Practice serve to make it your weapon during the match

Coaches around the world try to get as much information as possible to construct perfect practice every time. They look for new studies, unique drills or methods used by experienced predecessors. Building a solid structure for every practice is a basic for any successful coach. We have to know how to divide given session to make the on-court time effective as also to improve player’s needs. As we know, every athlete is different so it is impossible to use one scheme for all our players. We have to prepare individual plan for every student we train and then we can move on to building a lesson based on a given player’s goals.


            Top coaches in profession know that tennis practice can’t be created on the court. If you are a serious coach, you have to find a time before the lesson to sit down and think about the structure. If your goal is to improve serve, you have to know exactly what kind of serve you want to develop today, what the priority is while performing given serve and how to make serve practice as similar as possible to the match conditions. Before we start writing down our plan, we have to think about the goal for any given drill. You should choose between 3 different categories of serve drills. They are:


  1. Basket serve
  2. Serve + next shot
  3. Serve + point


Serve is no longer just the stroke to start a rally. It is a serious possibility to get a free point or at least to create an advantage from the beginning. Looking at the pros nowadays, we can clearly observe how smart they are according to choosing the right serve at that moment. Roger Federer is a great example of big variety with his serve. Sometimes, he can smash the ball over 120 mph to go for an ace but other times, he will just put the ball 100 mph in the proper zone to dominate the next shot with his killing forehand.


Observing WTA Tour we can also see more changes with approach to the serve. Some players have range of 1st serve speed between 65-115 mph. It is a big gap but it is nothing more than decisions according to a given situation. Knowing that the best athletes in the world have great serves and they are able to execute them every time under pressure, what can we do with our students? Progression in serve drills is a really valuable tool that should be considered. As we all know, basic exercise for learning and improving the serve is a simple basket one. Player takes 2 balls, serves and comes back for another balls. There is a plenty of possibilities to improve many important factors by using this exercise. Firstly, we can easily focus on technique. Working on arm extension or legs drive can’t be simpler than by performing the serve from this regular position. Secondly, we can work on tactical options like placement and consistency. Using different targets (Wide, Body, Center) is an important detail to teach players how to direct the serve into different zones of service box. At many levels placement overcomes power so directing the ball is the primary goal for players at all ages. Of course, we can work on both (technical and tactical) aspects at the same time e.g toss the ball to the left side (technical part) and serve wide from the ad side (tactical approach). The best benefit of basket serves is a practice without being occupied what will happen next. Player can easily focus on one thought and try to change or improve some areas in this complex motion.


After we are done with basket, we should move on to option “serve + next shot”. In real tennis, players hit only few aces per match so most of the time ball is coming back from the opposite side. Without practicing this pattern students will never achieve high level of performance so coach’s job is to incorporate those goals into every day routine. Serve + next shot can be used in hundreds of variations. It can be just serve and one more shot or we can use more specific way like serve wide from deuce side and continue with forehand down the line. Watching tournaments players, many times we can see how not prepared they are after the serve. Their reaction is slow, they don’t recover to the proper spot and they don’t have ideas how to play the point before even they start it. It all comes from lack of specific serve practice. Working on serve and next shot can teach players how to move after the serve, be focused all the time and improve other shots too. Either it is a specific pattern or just one random shot after the serve, it is guaranteed that it will improve player’s performance.


The last progression of serve practice is a “serve + point”. Here we go again. Serve is not just a one shot combination so we have to practice everything what we will encounter during the tournament. Basic practice set is a great learning tool for your serve. You will learn how to perform it under pressure and try to build the point from the beginning. However, it is also a good option to demand specific pattern of serve and next shot(s) to make players more comfortable with it before it happens during the match. For example, we can train given pattern like: serve wide + forehand cross-court + play the point out. Simple combination and real situation make this drills perfect for players at all levels and teach them how to play consistently after the serve while trying to win the point in the later stage.


            It is worthy to mention that progression is not necessary for every practice. You can use it on your own way to suit your player’s needs. If you have 1 hour dedicated to serves, probably you can use 2 or 3 options given above but if your time available for serve is only 20 minutes, think about your goals and use only one of those points. Every day you can change exercise to try to adapt and get familiar with different demands.