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:

The objective is to get the ball to cross the plane on the correct side of the cones for each serve. On the deuce side that means to the left of the out wide cone and to the right of the T cone. On the ad side, that means to the left of the T cone and to the right of the wide cone. R stands for returner. When practicing serves, you can now not only count the % of serves made, but you can track the % of quality serves made. Don’t get discouraged if the % of quality serves is low to start. As you continue to get quality reps, this number should gradually increase.
Serve Cone Placement Picture

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!

About the Author: Nick Fustar is the General Manager and co-founder, along with Brian Eagle, of the Eagle Fustar Tennis Academy. Fustar and Eagle founded the academy with the goal of creating the premier high performance training center to develop and train elite junior tennis players in Northern California.


Basing their training plan on the experiences in college and the pro tour, Eagle Fustar began working with players in 2003, and their vision has grown into the largest academy in Northern California with over 300 players, most with aspirations to play college or professional tennis. Prior to starting the Academy, Fustar played on the ATP tour following a successful college career at Fresno State. Fustar also coached several professional players, and for some of those players his role included traveling coach. His extensive worldwide travel included preparing for coaching through the Grand Slams, in addition to training time with his player in Dubai while working with Roger Federer. Nick is proud to have worked with a two time National Champion that called Eagle Fustar home for his junior career. He has worked with many of Eagle Fustar’s top national and ITF juniors that went on to attend topranked universities and on to the pro tour. As General Manager, Fustar oversees the business direction and strategic partnerships of the Academy, including vital relationships with the USTA, which named Eagle Fustar a Regional Training Center in 2010, and Babolat, a very important sponsor and partner with the Academy. Fustar remains very involved in teaching through private lessons and regularly at Elite and High Performance Clinics. Additionally, he works with elite Eagle Fustar juniors on specific long range and strategic training plans.