Four tips to improving your first serve by practicing smarter
I cringe when I see players “slap” first serves.
First serves need to be effortless and smooth for a shoulder and back to take the beating of two singles matches per day in a junior tournament. I wish someone told me this when I was 14 and thought I knew it all. I have a really good physical therapist, but I would prefer not to refer.
Hitting your first serve smoothly and effortlessly is not only critical for health purposes, it will also add significant value to your game. Making your first serve at > than 60% accuracy and locating it 10 – 15% better is far more valuable than blasting serves at 25% accuracy. Forget about adding mph’s for now. If you can improve your first serve consistency and your first serve location, you will be holding serve more often. You will be on offense more often and you will not be constantly defending off of your second serve.
The following tips are effective ways to improve your serves by making them smooth, effortless and harder to defend:
1) Include a slight “cut” to your first serve
How do you think professional players can make first serves 65-70% of the time? Control – it is necessary to reach a similar first serve percentage. The same reason that you put spin on your groundstrokes to keep them in play is the reason you should add a control aspect to your first serve.
That control aspect you should add is a slight “cut” to the ball on the deuce side T and the ad side wide serve. Now, I’m not talking about putting massive slice on the ball, rather put a very small amount of cut (around the ball contact) to it. Very small amount means that the serve may even continue to go straight after it lands. This will vary from player to player.
2) Improve your out wide serve on deuce side (righties)
From both the making and locating standpoint, it is incredible how poor the out wide serve on the deuce side is from most players. By significantly improving your out wide serve location, you are forcing your opponent to cover more court out wide, thus opening up your first ball options. Also, you are improving the effectiveness of your deuce side T serve (the one we talked about above) because your opponent has to respect the improved, deadly range of the out wide. Without the range of the out wide, you wouldn’t be able to put extra control on the T serve because it would be too easy for your opponent to cover. Improving the range of the out wide serve is a great way to hold serve easier. Of course, there is no other way to improving this serve than quality reps.
3) Improve your first serve location relative to returner
When you practice serving for location, placing cones in the service box and aiming for them is not always effective. It doesn’t really matter if you blow up the cone in the box. What matters is where the ball ends up relative to the returner. Thus, place cones in the following manner behind the baseline:
4) Don’t skimp on pre-match serve warm up
On the day of your tournament, take 25 effortless serves on each side when you are warming up before the match. Each player is different with their warm-up routine when it comes to groundstrokes, volleys, and serves. It is my observation that players typically don’t spend nearly enough time on serves (returns and volleys as well). Thus, have a small goal of 50 effortless serves after you are finished with your groundstroke/volley routine in your warm up. Make sure you get every serve covered on both the deuce and ad side. Take your time and put extra focus in when you’re warming up serves on the day of the tournament.
I’m challenging all of our Eagle Fustar players to hit 800 extra serves in the month of May outside of your regular practice matches and practice sessions. This means 8 x 100 serves. I would break it up in 2x per week of 100 serves. 100 serves usually takes about 30 minutes to complete if done properly. You can do any serve workouts you like, just make sure that you are focusing, not rushing through the practice, and going through your rituals on every first serve. Make sure to keep track of % of serves made and % of quality serves made.
We have an extremely important month of May on our hands with the May Superseries and the National Selection tournament coming up. Preparing to serve smarter will undoubtedly help to hold serve easier and win more matches!