
Put down your racket and step away from the baseline.
We saw you about to hit that frying-pan style of serve and we are having NONE of that. We’re cutting it out.
Let’s focus on how you’re going to hold your racket in a grip that will maximize your service motion. There are two main ones to choose from. There’s a Continental grip and an Eastern grip, both of which sound far more complex than they actually are.
Also known as a chopper grip, this actually used to be a common technique to utilize when hitting a forehand back in the days of wooden rackets.
What you’re going to do is pick the racket up in your serving hand and hold it at the end of the handle with the frame being at a perpendicular angle to the ground. It should feel like you’re wielding a weighted axe, which is where the chopper nickname comes from!
You’ll get a nice amount of net clearance due to the natural topspin that will come with this grip. It also allows room for improvement and mastering over time.
When learning how to serve in tennis, beginners will gravitate towards this grip as an easier way of holding the racket to serve.
Handshake with the bottom of the handle. We know you may not have much practice with shaking hands in the last year but we can reassure you, as long as you’re the only one using your racket, this is fine.
This motion should land you in the Eastern serving grip position. This grip allows for flatter serving and a decent amount of net clearance but doesn’t offer much versatility or variety.
We here at Mind the Racket recommend sticking with the Continental grip.
In matches, the scoreline dictates which side of the central line you’re going to be standing on to serve. Regardless of which side you’re on, you’re always going to serving diagonally across the court into your opponent’s service box.
For this walkthrough, we’re going to assume you’re serving from the right-hand side across the court to the left. This will be your first service position in any match and the first point for any game within that match.
We know it’s tempting to walk up to the baseline and face straight down the court, glaring at your opponent. That’s a power move that we’ve all tried before but we promise you, it doesn’t work.
So with this in mind, carry your racket up to the right-hand side of the baseline at the back of the court and stand sideways with your non-dominant foot hovering an inch or so away from the line. This is what’s known as the service position and will allow you to create that perfect arc through the air to smash that much-needed ace.
You’ve now got your grip and you’re positioning.
You’ve got your non-dominant foot on the baseline, your other foot running parallel beside and behind it, and you’re standing sideways, facing the fence bordering the tennis courts
If you’ve never served before, this is going to feel truly bizarre and you’re possibly going to be thinking that we’re having you on. We’re not. Promise.
Now that you’re on the baseline, you’ve got two serving stances to choose from. These are the two that most professionals use variations of and the next time you watch a match on the TV, you’ll be spot what stance they’ve adopted into their games.
The platform stance means that your feet remain in the position we’ve described above and don’t move other than rocking slightly as you bend your knees up after you toss the ball skywards.
The benefits of this stance include a very stable base from which to propel upwards to the ball from. You’ll find yourself able to place your serve more accurately around the court. You may find yourself somewhat lacking in power though…
Professional players who use this stance include Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
As you toss the ball up to serve and bend your knees, bring your back foot up right beside your non-dominant baselined foot. With both feet together, you’ll be able to unbend your knees, propelling yourself up to meet the ball when it’s in the air.
You’ll find your legs leveraging you up as one will allow you a burst of extra momentum that you can then use to transition yourself through the swing of your serve. Imparting more pace on the ball is undoubtedly a benefit of this stance but since you’re balancing this serve on one spot on the ground, you’ll find that you can’t place the ball exactly where you’d like as regularly…
Professional players who use this stance include Andy Murray and Serena Williams.
We recommend trying out both stances to see which feels better for your game.
4. Ball Toss
This is where things often go wrong.
But there’s no need to fear and as long as you practice the toss as much as you can, you’ll find your rhythm.
You’ll want to work on discovering the right height for your serve. Too high and you’ll likely mistime or miss it. Too low and you’ll have to awkwardly bend your body to strike it. Just right and you’ll smash an ace… or at least get your first serve over the net!
Remember, you’ll be throwing the ball up slightly in front of you as you bend your knees into your serving stance so a lot of what makes a successful service toss relies on your ability to time it correctly with other movements.
It takes work to perfect but once you do, a solid ball toss is a tremendously valuable tool to be able to produce in match pressure moments.
Here’s where the real fun starts.
As you begin to toss the ball into the air (as described above!) and as you begin to bring your feet into your chosen serving position (also as described above!), you’re going to simultaneously be lowering your racket hand briefly. Your racket is about to make a loop around your shoulders and up to meet the ball.
With the racket pointed momentarily towards the ground, begin bringing it up in an arc with the help of your shoulders to ultimately meet the ball in the air. You’re going to keep your eyes on the ball at all times throughout and this will help you as you swing your racket up the length of your body to make contact with it.
If this sounds like a lot of moving body parts at one time, do not overthink it. It will prove to be a trial and error process with a lot more mistakes than you’d probably like in the initial attempts.
That perfect serving feeling will come in time though.
6. Follow Through
As the ball reaches the pinnacle of the toss and is about to begin falling back towards the ground, that’s when you’re going to make contact with your racket.
If all of your movements have synced up together, you’ll find yourself almost leaping up to full body extension. You’ll bring your racket up through that service arc to hit the ball at the highest point of the toss and bring it down through the air towards your opponent’s side of the net.
Loose. Wrist. This is going to work in your favour and allow you to propel the racket through the ball with that bit more whip.
In the process of all of these movements, you’ll find that your body will naturally turn inwards to face the court, with your back foot coming round to stand side by side with your front foot on the baseline by the end of the service motion.
Also, keep your eye on the ball. Always!
Clearly, there are several places that your serve can land within the confines of the service box. Generally speaking though, service boxes have generally been narrowed down to three key areas that you can aim for.
Swinging a serve out wide will drag your opponent away from the baseline to the side of the court to return it. With any luck, they’ll frame the ball or miss it entirely.
However, if they do manage to scrape the ball back into play, they’ll be out of position and you’ll hopefully be ready to punch away a follow-up winner while they’re recovering.
Down The Middle
You’ll be aiming this shot straight down the center service line. You want to land the ball as close as you can to the line, ideally even on it if possible!
This serve won’t offer your opponent many options on the return and will leave them scrambling to produce something other than a simple shot back down thecentere of the court. You’ll be well placed to work yourself into a winning position in a rally as a result.
Serving to the Body
This is a GREAT serve, though could earn you some angry looks from your opponent if pulled off well… Who cares if you win the point though?!
You’re going to be smashing the ball directly at your opponent so that they’re going to need to act quickly to avoid being hit and to somehow get your serve back into play. This is a lot for your opponent to deal with and often will result in a slapped return into the net or a framed shot out of court.
All is fair in love and war, as they say!
There’s a couple of different spins that you can use to help vary your service placement and each of these can be utilized at different times to suit how you’re feeling during a match.
So we’re talking about spin and the first serve we decide to cover is the one with no spin on it?!
In all seriousness though, this will result in a very fast serve. With no spin to drag at the air, the ball will bullet itself into your opponent’s service box lightning fast. Obviously, the speed is a major benefit but this kind of serve can be used against you with counter-punching returns.
That’s why it’s good to mix it up a little…
Your racket needs to come right up and over the ball on contact to create this sort of topspin rotation.
If pulled off correctly, the ball will usually get a good distance over the net and leap up at your opponent on impact with the ground, making it immensely difficult to control back over the net.
This is a good second serve technique to try due to that high hang-time over the net…
Cutting around the side of the ball when you make contact with it will result in a slice serve and these are great fun to experiment with!
You’ll be able to tell if you’ve successfully hit a slice serve due to the sideways arc through the air that the ball will cut. On landing, it will remain low to the ground and cause all sorts of issues for your opponent.
This is a great serve to use when working on placing the ball exactly where you want it go…
9. Celebrate an Ace
A fist pump or a scream of “come on!” are both good options here and will help you boost your confidence ahead of your next serve…
Tennis Serving Rules
Below are the rules that should be followed when serving in tennis:
1. You miss one serve, you’ve got another. Miss your second serve and it’s a double fault and a point to your opponent. MAKE. YOUR. SECOND. SERVE.
2. You hit a serve that clips the net-cord and that’s a let. You replay the serve. If it was your first serve, you get another first serve. If it was a second, you’re still on your second. If it was a third, you’re cheating. There’s no third serve in tennis.
3. If you put your front service foot on the baseline as you serve, that is a foot-fault and it’s either a second serve or a point to your opponent if you’ve already faulted previously. No excuses.
Tennis Serving Drills
Toss, toss, toss the ball.
Work on throwing the ball up with your non-racket holding hand and catching it. Keep doing it, over and over, until it feels natural. Then do it in your serving stand. Do it as a warmup before your match, even.
Make sure you have it down and ready for play. This will help you keep track of the ball, even in windy conditions.
You can practice this anywhere!
Once you have the toss nailed, let’s work on that connection timing.
Work on hitting the ball at the tallest height of your toss. It doesn’t matter if the ball lands in the service box or not, this is all about the timing of the hit and making sure that your strike your serve in as natural a way as possible for you.
If the ball goes over the net, it’s a good sign.
Whip and Snap
Work on hitting the serve with your body at its fullest extension. Keep that wrist loose and snap your body down through the ball to add that pace to the shot.
Again, do not worry about targeting specific areas with this drill. Make sure that the ball goes over the net with decent levels of pace.
OK, that was a lot and we wouldn’t blame you if you’re looking at the screen now with a glazed look of worry painted across your face.
Learning how to serve in tennis is entirely down to constant practice and tweaks. You shouldn’t feel pressured to step out on the court and immediately start bombing down shots like Serena Williams.
We recommend keeping calming when you step up to serve. It can be an annoyingly frustrating shot if you just can’t make it work for you to begin with.