As one of the most important shots in tennis, it’s surprising to see so many people struggle with their serve technique. Weak second serves and double faults can be the difference in close matches.
Most coaches make the serve complicated, confusing the player. We’re not professionals and don’t have time to change our feet, toss, knee bend, take back, and follow through all at the same time. That’s why we’ve made our serving lessons simple. Check them out below and start focusing on only a few small things to transform you serve into a strength.
In my conversation with Jack Broudy, a former coach of Sam Querrey and other top pros, we cover common mistakes and tips on how to make your serve better.
Double faulting can be the most frustrating thing in tennis. You need a consistent and effective second serve that your opponent won’t be able to pick on.
We need our second serve to do a few things.
We’ll actually address these backwards. The easiest way to hit a serve the other team won’t be able to take advantage of is to hit it to their weaker side. So, we’ll focus on the backhand.
Try getting it up the T on the deuce side, and in the ad court, you’ll want to hit your serve out wide.
This sounds simple, but how do we get it in 19 out of 20 times?
I’ve broken this serve down into three steps you can focus on.
If you watch the best servers in the world, they all do this. Some are more dramatic than others, but as they get into their serve they all rock first away from the box, then towards it.
What you’ll want to do, if you’re right handed is focus on your weight distribution with your feet. You need to start with weight on your left foot. Then, rock back to your right foot as you get into your service motion, and last shift your weight back to your front foot.
At this point a lot of players bring their feet together, this is okay (Andy Roddick and I do it), but not required (Roger Federer doesn’t).
The important thing is to make sure you’re getting your momentum going forward toward the direction you want to hit the serve. No matter who you watch, you’ll see all the best servers get their momentum going forward into the court.
People often make the mistake of tossing the ball back behind their head, or off to the side.
No matter the serve, ALWAYS toss the ball in the direction you want the serve to go.
I’ll repeat that.
ALWAYS toss the ball in the direction you want the serve to go.
If you get the toss wrong, nothing else will matter. You won’t have a consistent serve.
Sometimes you’ll see people toss it way out to the right for a slice serve, but think about how difficult that makes it. You have to swing your racket towards the court next to you, and somehow make the ball go forwards.
Of course, it can be done, but not with high consistency.
While you will want to toss it a little left for kick serves, and right for slice serves, you want it to always be out in front towards the box.
The second key to the toss, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, is that it has to be high enough. You’ll want to make contact, fully extended, or close to it.
You should be jumping forward into the court, towards the box you’re aiming for.
The easiest way to think about the point of contact is to think about the tennis ball like a clock. We’ll almost always want to hit the ball somewhere between 12 and 3.
The key to making contact for a consistent serve is to hit a ball that clears the net but also dips down into the court. The easiest way to do this is to hit the top right part of the ball (between 12 and 3).
For left-handed servers, hit the tennis ball between 9 and 12.
On the ad side, you can aim for the deepest part of the box. The ball should dip in consistently and kick out a little towards the opponent’s backhand.
Watch Federer hit through the top right (around 130) of the ball to make it dip into the court
In the deuce court, this is a little more difficult because you have less room to miss long up the T. You might have to practice this one on your first serve but the principle is the same. Hit the top right of the ball and it should dip into the backhand side. Missing a little left could be a good body serve into the backhand side as well.
If you’re uncomfortable hitting the T serve, then go for the deepest part of the box to the opponent’s forehand. Hitting through the top right of this ball will still make for a solid, consistent second serve.
If this is unfamiliar to you, you might want your doubles partner to watch you serve. It should be dipping down and to the left from your perspective, and they can help tell you which part of the ball you’re hitting if you can’t feel it on your racket.
When you’re trying to generate more power or more spin on your serve, the most important thing to focus on is the point of contact. Above we went over why it’s important to hit between 12 and 3 o’clock, but if we want more power or spin we have to look at how far from the center we hit.
If you’re looking for more of a power serve, hit closer to the center of the ball.
For more spin on your serve, hit closer to the outside of the ball.
One of the most effective serves you can learn in tennis is the kick serve. The goal of the kick serve is to get the ball to spin down into the box and jump up, typically to the opponent’s backhand side. This makes for a consistent serve for you, and a difficult return for the other player.
The key to a strong kick serve is the toss and the contact with the ball. In this case, you’ll actually toss the ball slightly behind you (to the left for right-handed players), but still out in front. The toss is important here because it will force you to reach back for the ball and brush your strings over the top part of the ball. This will generate the spin to get the ball to dip into the box, and bounce high for the other player.
When you’re making contact, make sure you’re still hitting through the ball. Many players make the mistake of trying to swing their racket straight up in the air trying to brush the ball up and only make contact with the back of the ball. Sometimes you can hit around 6 o’clock which will make you hit long. This also causes a slower serve and can make you miss off the frame of your tennis racket. When making contact your racket should be moving forward and brushing the top part of the ball. Think about hitting 12 or 1 o’clock and closer to the outside of the ball.
A proper kick serve should jump up and possibly a little to your right, like this Federer serve below.
Notice how the ball jumps to the right away from his opponent and still has power to get through the court. This is what a good kick serve should do.
The slice serve can be very effective against players who are slower to move to the ball. It will spin out wide away from them on the deuce side. You can also use it on the ad court to hit aces up the middle.
To hit an effective slice serve, you’ll want to toss the ball out in front towards the box you’re aiming for. This is where most people mess up. Many players toss the ball way out to their right and try to force the ball back left towards the box. This can work okay, but will never be as consistent as you’d like. There’s a reason the pros never toss the ball like that.
Similar to a kick serve, when making contact on the slice serve you want to hit the right part of the ball. But instead of hitting over the top of the ball, hit closer to the right side of the ball, around 2 or 3 o’clock. When your strings brush this side of the ball it will spin left away from the opponent.
In the video below, Milos Raonic aces Djokovic by hitting the ball around the 230 spot. It dips into the shallow part of the box and spins away from Djoker’s forehand.
Again make sure you’re not hitting under the ball. You can easily miss long if you’re making contact with the ball around 4 o’clock.
Along with struggling with the ball toss, below are the two most common serving mistakes I see in recreational players.
This is a common mistake people make when they’re hitting a serve with a lot of spin. For a kick serve people try to brush it in. This is what’s happening when you see serves shanked over the fence, or into the back of the partner’s head.
Make sure you get your racket head driven through the ball even for a spin serve. If you’re hitting through the outside of the ball, it will spin.
If you’re missing in the net a lot, it’s likely you’re dropping your front shoulder too early (left shoulder for right-handed players). To fix this, make sure your toss is high enough and not too far out in front. Also, aim a little longer, and focus on keeping your front shoulder up and your back (right) shoulder down.
To learn how to come to the net after your serve, see our lesson on how to serve and volley. You’ll discover how to use your moment to get to the net, hit a good half volley, and win more points.
Will is the founder of The Tennis Tribe. He has been playing tennis for over 20 years, played college tennis, and has worked with former professional doubles players. He is dedicated to helping other tennis players become better at doubles through tips, tactics, and strategy without having to put in dozens of hours of court time.