September 1, 2017
It has been awhile since I have tackled a specific stroke to analyze and give tips to improve. When deciding which stroke to fixate on, it was an obvious decision. Imagine playing a professional like Venus Williams or Rafael Nadal. Many of us would love the opportunity to do this but with the understanding that we have a slight chance to win…a point. JIf I had to personally prepare for such a match, my first focus would be on what Williams or Nadal couldn’t impact. There is only one stroke that this happens on and that’s the serve. Neither Williams nor Nadal can touch the ball until I have tossed and hit the ball over the net. If they hit a huge forehand return back at me; well, that’s a different story! The serve is also a stroke that you can practice on your own. So much time is focused on hitting during a rally but we often forget about what starts the point in the first place.
I’m going to take a different outlook on the serve in this blog. Instead of focusing on the technique of the serve, I am going to focus more on the serve types and serve placement so that the best decision is made before every serve you do.
A Lesson From The 4.5 Men’s Doubles National Champions
There is a club I teach part time outside of school hours. One day, I was filling in for a double partner to play some guys training for nationals. They were playing in the 4.5 level 55+ age division. While playing them I learned a lot about how to manage one’s serve. They realized their capabilities and negated any unnecessary risk when it was not needed but also was cognitive of the fact that risk was needed at different occasions. The main pattern of serving was simple for them. They served down the “T” about 85% of the time. We knew it was coming but they didn’t care as it put them in a position to give us the least amount of angles to hit at while covering as much of the court as possible. They also did this because their serve was not like it was in their 20s, meaning they couldn’t just win on pace alone. They knew this and played accordingly. During the match I was returning quite well. Instead of constantly being beaten by their approach of serving down the T, they gave me different looks. They did Australian positioning, I formation and served at different places in the service box. They knew that risk was needed to win more points against my return. What you can get out of this is to focus on MANAGING your serve and understanding what will give you the best possible results from your serve. In essence, THINK more when you’re playing.
A Lesson From A Division 1 Tennis Player
I was fortunate to find a very solid college tennis player who was in Denver for a summer internship before going back to school in August. He played for Yale and had exceptional skills that made it fun for me to learn and train with. He played a local ITF tournament and won the doubles and got to the semis in the singles. He obviously was pretty happy with the results. After we did a serving drill, he mentioned that my spin serves as a first serve was much more difficult to handle due to the fact that it was much more accurate and consistent. He didn’t have as many looks on my second serve which is where he does the most damage on the return. He also mentioned that the spin serve to the backhand side of his opponent got him out of some tough jams in the tournament. The lesson learned from this is that serving big (even when you can) isn’t always the best method. If you track pro matches closely, players get broken when they hit a high number of second serves during that game. Put the pressure off of you and onto your opponent to come up with something risky. Hit a serve you can get in more consistently and accurately.
A Lesson Learned From My Friend Who Played #1 At A Division 1 College
I’ve been fortunate to have a good friend who played for the division 1 school I attended. While most of the players on the team were over 5’8” with big serves and forehands, my friend Caroline was able to outcompete them to the #1 spot. I’ll have to ask her but I’m pretty sure she stands no taller than 5’1” yet don’t let her size fool you. Her game was incredibly tough to beat. One thing I really appreciated in her strategy is how she managed her serve. Caroline knew better to try to hit flat serves, as her window to hit the ball in was too small to hit consistently. She also knew that giving her opponent to many looks at a second serve would prove disastrous. So what did she do? Her main goal in serving was to get a return that was either neutral or weak so that she could put pressure on her opponent on the next shot. After watching many of her matches, it was clear that this worked well. Try it with your next match. Put spin and placement high on your priority list while serving. Think what would give you the weakest reply with the least risk. You will start seeing the pressure melt away on your serve trying this out.
So What Is The Best Serve For You?
There are plenty of strategies to the serve but few people I’ve met have exhausted them all. Try to play a match with different mindsets on the serve and see which one is best for you. There is a good chance you will get an “Ah Ha!” moment while doing this. Also, check out this video on more details with selecting the best serve for your game.