The serve is one of the most important shots in the game of tennis, and it's the only shot that gives you the privilege of being in total control. Developing a killer serve can help you dictate the tempo of a match, and if you become proficient at hitting aces, you can rack up easy points without having to volley. So what can you do to start honing your serving skills? Below are some practical steps you can take to help you ace your tennis serve.
1. Give your serve priority during practice.
Unfortunately, the serve often takes a backseat to other elements of the game during training sessions. Many players often work on their serve at the end of practice, after they're well past their peak in both mental and physical output. As a result, they devote only a relatively small amount of time to improving their serve, and unwittingly sabotage themselves out of developing one of the most effective weapons of the game. In order to see any significant improvement in your serve, give it in a higher priority in your practice sessions. Carve out some time at the beginning of each session for serve-specific drills and workouts, and consider dedicating one practice session per week exclusively to improving your serve.
2. Work on your serve toss mechanics.
Serve toss mechanics often go overlooked, but they essentially control the outcome of your serve. In other words, it's very difficult to get a great serve out of a terrible toss. If you are a right-handed player, your ball toss should be aligned with your right shoulder, and vice versa. If you're throwing it too far to the inside or outside of your shoulder (or directly over your head), you're going to have to make a very unnatural movement just to swing and hit the ball.
Try not to hold the ball in your palm, but mainly with your fingers, for optimal control when you toss it. As far as toss height goes, only toss it roughly one to two feet above your point of contact; you don't want to toss it to the stars, and you don't want to end up framing it due to a low toss either. The idea is to give yourself enough time to initiate the swinging motion as the ball is reaching its apex, so that you can strike it just as it begins to descend. One more thing: Be sure to keep your tossing arm nice and straight; envision it as a catapult that's launching the ball into position for you to hit it.
3. Utilize proper grip and pronation.
The best grip for producing powerful serves is the continental grip, which is often called the "chopper grip" because of its similarity to how you would hold an axe if you were chopping wood. This style of grip also helps you achieve the pronation (downward rotation of the wrist) that you'll need to maximize your racquet head speed when making contact with the ball. When you pronate, you are rotating the racquet roughly 90 degrees downward from the point of contact in a very short period of time. If you've pronated properly, the butt of your racquet should be facing toward the sky at the end of the swinging motion. Virtually all high-level tennis players utilize pronation when they serve, because it provides that added punch of acceleration to the swing, putting more power and spin behind the ball.
4. Your swing should gradually accelerate through the entire movement.
It's not uncommon to see beginning players rush through their backswing motion so that they can strike the ball hard on their serves. Your backswing should be slower and somewhat relaxed in comparison to the velocity that your racquet head speed achieves by the time you're swinging to make contact with the ball. You want your swing to accelerate at a pace that builds momentum through the entire movement, until it culminates at the point of contact.
5. Perform specialized drills to improve your aim.
This should be done on a continual basis; after all, you can never become too accurate with your serve. One of the simplest yet most effective drills you can perform to improve your aim is to simply practice tossing the ball into the service box on the other side. Stand at the baseline, just as you would when performing a serve, but with only a ball in your hand instead of a racquet. Now practice tossing that ball into the service box, and work on gaining a feel for the type of position your arm needs to be in to achieve accurate aim. In essence, your racquet should be nothing more than an extension of your hand, so this type of exercise will help you aim your swings properly for optimal accuracy.
It's been said that you'll spend 60 percent of the average tennis game either serving the ball or returning someone else's serve. This is a reminder that any time you spend improving your serve will be an investment in your overall progress as a tennis player. By putting the above tips into practice on a consistent basis, you can transform your serve into one of your most formidable weapons.