The Serve


The stroke used to put the ball in play before each point of the game.


To put the ball in play in such a way that the opponent will have difficulty returning the service. To achieve this the serve should have:

1. Placement

It should not only land deep in the service court but be placed to the disadvantage of the opponent.

2. Speed

The serve should be fast enough to prevent the opponent from placing the return to the disadvantage of the server.

3. Spin

A ball with spin is much harder to return accurately than one without any spin. Even a fast serve which bounces straight, without any spin on the ball, may be easy to return.

Because the player can plan the timing of the ball and swing, and the exact court position from which the serve is sent each time, he should develop a machine-like precision in his serve, which will insure the winning of the service game.

tennis serve

Various Types Of Serve

The serve is more or less an individual stroke which adapts itself to the type of player using it. However, every serve should have the three qualities mentioned above. They may be in different proportions according to what type of serve suits the individual player best.

1. The Top Slice Serve. This serve is fast, accurate, and causes the ball to spin from right to left with some top spin.
It is not difficult to learn, does not tire the player unduly, and is the most practical and universally used serve among topflite women players.

2. The American Twist Serve. A great amount of diagonal top spin is placed on the ball, causing a very crooked, high bounce which is extremely difficult to handle. This serve requires great strength and skill. It is used mostly by the top notch men players.

3. The American Reverse Twist Serve. Similar to (2) but imparting spin from left to right rather than right to left plus topspin. A very difficult serve to accomplish accurately; it is seldom used.

4. The Cannon Ball Serve. Ball is hit terrifically hard with the racquet flat, so that no spin is imparted but great speed. Players usually try to “ace” their opponents by aiming this very fast serve into the corners of the service court, where least expected by the receiver.

5. The Chop Serve. The racquet strikes downward on the back of the ball, imparting back spin, and causing the ball to bounce very short and low. This serve is inferior because it is not fast and it allows the receiver to stand near the service line to return it. It is, however, a simple serve to learn and may be taught to students lacking in muscular coordination, if they cannot master the Top Slice Serve or Slice Serve.

6. The Slice (Cut) Serve. The racquet cuts the ball on the right side making it curve to the left. A diagonal forward swing from right to left is used. This serve is not difficult to execute, and does not use much energy, since spin is more important than force. It is an excellent serve to mix in with the Top Slice Serve, or Twist, since it gives a low, crooked bounce and may take the receiver by surprise. It is especially effective when serving from the right court, because it pulls the receiver off court.

Difference In Ball Toss For Various Serves

The position of the ball in relation to the body determines the type of serve that may be executed. The ball position varies as follows:

1. Top Slice Serve

a. The ball is thrown four feet above the head and slightly in front of it, so that if it were allowed to drop it would land just beyond the left foot. As the ball is hit, the body moves toward the net, so the ball is directly above the head at impact.

2. American Twist Serve

a. The ball is thrown three feet above the head and to the left of it, so that it is above the left shoulder when hit.

b. The ball must not be thrown forward of the head. The toss is a looping toss with the ball traveling upward and to the left in a curve.

c. At impact, the ball is actually behind the center of gravity of the body, and for this reason, the player must bend backwards from the waist in preparing for the impact.

3. Reverse Twist Serve

a. The ball is tossed as for regular Twist Serve, but the racquet travels across it from southeast to northwest instead of from southwest to northeast. A great amount of body bend is needed.

4. Cannon Ball Serve

a. The ball is thrown up well in front of the body so that it can be hit with the racquet flat and no spin is placed on the ball. This is similar to hitting a nail with a hammer.

5. The Chop Serve

a. The ball is thrown up in front of the face, not much higher than the head. The racquet travels down across the back of the ball from north to south. The elbow is bent during the serve.

6. The Slice (Cut) Serve

a. The ball is thrown out to the right about two feet above and to the side of the head. The elbow is bent during the serve, and the ball is sliced on its right side, thus making it travel to the left as it crosses the net.

The Flight Of The Ball In The Serve

A. Correct ball flight, angles slightly downward due to angle of racquet face at contact and to gravity.

B. Upward ball flight, which is incorrect. This is caused by the racquet face being open at contact.

C. Correct angle of ball flight, but ball not hit from a high enough position, so that netted ball results.

Top Slice Serve Analysis

1. The grip on the racquet determines the amount of spin placed on the ball, due to whether the racquet is flat as it meets the ball or at an angle.

a. The forehand grip, which will impart slight side and topspin to the ball, is advocated for the beginner.

b. A grip half way between the forehand and backhand grips is called “the service grip” and is used by more advanced players. This grip imparts more sidespin and top spin to the ball.

2. Wrist action

a. A forward snap of the wrist (combination of abduction and flexion) is used to throw the racquet head into the ball on the forward swing. Thus the racquet is flat at the contact.

b. However, as the racquet carries the ball forward, flexion and slight abduction of the wrist brings the racquet strings around the outside of the ball, making it spin from right to left.

3. Body position and action

a. The stance is much like the forehand drive position, with the left foot forward, the right foot back, in line with the intended ball flight, so that a transfer of weight may be taken in that direction.

b. The trunk is rotated forward at the start of the serve, sideways away from the net during the backswing, and forward toward the net during the forward swing, with shift of weight backward and forward accompanying the swing.

4. Swing of the racquet

a. Backswing.

1′. Racquet starts from a forward position, pointing in the direction of the desired ball flight.
2′. Racquet swings down to the side and up behind the shoulders, finishing the backswing in a relaxed position, elbow behind the shoulder and bent at a right angle, wrist relaxed, racquet head pointing toward the ground (the body weight is now on the right foot, and the shoulders rotated away from the net)

b. Forward swing.

1′. The racquet moves forward and upward to meet the ball high above the head, the elbow straightening so that the arm, wrist, and racquet form one long lever as the ball is hit (the body weight shifts onto the left foot, shoulders rotating forward).
2′. The follow through is a continuation of the forward swing finishing the complete circle on the left side of the body or opposite the left knee (the body weight continues to come forward, with a step onto right foot).
3′. The forward swing is in a wide circle, perpendicular to the ground, thus carrying the ball forward toward its destination with a sweeping movement.

5. Position of the ball at contact with racquet (this includes the toss)

a. Ball should be high enough so that racquet and arm are fully extended as the ball is hit.

Note – Few players get full extension of body and racquet when hitting the ball; yet this is one of the most important factors in a good serve.

b. Ball should be tossed vertically upward, over the head, and slightly forward of it, so that as the weight is transferred forward, the player moves directly under the ball.

Note – A good test of a properly tossed ball is to toss it up, and see if it drops just in front of the left toe. It is most important that the ball rise and fall in the same path. It should not go up in one direction and descend in another.

c. Tossing the ball.

1′. Control the ball with the first two fingers and thumb, letting the whole arm follow the ball up. Note.—The left arm action counterbalances that of the racquet arm but takes place slightly later.

6. Rhythmic pattern of the serve

The rhythm of the swing and ball toss fits into a six count pattern, which may be used when the students have mastered the mechanics of the swing and toss. The racquet swings back on 1, 2. In the beginner’s stroke the racquet pauses on 3 while the ball is being tossed. Ball is hit on 4 and follow through 5, 6.

Note.—The pause (3) in the beginner’s serve develops naturally into the continuous loop of the advanced serve.

Common Faults Of Beginners

1. The most common error in direction is sending the ball into the net. The usual cause of this error is

(1) failure to hit ball when it is directly over head, with arm fully extended.
(2) failure to swing the racquet forward as far as possible in the direction of the service court.

a. Tossing the ball too low.
b. Tossing the ball too far in front of body.
c. Poor timing, so that ball is hit after it has dropped too low.
d. Sweeping the ball “downward,” rather than “forward” in the forward swing.

2. The second most common error is hitting the ball in an upward direction. The usual cause is lack of wrist action, or too late wrist action. Thus the racquet head is not thrown into the ball, the wrist leads, and the racquet faces upward as the ball is hit.