How to Serve in Tennis: The 6-Step Guide

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The serve is arguably the most important stroke in tennis. Every point starts with a serve and being able to gain control of the point right from the start with a strong serve can make a huge difference.

However, the serve is also one of the most technically demanding shots in the game requiring perfect coordination of many different body segments, and therefore it is not easy to master. However, we have simplified the process by presenting you with a detailed and easy to follow explanation of these topics:

Serve Motion of Dimitrov
Let’s take a look at all the different segments of the serve to help you understand all the phases of a technically sound serve.

HOW TO SERVE in 6 STEPS

For simplicity, we’ve broken down the serve into 6 steps. You can practice each step independently, but it’s also important to practice everything as one unit, so that you develop a fluid and natural serve motion.

#1 – FIND THE RIGHT STANCE & GRIP

You can only hit an effective serve from a solid starting position.

  • Stand sideways to the net just behind the baseline.
  • Your front foot should point in the direction of the net post.
  • Your back foot should align with your front foots heel.
  • Your racquet is at hip height in front of the body and pointing in the direction of your target.
  • Your left hand is holding the ball and is placed close to the throat of the racquet.
Stance and preparation for the serve

THE CORRECT GRIP FOR THE SERVE

Ideally, you should hold the racquet with a continental grip to serve (like holding a hammer), however, if you are just learning to serve, an eastern forehand grip (like shaking hands with the racquet) is also acceptable in the beginning stages. The eastern grip is easier to start but you will have to change it to a continental grip in the future.
The continental serve grip
The continental grip is the proper grip for serving.
Eastern grip in tennis
Many beginners start with the eastern grip but it is not ideal for intermediate or advanced players.

#2 – BALL TOSS AND TAKE THE RACQUET BACK

Shifting weight on the serve
Ball toss and taking the racquet back

From the starting position, you will drop both arms, separate them as they reach your front leg’s inner thigh and toss the ball while taking your racquet up to a throwing position.

Release the ball just as the hand reaches the top of the head.

Make sure you shift your weight forward as you toss. Shifting it backward will cause you to toss the ball behind you.

There are other slightly different ways to start your service motion, but all of them have the same goal – to toss the ball to the right spot and to get your body into a throwing position from where you can explode to hit the ball. This throwing position is commonly known as the trophy pose.

This video explains this phase in more detail.

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#3 - Reach the Trophy Pose

Getting into an effective throwing position is an essential characteristic of any effective serve. Ideally, as you toss the ball, your racquet hand will move a bit slower than your tossing arm. Your wrist is relaxed and your body weight shifts forward.
Loading into the power serve position
The Trophy Pose

As you feel more comfortable you will push the hip forward and shifts your body weight to the front foot. Advanced players will stretch their bodies like a bow. Your tossing arm will point up straight at the ball, your left shoulder is well above your right shoulder. The ball (out of the picture) has reached its highest point. At this point, you look like you are going to throw the racquet up to the sky.

#4 – JUMP & SWING

From this position, you will push off the ground and start your swing at the ball. If you time it correctly, as both your legs are straight, your racquet will drop behind the body pointing to the ground and reaching its lowest point. However, if you are just starting do not worry too much about jumping. Just focus on developing a fluid throwing motion with your dominant hand.
Jumping into the tennis serve
Swinging the tennis racquet for a serve
When advanced players serve using the continental grip, the edge of the racquet is pointing in the direction of the ball as the racquet swings up. In addition, as the racquet arm moves up, the tossing arm moves down towards the stomach.

#5 – MAKE CONTACT WITH THE BALL

The contact point occurs at full extension and in front of the body. The body is totally stretched forming a line from the left foot to the tip of the racquet. The ball falls between 1 and 1.5 feet before contact (depending on the player), so make sure you toss the ball high enough. The string bed is pointing in the direction of the shot at contact. The player pulls the left arm down and across the torso to stabilize the upper body.
Right before contact on the serve
Making contact with the ball
Hitting the ball fully extended is very important at all levels and should be a priority even for beginners, even those not yet comfortable jumping.

#6 – FOLLOW THROUGH & LAND

Serve follow through

With advanced players, as the ball leaves the racquet the forearm continues turning (pronation). The hip and the upper body rotate and face forward.

The racquet head moves ahead of the hand so that the tip of the racquet is pointing to the ground while the elbow is still almost at shoulder height demonstrating that the racquet head is traveling faster than the arm.

The racquet will continue swinging towards the left side of the body to decelerate slowly. The tossing arm stays close to the body to stabilize the trunk.

Landing on the front foot after serving

The player lands on the front leg while the back leg remains high (Horsekick) to stabilize the body. The racquet finishes the swing loosely on the left side of the body.

Beginner serve technique

If you are a beginner and not yet comfortable jumping, focus on pivoting as you swing so that you finish your serve with your back heel off the ground and your body facing forward.

HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT SERVE GRIP: THE CONTINENTAL GRIP

Many players, especially beginners, do not serve with the proper grip. Make sure you are using the continental grip on your serve.
This video shows you how to find the continental grip, and explains why it is important.
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How to Get a Consistent Serve Ball Toss

Having a consistent serve is only possible with a consistent toss. There are a few mistakes that people make with the toss.

Some players flick their wrist or bend their elbow when they toss. Make sure to keep your elbow straight and toss from your shoulder.

Another common mistake is that people let the ball roll off of their hand. Make sure you keep the ball on the tips of your fingers so the ball does not rotate in the air.

In this video, Edgar discusses how to create a consistent toss
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Choosing the Right Stance for Your Serve

There are two main types of stances for the serve.

  • The platform stance: With this stance, you’re feet do not move. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer use this stance.
  • The pinpoint stance: In this stance, you move your back foot forward next to your front foot. Players like John Isner and Serena Williams use the pinpoint stance.
This video explains the two types of serve stances, and how to decide which is best for you.
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Different Types of Serves in Tennis

We’ll compare all 3 types of serves in the video below.

There are 3 primary types of serves you’ll see in tennis.

  • Flat Serve: This is usually a power serve that has no spin.
  • Slice Serve: This spin serve moves sideways from right to left (for right-handed players). It is commonly used on the deuce side to move your opponent off of the court.
  • Kick Serve: This is an advanced serve that makes the ball kick up high. Players often use this as a 2nd serve since the ball dips down into the box which helps with consistency.

Read our full lesson on how to hit a kick serve & slice serve.

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The Best Serve Drills for the Practice Court

It’s important to practice your serve outside of match play. Here are a few drills you can use to practice and improve your serve.

Beginner Serve Drills

These 3 drills will help beginners develop a correct serving motion with good technique from the beginning.

Throwing Drills

These drills will teach you to serve by using the proper throwing motion. Players who are new to tennis should practice this often to get the muscle memory down for the serve.

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The Figure-8 Drill

This "figure 8" drill will help you develop a fluid and effortless serving motion. This is very important for beginners because many coaches don't teach a fluid motion on the serve.

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Learning the Continental Serve Grip

This video explains a few key tips for serving with a continental grip.

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Intermediate and Advanced Serve Drills

An easy drill for more skilled tennis players to improve their serve is to set up targets in different areas of the service box.

Increase Spin on Your Serves

This simple drill will help you use your wrist more on your slice and kick serves. Do this to warm up your wrist, then practice your spin serves.

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Learning Disguise the Serve

This serve drill will help advanced players be able to hit different serves from the same ball toss.

The coach should stand behind the player and yell the location (T, Body, Wide) after the player tosses the ball. Then, the player must serve to that location.

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Medicine Ball Throws

This drill will help increase your serve power.

The player will alternate throwing a small medicine ball one-handed with a service-like motion. The idea is to work on accelerating the arms and then transferring this motion to the serve.

The player should throw 5 times as fast as possible and then serve 5 times at maximum speed. The whole process should be repeated 5 times.

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Perfect Your Serve Technique, Frame By Frame

Here is another great example of a bird's-eye view analysis proper serve technique.

This serve is flat as you will see by the rotation of the forearm to and through contact. Additionally, from this angle, you get a very clear view of the frontal body curve that results when the player thrusts his hips forwards to reach the “power position”.

You can video your own serve and compare to make sure you get in each of these positions during your service motion.