Serves are the only part of the game where you have full control. You can dictate how the rally will develop by having a serve strategy and executing on it, so focus on this part of your game. Committing considerable time to this craft can be the fastest way to progress. In this article, I will be outlining nine tips that I personally use to perfect my serve.
- Use the serves that best set up the point for your game
- Train them in a tournament environment
- Miss some serves
- Use your best serves early
- Vary the degree of spin
- Remember to attack
- Risk a few points
- Train your serves to perfection
- Play practice matches
Serves that set up your strategy
The most important aspect to serving is to use the serves that most effectively set up the point according to your strategy. Even if you can’t win the point with an “ace” down the line, at least you can set up the point to play the style you want to play. Take the time now to outline a detailed game plan so that you can have a clear understanding of your style and the strengths in your game. If you are a looper, then most of your serves should be short, low backspin. If you are a pips-out attacker, you should serve mostly fast long with good placement. If you are a chopper, then you should serve deep spinny serves. Once you have determined which serves best set up your game, develop a motion in which you can serve either short or long with the same motion and at least two different spins with the same motion. This will keep them guessing and encourage unforced errors.
Train them in a tournament environment
When practicing your serves, create a tournament environment. First, try to be tired when you serve. Do jumping jacks or footwork so that your hand will be sweaty and it will be challenging to concentrate. Second, practice in tournament conditions. Try to use a tournament table and 3-star balls so that the bounce will be similar to what you will be using in the tournament. If you are trying to serve short, the ball will probably go slightly longer in the tournament. For this reason, I suggest covering the last three inches on the opponent’s side of the table when you serve. This will force you to serve slightly shorter during practice. Third, when doing serve practice, think of specific opponents. What serves have worked well against this opponent previously? How would this particular opponent receive this serve? Fourth, use these same serves at the club. Don’t save your serves for a tournament – be willing to use them in practice matches.
Miss some serves
In practice, you should try to put so much spin on the ball, that you will miss about 25% of your serves. If you are not missing any serves, that is a good indication that you are not trying hard enough. In tournaments, you should usually miss about one serve per match. Anything more is too costly.
Use your best serves early
By serving your best serves early, you can build an initial lead in the match and gain confidence. I recently beat an opponent who had a very tricky serve. In three games, I only returned one out of seven of these particular tricky serves. However, I won the match 3-0 in games. Once the serve started working, he should have continued using it. He wanted to save it for “a closer”, but this opportunity never came because he lost 3-0 in games.
Vary the degree of spin
As I mentioned in the above paragraph, if a serve is working, keep using it! If you change your serve too often, you might confuse yourself. Instead of jumping from one serve to another, sometimes use the same serve with the same spin, but vary the amount of spin. For example, on the forehand pendulum serve, I might sometimes serve heavy back-sidespin sometimes medium and sometimes light. My opponent probably won’t outright miss my serve, but he may give me an easier return.
Remember to attack
Your serve will seem ten times more threatening if it is backed by a vicious attack. If your opponent is trying to keep you from attacking, he will make many mistakes trying to keep the ball short and low. Personally, my serves work the best when my attacking game is at its best.
Risk a few points
During the game, be willing to sacrifice a couple points. Many players are afraid to serve long against a looper, so they always serve short. This allows the looper to stay closer to the table when returning serve and be prepared for the short serve. Sometimes you must serve fast down-the-line or to the backhand just to keep the opponent guessing. You might lose a point, but all your short serves will be much more effective later.
Train your serves to perfection
When practicing serves, train them to perfection. Focus for 30 minutes on one particular serve. Take your time and analyze it serve by serve – what you did right and what you did wrong. Study how the world’s top players serve that particular serve. Watch their backswing, body movement, contact point, racket angle, follow through, and ball positioning. Also, be willing to hire a professional coach to help perfect your main serve.
Play practice matches
The final link to professional serves is to use them in actual games. Use them in practice matches and use them in tournaments.
Use the nine techniques listed above and you will be seeing excellent results within a few weeks!
Samson Dubina is an accomplished player and coach. He was the US Nationals Men’s Singles Finalist in 2010. Learn more about Samson.