Tennis has variety of strokes. We can hit the ball with forehand, backhand or volley to name a few. It is really hard to say which stroke is more important than the other but the fact is that all points start with serve and return. If you know how to use your serve to create more pressure on your opponent you can get a lot of easy points off rival’s return…
Return of serve. Many players think that this stroke is no different than regular forehand and backhand. That is not true. Return is hit off the serve so it comes with different trajectory. Additionally serve comes with much more power than regular groundstroke so player’s ability to control this ball is more difficult. There are many players who have decent groundstrokes but weak returns because they are not aware of these differences and they don’t spend enough practice time on this area.
When you approach baseline to start rally with serve you have to understand that you have a bigger power in your hands than you think. If your goal is to start point with controlled serve it means you don’t use your serve optimally. On the other hand if the only result that you can accept is the ace that is also a bad approach. There are times when it is a smart move to serve with less pace as well as there are moments when you should take more risk and go for it but most of the time you should use different mindset. As a server you have no distractions because you don’t have to move to the ball and react to opponent’s shot. It simply means that you can take full advantage of this situation. You can think, plan and execute – everything depends on you. The mindset that will allow you to win more points is „force your rival to hit returns from different points of contact”.
That’s the formula. As a player you know how difficult it is to hit balls at different heights. Sometimes you are forced to hit below your knees, other times you have to take your racquet over the shoulders. And there are also balls that are hit close to your hips’ level. All these situations put pressure on hitter and force one to constantly think and adapt to changing environment. These factors make each shot really difficult and that is why many players make a lot of errors while playing against guys who force them to hit from different points of contact.
If you want to improve success’ rate of your serve make sure to include this formula while serving. To make your opponent hit every ball in different place focus on:
- Different spin (kick serve will make the ball bounce higher but slice serve will keep the ball close to the ground. Use this information to vary your deliveries and force your opponent to constantly adapt to your decisions)
- Different power (hitting all first serves with the same speed is the easiest way for returner to get rhythm. Change power of your serves and you will see that rival will make more mistakes. Sometimes ball will be hit way in front while other time your opponent will hit shot late)
- Different placement (another way to change returner’s point of contact is related to placement. Alternating wide and body serves will check your opponent’s physical and technical skills. If there are any weaknesses you will get many easy points or at least weak returns)
- Fake your toss (many players have various tosses. It is not surprising that slice serve is hit easier with ball tossed to the right side while kick serve is more effective if we put the ball to the left side. Good returners will catch these details and they can prepare earlier for their shots. If you want to surprise them while serving from deuce side you can toss the ball to the right side but hit it to the T. Many players expect wide serves from this kind of toss so this change can produce error in crucial moment)
- Be aware of current performance (if your opponent hits weak returns off backhand side you have to be aware of this fact. There are players who don’t see results of their previous serves and that is why they don’t continue successful strategy. There is no need to go to rival’s forehand if he makes a lot of mistakes from the other side)
Serve is a weapon. If you know how to use it you can win matches easier than you can imagine. Start incorporating knowledge from this post and let me know your thoughts.
Marcin Bieniek is a professional tennis coach and founder of instructional website http://tennisisland.us. Marcin has been working with USTA, top 50 ITF and WTA/ATP players. He is a frequent contributor to TennisPro and TenisKlub magazines and he was a speaker at International Coaching Tennis Symposium 2016 at Hilton Head Island, USA.