How to Improve Your Serve Strategy in Singles (Without Practicing)

In today’s post, you’re going to learn how to improve your serve, without ever practicing. Follow the steps below and you’ll start holding serve more often in singles.

Note: This post was originally published on Tennis Analytics.

How can you improve your serve without practicing?

There are two ways to improve your serve.

  1. Improve your technique. This would help improve your serve speed, spin, or placement and requires lots of practice.
  2. Improve your strategy. You can implement a better serve strategy immediately, without ever practicing.

That’s what we’re going to cover today!

To help you follow along, we’re going to use an example from the 2019 Shanghai Masters semifinal between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev.

Watch the video below, then read the blog post for step by step instructions to improve your serve.


Step 1: Determine Which Serve You Need to Improve

In tennis, we have two serves, the first and the second.

It doesn’t make sense to simply say, I need to improve my serve. Let’s be specific!

Your first serve may be fine, but you need to improve your 2nd. Alternatively, the opposite could be true.

To figure out which serve needs the most improvement we need to look at two numbers.

  • Serve percentage – the percentage of serves made.
  • Serve efficiency – the percentage of points won when you make that serve.

1st Serve Numbers

These were Tsitsipas’ numbers on his 1st serve.

Tsitsipas v Medvedev first serve percentage
Tsitsipas v Medvedev win percentage on first serve

Tsitsipas = blue | Medvedev = green

You can see that Tsitsipas outplayed Medvedev on 1st serves, making a higher percentage, and winning a higher percentage of 1st serves made.

So let’s take a look at his 2nd serves in this match.

2nd Serve Numbers

For 2nd serves we usually only look at the efficiency, or percentage of 2nd serve points won.

If there is a high percentage of double faults, then obviously that needs to be fixed. In this case, Tsitsipas had only 3.

Tsitsipas v Medvedev win percentage on second serve

I think we’ve found the problem!

Tsitsipas is only winning 48% of points on 2nd serve compared to Medvedev’s 67%. That’s a big gap!

There are two ways to fix this.

  • Win more points on his own 2nd serve. Make that 48% number go up.
  • Win more points on Medvedev’s 2nd serve. Make that 67% number go down. This is return strategy which we’ll cover in a future lesson.

Today we’re focusing on the first option.


Step 2: Improve Your Serve on the Deuce or Ad Side? Or Both?

We’ve narrowed down the problem to 2nd serve points. Now, let’s break it down further to the deuce or ad court.

  • Deuce Court: Tsitsipas hit 14 serves and won 8 of those points = 57%
  • Ad Court: Tsitsipas hit 8 serves and won 4 of those points = 50%

Note: Tsitsipas also had 3 double faults.

With the small sample size (we usually look at data from multiple matches), there’s not a huge difference between serves.

For this case study, we’ll focus on the second serves to the ad court.


Step 3: Find Your Most Efficient Serve Placement

The final step is to look at the efficiency based on location.

In this case, we’ve broken the serve down into 3 locations: T-serve, Body serve, and wide serve.

Tennis Analytics reports do this for you, but you can also have your coach record this data during a match or watch the film.

Let’s take a look at Tsitsipas 2nd serves in the ad court.

Tsitsipas second serve strategy

On 2nd serve, he wins 67% of the points that he serves down the T to Medvedev’s forehand. However, he hit most of his 2nd serves into the body on the ad side where he only wins 50%.

By simply serving more 2nd serves down the T instead of into the body, Tsitsipas can increase his win percentage on 2nd serve in the ad court.

No practice needed!

You can see above that he can make the same adjustment in the deuce court.

This is a small sample size, but this is the sort of thing we see all the time at Tennis Analytics. After charting 5 or more matches for a player, patterns just like this emerge.


The Easiest Way for You to Hold Serve More!

Following this process is the fastest and easiest way to improve your serve strategy in singles.

By looking at the numbers, we can easily determine what you can do to win a higher percentage of serve points.

Often, players are so focused on hitting 2nd serves to the returner’s backhand that they never stop to see if it’s actually a good strategy. In this case for Tsitsipas, it wasn’t!

If you’d like help with your serve strategy, check out Tennis Analytics player packages. You can get access to the same reports and match video software you’ve seen here today.

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About the Author

Will Boucek is the Founder & CEO of The Tennis Tribe. He has played tennis for over two decades, including in college. Will has worked with ATP & WTA tour players and coaches. He currently lives in Austin TX where he plays USTA leagues & tournaments, writes about tennis, and teaches doubles workshops.