The most over-looked shot, but arguably the most important! If you hit a bad serve, you will likely be on the back foot in the rally, and if you hit a really bad serves that goes down or out then you’ve obviously lost the rally immediately! If you hit a good serve, you are likely to begin the rally in control, or even win the point outright. I think it’s so over-looked, even when everyone recognizes the importance of it, is because professionals make it look so easy, a complete non-event just to get the rally started. At club level I see entire matches won or lost on the back of players who serve consistently well or badly.
The High Lob Serve
The Low Hard Serve
The Body Serve
The High Lob Serve, definitely tends to be the most effective, but comes with the most risk. If you get the ball to loop, high over to your opponents side and to hit the side wall just underneath the out line and about level with the back of the service box (where your opponent would want to volley it), all at the right pace so it reaches the back wall without bouncing off the back wall first – then you’ve got a great chance to put your opponent under extreme pressure. But ….. there’s an obvious risk of hitting the ball out.
The Low Hard Serve, I personally think this is the easiest, and it’s effective too. The key is to get it low enough (about a foot above the service line) and to hit the side wall about level with the back of the service box. If you hit it too high it will come off the back wall too much, giving your opponent a relatively easy shot. If you hit it too low, then you’ll serve down (obviously), and you’ll look like a right banana!
The Body Serve / Down The Middle Serve, is a great one to occasionally. If you do this every now and again, the threat of it will stop your opponent from standing too far across toward the side wall, making it easier for them to volley your serve. Do not over-use it! Professionals use this well.
Now also to consider, do you serve forehand or backhand? Professionals will always serve backhand from the forehand box, and forehand from the backhand box. The reason for this is because they are looking at their target and their opponent the entire time. They will also naturally step into the serve, taking them to the ‘T’ immediately after they’ve struck the ball. It gives you an immediate physical presence to start the rally. The advantage of serving forehand from the forehand side, is it is easier for most club players. The forehand volley is easier for almost all players (and the serve is a volley), also the toss seems simpler to judge, and it also gives you a greater angle, making it easier to hit across your body and into the side wall where your opponent is stood.
Conclusion: Experiment (ideally on your own or in an easy match) and generally settle on what you are best at, whether it’s the High Lob or Hard Low Serve, and also forehand or backhand serve. Whatever you decide, commit to it, and I really do think it’s worth throwing in a Body Serve from time-to-time.
The Return Of Serve
I’ve coached many, many people who learn to play great drives, volleys and tactically know what they want to do in a rally, but all this counts for nothing if their return of serve is rubbish! The service return is very difficult for a lot people, and it’s something professionals make look so easy it’s almost a non-event.
More often than not, it seems that a lot of club players try to hit a winner to the front of the court off the return of serve. This is crazy. It becomes predictable and hands the initiative to your opponent. So I tell my pupils to hit to the back on the service return. Then what I see them try to do is hit a volley that is too hard, so they lose control and the ball ends up in the middle of the court.
The key is, especially on the backhand, to chill out and just lift the ball straight. The shot doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to reach the back wall (after a bounce). This will move your opponent away from the ‘T’ (as they will naturally be on the ‘T’ in one step after they serve). A simple medium paced, straight volley will do the trick. If you can’t volley and the ball reaches the back wall, hit a straight drive if you can, and if you can’t you’ll just have to boast, but push up to the ‘T’ very quickly to cover your opponents options. The cross-court volley is easier than the straight, but comes with more risk. The risk of hitting the ball on to your opponents volley. So, if you do go cross-court – make sure it is high and wide, away from the server’s volley.
The key to a good return is to get the ball to the back, so to move your opponent in to either one of the back corners. It doesn’t have to be a winner.