The serve is arguably the most important shot in tennis, and it is the only shot over which you have complete control. Great players are exceptionally skilled in many areas of the game, but without a doubt much of their success can be attributed to their powerful serves. If you've struggled with developing consistency in your first or second serve, you're not alone - mastering the service game can be quite elusive for many players. The good news is that the more you practice, the better your serve will become. Below are five tips and techniques you can implement in order to fine-tune your tennis serve and turn it into one of your most effective weapons.
1. Use the Continental Grip
Utilizing the appropriate grip is a key component to developing power and control with your serves. With the Continental grip, you should be holding your racket much like you would a hammer or an axe. With an appropriate Continental grip, you should be able to use the bottom edge of your racket to bounce a tennis ball, with your racket face perpendicular to the ground. This should feel like a chopping motion, which is one of the reasons why the Continental grip is also known as the "hammer" or "chopper" grip. You will immediately be able to tell if you're not gripping the racket correctly if the edge of your racket is not making contact with the top of the ball. The Continental grip will afford you a more efficient service motion, as it provides you with optimal hand positioning at the point of contact.
2. Practice Your Ball Toss All the Time
The ball toss is one of the golden keys to developing a killer serve. The great thing about practicing the ball toss is that you don't even need to have a racket on hand to do it. What you're looking for in a proper ball toss is for the ball to land directly in front of your body when it falls. Make sure to pay close attention to the height of your toss as well; it should not be too high or too low. You will need to develop a feel for proper toss height, but a good indication of whether you're on the right track or not is if you are extending and making contact with the ball right at the peak of its height. If you're hitting the ball when it's on its way down, it will be hard for you to generate any significant power on your serve.
Another important thing to remember is that your toss should start from the right-hand side of your body, not from the left side of your body. (Note: These tips are written from the perspective of a right-handed player, but they equally apply to left-handed players; just switch out "left" for "right".) When players start their toss from their left side, they tend to "scoop" their toss, almost like an underhanded softball pitch. Keep the ball on the right-hand side of your body to begin your ball toss. Although it may be tempting to skim over this detail of your serve, don't cheat yourself by paying too little attention to this critical element.
3. Keep Your Left Arm Up After the Toss
Many times players will toss the ball up and then immediately drop their left arm, but this can throw off the mechanics of your service motion. Try to keep your left arm up after you have released the ball into the air, and refrain from lowering it until your racket has nearly made contact with the ball. This may seem unnatural at first, but in reality you're only keeping your left arm up a few milliseconds more than you were before. This will help stabilize your body position and bring more consistency to your service motion.
4. Add a Little Hop to Your Serve
Adding a slight hop or jump to your serve will help you get on top of the ball better and deliver more power on your follow-through. Your feet should be close together when you're bending your knees to prepare for the jump. Lean into the serve slightly when you jump, as this gives you a better angle when you're swinging to make contact.
5. Utilize Pronation
This is not the easiest technique to master, but it can make a world of difference in terms of adding power to your serve. Practice pronating your wrist downward when you make contact with the ball. This doesn't mean that you should snap your wrist when you strike the ball (this can actually throw off your swing mechanics); it simply means that your wrist should be pronated downward upon contact.
Above everything else, a great serve is cultivated by hours and hours of practice. Just remember to be patient with yourself, and consistently apply the tips listed above to help transform your serve into one of the most reliable elements of your tennis game.