Master the Serve - From Beginner to Advanced

Let's face facts, if you can't serve, you can't play. That's the bottom line.

The serve can be the most difficult of shots for some people to learn. If you haven't spent a lot of time playing baseball or some sport that involves throwing a ball with one hand, then the service motion can be a very unnatural movement.

It takes practice, but it also takes the right frame of mind in order to master serving.

Starting Out

Nick Bollettieri

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c.2005 Barbara Banks

The first order of business when learning to serve is to hit the box. The goal is to gain confidence by eliminating double faults. You also want to feel secure knowing that when the big point comes you will be able to get the serve in.

Don't worry about power or spin at this stage, but rather that you have a nice smooth and consistent motion that will not abandon you when you get nervous.

Moving it around

After you have achieved consistency, you will now want to be able to serve to specific targets in each box. Each box has three general targets:

  • To the forehand side
  • To the backhand side
  • Into the body

Begin by learning how to hit the serve to these three basic targets without getting too fancy. Again, the idea is to build confidence by keeping things simple and successful.

If you can serve to these three targets, you will be able to exploit an opponent's weakness whether it is the forehad, backhand or movement (serving into the body will force the opponent to move quickly to get into position to hit a return).


The next step in the service evolution is to learn the different types of spin. The different types of spin are:

  • Slice
  • Kick
  • Flat

The spin on a slice serve for a right handed player will move the ball to the forehand of the opponent and stay fairly low.

The spin on a kick serve will force the ball to jump up (or when you get really good at it you will be able to make the ball jump to right handed opponent's backhand).

And the flat serve will stay low and pretty much in straight line. Master these different spins one at a time so you can get comfortable with one before moving to the next.

Mixing it up

Finally, a good server must learn to vary in speed, spins and targets in order to keep his or her opponent guessing. Much like the pitcher in baseball, having a good fastball is important, but being able to follow it up with a solid change up or curve ball can make you devastating.

Keep your opponent off balance with different combinations and variations, and you will find that you will need to use your big first serve less. This will save energy and wear and tear on your shoulder.


The greatest thing about the serve is that you don't need anyone else in order to practice it. Some balls, a racket, and a court is all that is required.

It's a simple equation: The more you practice, the better you will become. So get out there on your own and work on this shot until you have mastered it and watch your game soar to another level.

Just remember to keep the right frame of mind and learn one step at a time.

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Nick Bollettieri founded the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in 1978, the first full-time tennis boarding school to combine intense training on the court with a custom-designed academic curriculum. He has coached 10 players who have reached No. 1 in the world, including Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Martina Hingis. To learn more, visit

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