Tennis strokes | How to improve your serve

Tennis as a game can be broken down into a series of points that start with the serve. Because it’s a unique part of the game that doesn’t mirror the other fundamental tennis shots, learning to serve can be tricky for beginners.

What is the serve?

The serve starts every single point in tennis. It’s a unique shot that doesn’t share any characteristics with the other fundamental tennis shots. This is because the serve is designed to maximise power from a standing start.

The technique involved with serving can be difficult for a beginner to get to grips with. If you’re looking to understand the serve better, watching a professional can help you get to grips with the idea behind the shot.

Why is the serve so important?

The serve matters because it gives you a chance to dictate the tempo and speed of the point. If you have a fast and accurate serve, you can put your opponent off their game at the start of each point.

The serve is all about reliability, power, and accuracy. It’s no good having all the power in the world if you lack the two other core elements. Thankfully, you are in total control of your serve.

Every serve begins from a standing start, making it easy to break down into a series of calculated movements that culminate in an accurate and powerful overhead shot.

What does a good serve look like?

We’ve worked with ATP tour professional Paul Jubb to learn and master the serve. Take a look at the video below to see Paul in action and to learn more about the fundamentals of this vital shot:

How do I serve correctly?

To a beginner, serving can look difficult. The techniques involved are a long way from those involved in a gentle back and forth rally. Thankfully, breaking the serve down into manageable chunks makes it a lot more accessible. Take your time and remember that you are in control of the shot.

The instructions below are for a right-handed player. If you are left-handed, simply mirror any instruction that mentions body side or hand placement.

  1. Stand against the baseline with your foot parallel along the line. Point your front foot and racket towards your target and set yourself
  2. Take your time. The serve is the only shot in tennis where you are in total control without any input from your opponent
  3. Hold the ball in your weak hand and your racket in your dominant hand. Place the ball close to your racket and gently raise both hands in unison before dropping them again
  4. Turn your body sideways and raise your hands back up into a “tick” position. Gently toss the ball into the air and extend your dominant hand out behind your head preparing to address the ball
  5. To complete the action, strike transfer your weight onto your front foot and bring the racket down in an arc onto the ball. The higher up the point of contact, the more power that gets generated.

Top tips for a great serve

  • Take your time: the serve is the only shot in tennis that you’re completely in control of. Take time to compose yourself and don’t rush
  • Adjust your position along the baseline: you are legally allowed to stand at any point along the baseline on your side of the serving box. If you’re a beginner, find out whether you’re more comfortable serving narrow or wide
  • Practice your throw: make sure you aren’t tossing the ball too high or low when serving. Practice just gently tossing the ball up until you have the technique down
  • Work with a coach: working with a coach is a great way to hone one aspect of your game. Because the serve is so unique, getting less specifically on this can work wonders for your overall game

Why is the serve so important?

Serving is crucial to your overall game. It’s the starting point of every point and gives you a chance to dictate the flow of the rest of the point’s exchanges.

If you have a powerful, accurate serve, your opponent may become intimidated and adjust their own game accordingly. Having the power to dictate a match in this way puts you on the front foot right away. Many players build their game around a strong serve, as it is a controlled way of winning a point quickly.

Is the serve a good beginner shot?

The serve can be tricky for beginners because it’s unlike any other shot. As a vital part of the game, it’s good to at least get a good understanding of the basics. The entire action can be split into small component parts, giving you a manageable set of movements to practice one-by-one in isolation.

Before you look to work on your serve, we recommend taking a look at the basic shots you’ll need during a point. With the help of ATP tour pro Paul Jubb, you can learn more about the techniques involved with these shots below:

Make the serve your own

Like every shot in tennis, you’ll quickly find your own unique serving style. This might mean a different technique used during the weight transfer section of the shot, or a narrower point of initiation along the baseline. Everyone is different and for a beginner, finding something that works for you and your game is part of the buzz that keeps us coming back for more.

Last updated Wednesday 11 October 2023

First published on Wednesday 11 October 2023