I ask my students how is the only way you can lose if you hold your serve the whole time in your match? After the struggle of coming up with some scenario, they soon realize that losing in a tiebreaker is the only way. As many of you know, anything can happen in a tiebreaker, giving you a good shot to win the set and even the match! This post will focus on how to utilize the serve to consistently win with it.
Serving location trumps speed. This is an important concept to understand as many players like to blast serves but have little regard to what outcome they are trying to get. If your goal is to get players to miss their return, you may be missing out on a lot of strategy that can help you hold serve even when your opponent is constantly getting your serve back. Let's look at how you can hold your serve based on location rather than looking at your technique to improve pace/spin. This might be an easier avenue for you to see immediate improvement!
Serving Out Wide
There is a line in the sand when it comes to serving out wide. What I mean by this is the fact that there is a fine line between a good out wide serve and one that gets you in trouble. The main rule is that the more out wide you can hit your serve, the better. This gets your opponent stretched (so they can't put their body weight behind their return) and off the court (allowing for more court for you to hit into that is offensive). This makes out wide serving a great idea if you can do it correctly. For example, Nadal uses this serve very well as his lefty serve naturally goes to his opponents backhand, making it easier to get a weak reply. However, you can get in trouble if your serve doesn't pull your opponent off the court as it will sit into the strike zone of your opponent, giving him or her plenty of angles to hit a great return. So the main theme on serving out wide is to work on getting the ball as far off the court as possible to keep your opponent from taking advantage of the angle they get on the return.
Serving Down The "T"
There are a lot of good reasons to serve down the "T" of the service box. First, it keeps your opponent from having any angles to hit his or her return. Also, the net is lower in the middle so you do not need as much net clearance to serve there. With that same reason, you can hit flat serves a lot more accurately down the T, which also means you can serve the hardest there. With so many pluses, why not serve there all the time? You have to remember that serving is like baseball and having your opponent unable to know where you are serving will make them uncomfortable on the return. This allows you to have an easier time staying aggressive even when they do hit a return back.
Serving Into the Body
We often forget about this serve but keep in mind that serving into the body is a great way to get a weak reply from you opponent. When done correctly, he or she cannot fully extend into the return, giving you a ball that allows for you to take over the point. This type of serve works well with tall and lanky players (such as myself!) as they have a lot more distance to move to get out of the way of an incoming ball for a return. The best location is to use your natural spin to spin into their right or left hip. For example, as a righty, I'm aiming slightly to my opponent's left (their perspective, not mine) hip since my righty spin will go directly into their body. Including this serve will allow you to have yet another option for your opponent to have to think about, making it harder for them to be aggressive on the return.
Other Things To Consider
If you can kick or spin your serve, consider using a variety on your serve. For example, I have a friend who can return hard serves very well but struggles with a softer, kick serve. I tend to use that a lot more against him than someone else who usually struggles with my harder serves. This makes it important to be like my favorite baseball pitcher, Greg Maddux. He never beat you with shear power but rather variety of pitches and locations. So improving your technique so you can have a variety will help you out a lot!
Also, try to keep a mental note of what kind of returns you are getting back from your opponent with the different types of serves you are giving him or her. For example, if my opponent consistently can't hurt me on the backhand, I'm serving there 90% of the time as they are unable to do anything on the return that can put me on the defensive. Remember, it's not about the aces and service winners, but getting more weak replies to take advantage of!
Want to see how you can tell if you have good footwork? Check out the video below!\