Tennis and the Serve

90035594JK011_TORAY_PAN_PACService, based on the book How to Improve at Tennis as published by ticktock Publishing in Great Britain, “is probably the most important shot in tennis and also one of the most difficult.” It’s evident. Most of the professional tennis players nowadays struggle with their serves and yes, Ana Ivanovic tops the list.

The young and beautiful Serb admitted the timing is bad every time she serves and that alone results to double fault.Yet, Ivanovic still got the power and she can produce numerous aces when she’s focusing on her goal.

Even the mighty Roger Federer is not an exception. He also has troubles in his serves when he gets nervous. The Fedex only produced 127 successful first serves out of 197 attempts (only 70 faults) during the 2009 five-set final match in Wimbledon against Andy Roddick.

As experts put it, one must “try to think of the service as one continuous, fluid movement. When you start, don’t try to hit the ball too hard, but concentrate on a smooth, direct stroke.”

How to Serve?

That’s the question and the answers are not simple. According to, “you can release the ball with your tossing arm extended as far upward as you wish, and the ball will not drift behind you. You don’t have to worry about exact timing, because with the ball moving on a straight line, it will always be moving in the same direction no matter when you release it.”

Before getting into the details of serving a ball, here are the types of service. Even the most basic type is complicated when you’re only an amateur. The most common is: FLAT SERVE: The easiest technique to learn and WIKIPEDIA defines it as a serve that is  “most often hit straight down the center, where the net is lowest.”

No spin on the ball, just drive through the ball towards the court

Featured Serve: Andy Roddick 

“Andy Roddick is known for his big serve, and he has the record for fastest serve (155 mph). At 6 feet two, he isn’t the biggest or strongest player on the tour, but he manages to pack a lot of power in his unique service motion (Frame-by-Frame Analysis in USAToday).”

Featured Serve: Serena Williams

TOPSPIN SERVE: I saw a video in YouTube and it’s noticeable the ball “travels slower and the contact point is directly over the server’s head or perhaps even a little behind it, requiring complex body mechanics” using this technique.

Brush the ball from low to high

SLICE SERVE: Rafael Nadal makes use of this technique and it “has little or no topspin on it, it cannot be aimed high over the net and has little margin for error”


Featured Serve: Rafael Nadal

“Rafael Nadal’s serve in slow motion from a three-quarters angle. The zoom tightens over the course of the video so that the last clips of Nadal’s serve focus on his upper body. You can clearly see Nadal pronate from this perspective.”

TOPSPIN-SLICE SERVE: This is the type of serve that is “hit with a combination of both sidespin and topspin, imparted by brushing the back of the ball upward and rightward at about a 45 degree angle at contact.”

Also known as kick serve

Now, let’s go with the important tips. I just copy-paste these details from

  1. ***Hold the ball in your fingertips,*** and release it by opening your whole hand at once, like a big flower suddenly spreading its petals.
  2. When you practice your toss, ***do your normal windup with your serving arm.*** The windup motion changes your body’s balance and momentum. A toss you practice without your windup won’t work quite the same with one.
  3. With your tossing arm fully extended, the distance from your hand to your point of contact is only a racquet length or so, plus however far your leg thrust lifts you off the ground. If you release the ball below full extension, ***add some inches to your perception of your toss,*** but remember that the ball’s flight will barely need to exceed four feet even if you launch quite powerfully with your legs.
  4. Contrary to a popular myth, ***you will need to vary your toss slightly for different types of serves.*** Tosses for kick serves will be less forward and less to your right than those for topspin-slice or slice serves.
  5. For most serves, ***you should toss the ball roughly to the height that the tip of your extended racquet reaches when you execute a real swing,*** including any extra height you get by leaving the ground. You’ll meet the ball after it drops several inches from the tip’s height to that of the sweet spot. The “perfect” toss would go just to the height of your sweet spot, but tossing it several inches higher, then letting it drop leaves you a safe margin to avoid tossing too low, for which there’s no way to compensate. For twist and topspin serves, a longer ball drop can enhance your topspin.

Reminders from Jim Drewett,

  • Do not serve until you are ready.
  • Bounce the ball a little to focus your mind and take a deep breath to relax yourself before serving. (Now I know why Ana Ivanovic did this technique during her first round match against Sara Errani at Roland Garros 2009)
  • If anything detracts your concentration, stop and start again.

First Serve Percentage

As of 09-30-2009, Italy’s Potito Starace (74%), Spain’s Fernando Verdasco (71%) and US Andy Roddick (70%) are the top leaders in first serve percentages. Novak Djokovic sits at 18 while Rafa at 7. Rising American star, John Isner, is at 15 and Phillipp Kohlschreiber is at 11 with 66%. Need more tennis lessons? Visit Tennis4you.

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