Holding serve is one of the most important skills in tennis. As the old saying goes, “You live and die by your serve.”
Being able to consistently hold serve puts pressure on your opponent and allows you to better control the flow of the match.
If you struggle to hold serve, don’t worry – with some focused practice and adjustment of techniques, you can improve this crucial aspect of your game.
How To Hold Serve More Often?
Improve your first serve percentage, aim for specific targets on each serve, vary spin on your serves, and develop consistent serving patterns to become unpredictable. These tips can help you hold serve more often.
Refine Your Ball Toss
Arguably the most vital part of the serve is the toss of the ball. The toss sets the foundation for the entire serving motion. A consistent toss leads to solid timing and optimal contact point on the serve. Here are some tips to improve your ball toss:
- Keep your tossing arm relaxed and use a smooth, rhythmic motion. This promotes consistency. Don’t tense up or jerk your arm.
- Toss the ball just slightly in front of your body and high enough in the air to fully extend your racket arm on the swing. This allows you to achieve full extension.
- Aim to toss the ball around one foot inside the baseline to give yourself enough room to swing upward. Any deeper and you may hit the fence!
- Practice your tossing motion without a ball to groove muscle memory. Do this regularly as part of your pre-match warm up.
- Common tossing mistakes include tossing too far behind the head, inconsistent release points, and poor toss alignment. Film yourself to spot issues.
- The optimal contact point for power and control is when the ball is between 1 and 2 feet above your head. This aligns with full extension of your arm.
Keeping a consistent ball toss takes practice, but is crucial for serving success. Patience and repetition while focusing on a smooth, rhythmic motion will pay off.
Utilize the Kick Serve
The kick serve is an important weapon, especially on second serves. It uses heavy topspin to create a bounce high to the opponent’s backhand side. This can elicit weak returns from defensive players. Here’s how to hit an effective kick serve:
- Grip the racket using the continental grip. This promotes racket face rotation for topspin.
- Keep your racket face more closed at contact than a flat serve. Aim to brush up the back of the ball.
- Make contact slightly more in front of your body than a flat serve. This upward brush promotes spin.
- Aim to hit the left corner of the service box, which angles the ball crosscourt.
- Imagine you are hitting slice underspin on a forehand approach shot. This feeling emphasizes brushing around the side of the ball.
- Loosen up the arm on the follow through to allow full pronation and racket face rotation over the top of the ball.
The kick serve is especially effective on second serves or on clay courts with their higher bounce. Vary spin and placement to keep your opponent off balance.
Vary Placement Of Your Serve
Serving to the same spots over and over can make you predictable. Varying placement is critical to preventing opponents from getting comfortable. Here are some ways to mix up serve location:
- The slice serve wide to the deuce court is an excellent way to pull opponents off the court laterally. Just be sure to avoid the center line fault.
- The body serve jamming the returner tight along the center line limits their swing options. But use it judiciously, as it can elicit weak returns.
- Hitting flat down the T right at your opponent keeps them honest and prevents cheating wide. But don’t overdo it.
- Out wide to the ad court on the left side pulls a righty’s forehand wide and limits options.
- Occasionally change location from first serve to second serve to disrupt tendencies.
- Use different ball toss locations – more over the head goes down the T, more in front goes wide.
Disguising your toss and varying serve placement are advanced skills. But with focused practice, you can learn to move the ball around the box to maximize frustration for your opponent.
Related Article: How To Stop Worrying About Your Tennis Serve?
Types of Serves and Their Uses
|How to Hit
|When to Use
|Brush side of ball with angled racket face
|Wide serve, stays low
|Brush up back of ball
|Second serve, high bounce
|Flat racket face, hit through center of ball
|Down the T, surprise factor
|Hit at opponent’s body
|Jam returner, neutralize big swingers
Develop Routines to Groove Your Serve
Serving is a complex kinetic chain movement requiring finely tuned coordination. It does not come naturally overnight. Developing consistent routines can ingrain the proper serving motion patterns through repetition. Here are some ways to groove your serve technique:
- Use repetition to make serving second nature. Regularly take a full basket of balls to practice nothing but serves.
- Start by serving only a few balls at a time to focus on technique. Gradually increase your stamina by serving 6-8 balls between breaks.
- Mimic match serving by rotating serves from the deuce and ad sides. Vary your targets and placement from each position.
- Set specific training goals each session like making 80% of first serves or achieving a certain speed. Quantify progress.
- Incorporate different serving drills like targets, landing the toss, and exaggerated backscratch motions. Isolate difficult segments.
- As the serve improves, purposely introduce variability like different grips, swing paths, contact points. Challenge mastery.
Turn serving practice into a habitual routine through repetition. Stick with the basics before introducing variability or complexity. Grooving proper technique sets the stage for big improvement.
Get Feedback from Coaches
It’s hard to detect your own serving flaws. Coaches trained in biomechanics and stroke production can provide an objective outside eye to analyze and correct your technique. Here are some ways coaches can help:
- Have your coach observe serves from behind and side vantage points during practice. They can detect subtle issues.
- Film your serving motion using high-speed video. Review with your coach to break down each segment of the kinetic chain in fine detail.
- Ask your coach questions – “how was my knee bend on the edge of that last serve?” Feedback like this can home in on problem areas.
- Perform serving drills like basket feeding or landing the toss. The coach can scrutinize your technique and make tweaks under controlled conditions.
- Identify strengths and weaknesses of your serve. Reinforce what’s working and target weak links for retraining.
- Trust your coach’s advice and implement serve adjustments. They have the expertise to get your technique on track.
You know your own game inside out. But a coach provides an outside perspective to improve parts of your serve you can’t easily see yourself. Leverage their experience to analyze and upgrade your most important stroke.
Practice Serving Strategies that Set Up Points
Beyond good technique, smart serving strategy is vital to consistently holding serve. Some concepts to practice:
- Use first serves to set the tone and earn free points. Second serves should be safer with placement and spin.
- Attack weaker returns – go for a one-two punch on weaker shots.
- Follow aggressive returns to net to take advantage of their high-risk nature.
- Use the element of surprise – mix up spin, speed, placement.
- Exploit opponent weaknesses you detect through scouting.
- Reset after misses – refocus, breathe, start the next point fresh.
- Maintain rituals – same ball bounce, gaze, pre-serve routine to find rhythm.
Playing ” match-like” practice points that emphasize serving strategy is time well spent. Think through patterns while practicing them consciously. Match-level execution will follow.
Cultivate Toughness to Handle Pressure
Service games late in sets often ratchet up pressure. The tougher and more focused player under stress usually prevails. Here are mental toughness tips when serving under pressure:
- Embrace pressure and view it as a privilege to thrive under. See it as a challenge to overcome.
- Focus on the basic keys of your service motion. Don’t overthink or get distracted.
- Breathe rhythmically to calm nerves. Slow down to hit relaxed shots.
- Channel adrenaline into aggressive play. Move forward, hit out.
- Maintain rituals and bounce back quickly from mistakes. Stay positive.
- Tell yourself “I’ve done this a thousand times.” Back your skills.
- Visualize winning the game to manifest the outcome you want.
With the right mindset, the pressure of serving out a set can elevate your play. See it as an opportunity to test your capabilities. Feed off the adrenaline rush.
How do you serve more consistently?
You serve more consistently by practicing regularly to build muscle memory, focusing on proper technique like trophy position and pronation, and visualizing successful serves during practice. Varying placement also boosts consistency.
How do you hold your serve?
To hold serve, focus on your 1st serve accuracy and placement, especially out wide. Have a reliable 2nd serve and mix up placement. Move quickly into ready position, anticipate returns, and be mentally tough to handle pressure. Good 1st serve percentage is key.
How can I improve my serve accuracy?
Improving serve accuracy involves repetition to groove mechanics. Toss the ball consistently to the proper contact point. Focus on smooth rhythm and extension up and out on contact. Aim for targets when practicing. Vary placement to keep opponents off balance.
How can I increase my serve speed?
Increasing serve speed starts with proper technique and mechanics – trophy position, full kinetic chain, loose arm, and snap on contact. Build strength and flexibility with exercises and stretches. Use your legs to drive up and rotate through the ball. Accelerate racket head speed with practice.
Why is serve so hard?
The serve is difficult since it requires complex coordination of many body parts – legs, core, shoulder rotation, arm, and wrist snap. Mastering the intricacies of ball toss, full body motion, and contact point takes repetition. It’s also performed solo without cues from a partner’s shots.
How can I improve my weak serve?
To improve a weak serve, have a coach analyze your technique. Work on core strengthening, shoulder rotation, and smooth rhythm. Toss more consistently and use legs to drive up. Bend knees more to engage legs. Accelerate racket head speed. Practice serves frequently with focus and intent.
Holding serve consistently takes an array of physical, technical, strategic, and mental skills. But any tennis player can improve their ability to hold serve more often through deliberate, focused practice.
Refining your toss, stabilizing your technique, varying placement, and building mental toughness are proven ways to turn around a shaky service game. Holding serve elevates your confidence and puts constant scoreboard pressure on opponents. Master your service game and watch your competitive results soar.
James Locus is a staff writer at Tennis Make More, a tennis education platform. He’s also the founder and editor of TennisMakeMove.com, a website dedicated to tennis instruction and tennis equipment reviews. He’s also an experienced tennis coach and a certified tennis instructor.