There’s no doubt about it, how well you serve can mean the difference between winning and losing. And if you’re serving up balls at more than 200k’s an hour, like many gents were at this year’s Australian Open, or getting ahead with aces, well that helps, too. Here’s how to make the most out of your tennis serve.
Technique – deliver it like Federer
A serve needs to be powerful, balanced and rhythmic, and to achieve this the whole body must get in on the act. It’s well-known that Swiss pro Roger Federer has one of the best serves in the game (we’re sure it helped him win the Aussie Open!), so what is it that makes his serve a winner? Here are five things Federer does every time.
- Instead of tossing and lifting the racquet at the same speed, Federer allows his racquet to trail slightly behind to help prevent it from stalling at its highest peak and ruining racquet-head speed.
- As the ball goes up and straight (at about the two o’clock mark), his right arm is bent and the racquet is perpendicular to his body. His wrist is also loose – he doesn’t want to create tension in his wrist and forearm, as this will impact on racquet-head speed.
- As Federer’s feet leave the ground, his racquet is at its lowest point (up and behind him), despite his legs, torso and chest heading skywards. With the racquet in this position, he is soon able to swing his arm forward as quickly as possible.
- As he makes contact with the ball, Federer’s racquet arm is fully extended – at this height he has more room to hit into the service box at his desired angle. Note that his head remains up and his eyes are still on the racquet until well after the ball has left.
- As Federer delivers the ball with immense momentum into the service box, he keeps his left arm close to his body to retain his balance, and with both knees sightly bent he lands with his left foot just inside the base line. He’s now focused on the other end of the court and is in a great position to move to receive a return ball – if he hasn’t just aced his opponent!
Speed – smash it like Raonic and Osaka
Wow, most of us would not want to be on the receiving end of a 200km+ an hour tennis serve, but this is what some of the pros have had to cop at this Aussie Open. Canada’s Milos Raonic cracked a whopping 236km/h serve while Japan’s Naomi Osaka belted a 198km/h ball at one of her opponents (see image below from ausopen.com).
Clearly the aim is to serve so fast the opponent can’t see the ball coming or mishits the return, but this kind of force does take some practice. Many experts recommend loosening your grip on the racquet during your serve. This will help your arm move much more freely, loosely and fast through the air during the serving motion. Just as in golf, another tip to increase velocity is to ensure that your eye remains on the ball as it makes contact with your equipment.
Strategy – ace it like Karlovic and Williams
Making your first tennis serve count is something to aim for – there’s infinitely less pressure than on the second serve. The top pros at the Open got more than 70 per cent of their first serves in. And if you can ace your way out of running around on a hot court, all the better! Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic and USA’s Serena Williams (see image below from ausopen.com) knew what they were doing when they served up 119 (gee whiz) and 54 aces respectively at this year’s Aussie Open.
A good strategy for winning your tennis serve is to mix it up. Flatter, down-the-T serves are pretty common, but wider serves can be dangerous, too. Find your strengths and play on them when the occasions arise: use topspin, flat serves, or slice your serve out wide. Develop your own weapon and then watch your points tally!
Hero image: Spanish professional Rafael Nadal.
If you have any tips on how to ace your tennis serve, share them in the comments section below.