The Serve:

The serve is the shot that begins the point. It is not supposed to end the point. And as there are no points awarded in tennis for style, there are also no points awarded for speed.

An effective server, like a good baseball pitcher or a good debater, keeps the opponent off balance. Your serve should keep the receiver guessing, out of sync, and unable to establish a rhythm on the return. This is achieved not by serving fast but by serving smart.

* Serve deep in the service box. The farther away from the net you can keep a receiver the less effective the return and the more time you have to get ready for it.

* Move your serve around. Right, left, down the middle. Make your opponents move. Make them stand still. Keep them guessing. Never serve to the same spot twice in a row.

* Assume your serve is going in. Plan on it going in. Don't even think about it going out or into the net. If you expect it to go in, it will go in more often. This is not New Age mumbo jumbo. It is fact.

* Try to think your serve to a certain area of the service box every single time you serve. You don't aim it to an area of the court, you just "think" it there. It will not go where you want it to every time, and that's okay. Again, no mumbo jumbo. This works with a little practice.

* Don't admire your serve or strain to see whether it's in or out. Instead, serve and then go visually to the receiver's racquet. If the ball is coming back, that's where it will come from, and if you're paying attention you'll know how and where. You'll be ready sooner.

* Bounce on the balls of your feet after you serve. If you are on your toes, you will almost automatically get into position to hit your next shot.

* Use the old one-two combination. Use your serve and your "return of the return" as a combination. Have a plan each time you serve. A plan not only for the serve but for your next shot as well. Yes, you can do this.

* Practice your serve by yourself. You don't need a court or a net or a partner. And remember, practice translates to confidence, and confidence is what the serve is all about.

* Go for a zinger every once in a while. Hit it harder than usual but not as hard as you can. Remember that the power comes from your legs, the shoulder turn, and rhythm. The power does not come from your arm. Think the ball over the lowest part of the net to the widest part of the court.

* Serve directly at the receiver. Think it toward the non-racquet hip of the receiver (left hip for right-hander, right hip for left-hander). Don't try to serve any harder than usual, just directly at the receiver. Remember you are not trying to win the point with your serve, but handcuffing the receiver can often force some weak returns.

* Pull the receiver wide with a slice and/or more angled serve. Although this serve "freezes" your partner (forces him to cover his alley), it can be a variation that forces an error and keeps the receiver from "cheating" too much on those serves to the middle.

* Give your opponent a "change-up," an off-speed first serve. This slow ball can be especially effective against a "big hitter" or actually any receiver who is starting to get a rhythm on your serve.

* Watch the ball until you hit it. Never fault into the net. Get your serve over the net. Always.

* Target the majority of your serves to land near the center line. Remember, where your serve lands has much to do with where it will come back.

* Read your opponent. Where does she line up to receive the serve? Is she trying hard to protect a weakness? Does she move well? How can you keep her off balance?

* Make the receiving team return to your strength. Through your and your partner's positioning and placement of your serve you can actually make the other team return to your strengths. A ball hit down the middle often comes back down the middle.

* Remember you can improve your serving effectiveness with some teamwork, a little practice, and a mind set. Work together as a team to improve each other's serves.

Problems with Serves?

* If you're having problems with consistency - Slow everything down to two-thirds speed. Make sure your legs and shoulders are involved in this slow-motion service stroke.

* If you're tight, not fluid - Shake yourself. Loosen your wrist and your arm, your whole body. Take a deep breath and let it out. Bend your knees a couple of times. Tell yourself a joke. Although other strokes will require a firm wrist, the serve does not. Relax your wrist and relax your whole body and just let the serve happen.

* If your timing seems off - Eliminate the take-back by already starting back. Try starting with the racquet in the "backscratching position." It is just a way of simplifying the service motion and timing. Some very good players serve like this all the time. Remember to use your legs and shoulders.

* If you're faulting into the net - Think of hitting the serve up, not down. Make sure your serve is clearing the net by at least two feet. And vow never to fault into the net again. No kidding here. You can hit the ball into the fence, but never into the net.

* If you have been "over-thinking" the serve - Practice the "I don't give a ___t" drill from time to time. In practice, simply hit a bunch of loose, sloppy serves while saying "I don't give a hoot." It can loosen up the stroke and help your rhythm - and the large number of well-hit serves will scare you. Sometime when you are loose and don't give a hoot where the serve is going, it goes exactly where it is supposed to!

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Greater Vallejo Tennis Association
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Benicia, CA 94510