If you want to win matches, you’re going to have to hold your serve the majority of the time regardless of your game style. Most sets come down to just one break, so if you have a problem holding your serve you may need some guidance. This article is going to highlight everything you need to know to get better at winning service games.
Holding serve comes down to a lot more than making a big serve somewhere in the box. Of course this helps, but as you play against stronger opponents your service games will need to be more methodical than that. First, in order to hold serve more often, you simply must improve your serve. Work on your first serve percentage, accuracy, and action on the ball to give your opponents less opportunity to attack. Second, learn to incorporate variety. Like a pitcher in baseball, your goal is to keep your opponent guessing where the next serve may come. Third, learn how to play your service games to your strengths. All of the top players have a different style that works for them, so master the patterns that suit your game and play on your terms. Finally, develop the ability to read the match and adapt accordingly. Assessing what your opponent does well and what he doesn’t will help you to structure points. By learning to do these 4 things, you will feel more comfortable in service games and win them more often.
Improve The Serve Itself
First thing is first. You need to improve your ability to hit each spot. What does that mean? Lots and lots of reps. Set up targets to hit serves at and see how precise you can be. You should be spending a lot of time on your serve if you want to improve it. This is a shot that you can work on alone, so there is no excuse for neglecting this part of your practice routine. Get a basket of balls and some targets and go to work.
First Serve Percentage
Increasing your first serve percentage is critical in holding your serve more often. This will give your opponent less opportunity to attack weaker second serves. If you look at stats from a match, the player who has the higher first serve percentage and the higher percentage of first serve points won is typically the winner of the match.
Hitting Your Spots
The ability to consistently hit each spot on your serve will help you to hold easier. If you continue to hit the same serves over and over again throughout a match, your opponent will be able to pick up on your tendencies and neutralize serves more easily. With that being said, it is important that you are comfortable hitting all of the serve spots. This way you will be confident mixing these serves in throughout your service games.
Work On Different Spins
As you become more consistent, you can work on hitting your spots with flat, slice, and kick serves. Your goal is to be able to hit any spot with any type of serve. No matter how good your serve is, you can always improve this. Touring pros are constantly working on this part of their game, so you should be too.
Incorporate Serve Variety
As a young junior, I had a relatively big serve that wasn’t doing as much damage as I thought it should’ve been. When trying to figure out why, my coach told me to “serve like a pitcher.” What makes a great baseball pitcher isn’t necessarily their speed or velocity, but how well they are able to keep the batter on their heels by mixing up locations, speeds, and spins. This is exactly like serving in tennis.
So what can you do to work on that? Work on it in practice sets. As there is less consequence in practice, you should have no problem experimenting during this time. Hit your least comfortable serves on big points to gain confidence on them. Utilize all of your serves to work on getting each one better so that in a match, you can eventually hit any serve at any given time.
For more tips to work on the variety on your serve, check out our article Improving Your Serve Variation. This article will highlight in detail what you can do to add this element to your game.
Construct Games Around Your Strengths
Each player has different strengths and weaknesses. Regardless of if your serve is one of them or not, you probably feel more comfortable hitting certain serves rather than others. Additionally, you can construct your serve around shots that you do call strengths.
Use Your Best Serves When It Counts
Whether that’s a big flat wide or just a high percentage slice into the body, we all have serves that we rely on in the big moments. You probably know which serve that is for you, but you need to know how to make sure it is most effective when it matters.
In order to make this serve more effective, you should actually avoid using it on less meaningful points. Every point is important, but some are less important than others. On 30-0, 40-15, and 40-0 you can mix in different serves to give your favorite serve more credibility when the time comes.
Develop Your Patterns
Players are able to use their go-to patterns in crucial situations. The best players know that if they execute this pattern to the best of its ability, it can’t be stopped. Because you will generally be able to be more aggressive in your service games, you should work to develop aggressive 2-3 ball patterns.
So what is the best way to create a pattern for you? Obviously you want to base your go-to patterns around your biggest strengths, and you know what they are for you. Is your serve a strength? If so, what can you follow it up with? Maybe your serve isn’t a strength, just something you can use to open up your big forehand inside out or your backhand up the line. You get the idea.
Create patterns that make sense. Serve and first ball are important, but they have to go together. In other words, don’t expect a slow kick serve to an opponents forehand to give you a short ball to come in on. My go to pattern in the juniors was kick wide serve and volley. Because juniors often returned my kick serve up high, I was able to have a fairly easy volley to the open court most of the time. Make sure that your serve and ideal first ball fit together.
Read the Match and Adapt
As a player, you have to be adaptable to what your opponent is doing. Sure, you can master your patterns as much as you want, but odds are you’re going to run into opponents that handle them well.
If you typically hit your kick serve out wide and look for a short ball, that is great. But what happens if your opponents backhand return is much better? How about if they are left handed and you are playing their weapon? This is a great time to adapt, but it isn’t time to go away from your game style altogether. Try hitting the serve to a different spot to see if it generates the first ball you are looking for. This highlights why the ability to hit every serve spot is so important.
Stick with your game style until they stop working altogether. It is a common mistake to go away from your game style too early. Remember, most of the time you will give your best chance to win a match by sticking with what you do best.
Holding serve is critical because most sets come down to just one break. By working on your serve, serve variety, serve patterns, and your ability to read and adapt to your opponent, you will be holding your serve with ease in no time.
Use the tips in this article to work on your own game, and let us know how it goes in the comments below, or on instagram @mytennisHQ. Good luck!