When you’re looking at stats that decide a pro match, which ones catch your eye? As a general rule, the player with a better combination of 1st serve percentage and 1st serve points won will win the match. As the serve is the single most important shot in the game, matches are usually won and lost based on serving statistics. If a player is putting a lot of first serves in the court and winning the points doing so, it shows that they are having a good day serving.
So what can you do to improve your serve consistency? There are a couple components to this that will be explained throughout this article. First, you need to make sure that your service motion is repeatable. This starts with your ball toss and requires your contact point to be similar on each serve. Second, your in-match decisions will often dictate your serve percentages. Depending on how you feel on a given day, you should be choosing serves that you are more comfortable with in order to get that serve in to start the point. Finally, and most importantly, you need to be putting in the reps necessary to improve your serve and keep it sharp. We may sound like a broken record here, but you can’t expect to improve your game by reading articles. Take the information we give you and go work on it.
Making Your Serve Repeatable
Making your serve easy repeatable will naturally lead to consistency. This is not only true for tennis, but other sports as well. Think about putting in golf, free throws in basketball, or pitching in baseball. All of the athletes in these sports work to make their technique and rituals easy to make that part of their sport automatic.
Setting Your Ritual
If you haven’t already, you need to be sure that you have a ritual to carry out before every time you serve. Having a routine to stick to will make your serve feel comfortable even in the highest pressure situations. Your ritual before the serve on the first point will be the same as your ritual at 5-5 in the third set.
A ritual can be anything. Some players, such as Nadal, have extensive rituals. He is extremely superstitious, but you’ll notice that every serve in his career looks exactly the same before the ball is tossed. If you don’t have a ritual set yet, come up with things such as bouncing the ball 3 times, taking 2 breaths, adjusting your hat, etc. Personally, I bounce the ball with my racket 4 times, bounce with my hand 4 times, and serve.
Ball Toss Consistency
The second thing you should focus on to make your serve more repeatable is the toss. If you’ve read our other articles on the serve, you know that the ball toss is one of the most important elements of the serve. Most of the time a bad toss will lead to a bad serve.
If the ball is in the same place each time, you are more likely to be able to repeat that serve over and over again. If you are struggling with your ball toss, you should be practicing it. For further tips on this, see our article Ball Toss Consistency.
The Motion Itself
When I look at an amateur player struggling with their serve, I try to watch at least 5-10 serves before I say a word to help. This is because in order to figure out what is going wrong, I have to see if each serve is the same. More often than not, players struggle because their motion changes from serve to serve. Mastering one service motion is hard enough, so don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to work with three different ones.
There are two good ways to work on this: having another set of eyes see your serve (a coach or another player) or filming yourself. The differences in your serve will likely be fairly subtle and next to impossible to feel on your own without seeing it yourself. If you don’t know what you are doing wrong, you will never be able to fix your mistakes. Get some analysis on your serve and start cleaning up your motion.
When playing a match, your decisions will often lead to how you play. The same goes for your serve consistency. The ability to recognize how you are feeling on a given day is valuable.
For example, if my serve is feeling great one day I can go for my lowest percentage spots and get away with it more (higher risk, higher reward). I can use that “go for broke” mentality until it doesn’t work anymore. However, if I happen to be having an off serving day, it is important for me to be able to recognize that. In that case, I would want to choose spots that I am most comfortable with. Everyone has different high percentage serves, but they almost always entail bigger spots (body) and more spin (kick and slice).
Putting in the Time
At MyTennisHQ, we often talk about how important practicing your game is. It sounds obvious, but many people spend more time online trying to figure out this sport instead of being on the court. Use our articles as a guideline to be sure you are practicing the right things, but don’t expect them to fix your game alone. Nobody could teach you how to hit a perfect serve on the internet. That takes years of hitting balls the right way.
There are a couple of drills that I like to use for serve consistency. I’m a fan of these in particular because they will get you to feel a bit of pressure.
1st Serve Percentage Drill
Start on the deuce side. Hit as many first serves in a row as you can while hitting it at a realistic match pace. When you miss a first serve, hit a second serve. If you make the second serve, you keep going. Once you miss two serves in a row (a first serve and a second serve), the drill is over and you move on to the ad side. Count how many first serves you can make before you miss a second serve.
2nd Serve Consistency Drill
In this drill, you will attempt to hit 10 second serves in the box in a row. Sounds easy, right? Try it and see for yourself. I love this drill because it creates a pressure that you feel in a match. Pushing your serve in won’t get you any better, so hit your second serve just like you would in a match.
2nd Serve Alternating Sides
Similar to the previous drill, but not quite as much pressure. This is a good benchmark test for your game. Hit a second serve on the deuce, then the ad. Keep going until you miss. See how many you can get in a row without missing, and again, hit it like you would in a match. My record (and I’m proud of it) is 37. Can you beat me?
10 First Serves to Each Side
Hit 10 first serves to one particular target. See how many out of 10 you’re able to make. Your realistic goal for this drill should be about 7.
These drills are great for working on your serve itself, but they will also build your confidence. Next time you are serving at 5-5 in the third set, you’ll be able to think to yourself “I can do this, I made 10 second serves in a row yesterday.” Confidence is everything, so get out there and actively build it.
Hopefully this article will help you to get that serve more consistent. These are the things that I have found to help me with my serve over the years, so I think you will find them useful as well. Remember to get your toss right, make good in-match decisions, and practice, practice, practice. Good luck!
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