My serve is by far my weakest shot in tennis. I have posted many practice videos on my Instagram account (which are also on the progress video section of this blog) and unlike some of the other shots, I don’t see much improvement in my serve. If I ever want to play well and win matches, I know I will need to have a much more powerful serve.
Whenever I start serving during my training sessions I start very poorly, but then my coach reminds me of all the things that I need to do and slowly, slowly, I start to improve. But when I am by myself (which I usually am when filming my service progress videos), I need to repeat to myself the various tips my coach has given me, but I don’t always remember them all. In order to embed the various steps in my mind, I thought I would write them down. Everyone serves slightly differently, and I think you need to find what works for you in the end, but if you are also having difficulty with your serve, then perhaps you will also find (some or all of) these steps useful.
- Hold the racket with the continental grip, as though you were holding the racket like a hammer.
- Stand with your non-dominant foot pointing towards the net post and your body facing the side of the court, and your legs spaced apart.
- Swing your two arms in time and slowly lift your non-dominant arm to release the ball as you swing your dominant arm with the racket backwards.
- Keep your non-dominant arm straight during the toss and keep your arm up after you have released (not thrown!) the ball (much like when you point to the ball during a smash).
- Try to toss the ball high, slightly in front of you, and to your right side. (Here I need to remember to release it later, when my hand is high, otherwise the ball is tossed too far in front.)
- As you are releasing the ball and pointing to it with your hand, start to move in to the so-called ‘trophy pose’ (see photo of me practising at home at the top of this post – but perhaps also Google this to get a better idea!) by arching your body backwards and sideways, bending your legs and rotating your body slightly. Your dominant arm, from shoulder to elbow, should be perpendicular to your body.
- Whilst moving into the trophy pose, lift up on to the tips of your feet and drag your back foot towards your front foot.
- Release the racket down your back and then whip your arm upwards as you rotate your body to hit the ball, above your head but slightly in front of you. (I have been told the action is similar to throwing a stone, but as the cliché goes ‘I throw like a girl’, so this advice really doesn’t help me! I do know that I really need to speed this part up, though, and try and get a whooshing sound as the racket goes through the air.)
- Use ‘pronation’ as you hit the ball, using the power coming from your forearm rather than shoulder. Pronation was a new concept to me – more on that below!
- You may choose to jump up and forward with your non-dominant foot as you hit the ball, but make sure the power in hitting the ball comes more from your arm rather than your jump.
Here is a great example of the above service steps by Carina Witthöft that I came across on Instagram:
Let me just note that the above is the complete serve that I am working up to, and I don’t always go through all of these steps: sometimes I remove the swing of my dominant arm and start with it already raised (though I do find that moving my two arms in harmony helps me with the toss), and I often leave out the movement of the legs and the jump, whilst I build up the strength in my arms.
Indeed, I have realised that I need to develop a lot more strength in my forearm to get more power on my serve, and my coach has made me do various exercises for this, such as standing on the service line and smacking the ball down on my side of the net and ensuring it bounces into the opposite service box. I have found similar training videos on YouTube by Tomaz Mencinger of Feel Tennis Instruction:
My partner subscribed to Tomaz’s online tennis lessons as he was so impressed with the simple, clear and effective advice he gives, especially when it comes to serving. He focuses a lot on the importance of pronation, which is the rotation of the forearm that is needed to ensure the racket turns to hit the ball during the serve (without having to rotate your body and end up doing what Tomaz refers to as a ‘waiter serve’ – when the racket face is very open on the backswing and so you look like a waiter carrying a tray).
This summer my partner had a go at implementing some of Tomaz’s pronation exercises, where the focus is on making sure you don’t rotate your body at all, but use simply the power from the pronation of your forearm to hit the ball onto the other side of the net, as you can see in the video below:
There is so much you can do to improve your serve, from repeatedly practising the toss (something I need to do!), to improving the fluidity and timing of the trophy pose (which as I have demonstrated can even be done at home without the ball), to increasing the strength of your forearm with specific exercises, and I intend to keep working on all of them until I have a killer serve!
Let me know your tips for a more powerful serve in the comments below.