For approximately half of the points in a tennis match, we must serve the ball to get the point started. In the 2015 Wimbledon final, according to the awesome Match Charting Project, Federer hit 141 serves and 462 other shots. Djokovic hit 145 serves and 441 other shots, so for both men nearly a quarter of their total swings at the ball were serves.
For recreational players, it isn’t that different. A significant number of our shots in every match will be serves. For me, before I (ok, sometimes) started structuring my practices, a typical hitting practice would involve a lot of forehands, fewer backhands, far fewer volleys, an overhead or two, and no serves.
In a match we can avoid net play for the most part and run around our weaker groundstrokes as much as possible, but there is just no hiding from the serve.
Not only can we not hide from the serve, but the serve is our chance to take control of the point right from the beginning. With a powerful or tricky serve we can put pressure on our opponents and get on the offensive.
And the biggest reason that I think we need to learn to serve properly is that poor serving ability will prevent us from moving to the next level.
At the earlier levels in tennis, we can push the ball into the court and not worry about it getting pounded back at us since our opponents aren’t yet at a level with their returns to do this. I find I’m getting to a point where I can compete in rally games with a lot of the men I play with, but come match time I’m in trouble. They’re winning their service games with powerful topspin serves, and I, on the other hand, am on defence right from the return of my serves.
Every season I resolve to improve your serve. I vow that I’ll take a basket of balls out to the courts weekly and hit serve after serve. I’ll commit to finally learning to hit kick, slice, and how to place my serve consistently. But other things seem to take priority in my tennis and life and this just doesn’t happen.
Serving should be one of the easiest shots to practice, since it is the only shot in tennis we have complete control over and can practice on our own in an identical manner to a match situation (unlike, say, drop-feeding backhands to yourself, which is helpful, but different than having a ball moving towards you as it will be in a match).
So why don’t we do it? Why do we only “practice” serving during match warm-up and during matches themselves (if we can even call that practice)?
I think it’s because serving is hard, and when we’re not very good at things they’re not very fun. We unfortunately like to practice things that we’re already good at – it takes a lot of dedication to work on things that we feel we aren’t improving at. I think that a good serve just seems so far out of reach for most of us that we end up resigning ourselves to just getting the ball in play.
Another reason is that we just don’t know how to practice our serves. Sometimes it feels like if I hit a basket of serves I’m just practicing my bad serve – further ingraining my bad habits rather than fixing them.
I’m making 2016 my year to improve my serve. In this blog I’ll be giving an honest analysis of my serve right now, coming up with specific goals for where I want it to be, detailing a plan to get there, and giving progress reports. The purpose of this is to actually keep myself accountable. My previous resolutions have not worked so I’m trying something different. Stay tuned for an upcoming post in which I’ll show some video/images of my serve and discuss what needs to change.
I’d love to get your feed back on all of this. Is serving something you’re struggling with or something you’ve mastered? How are you working on it?