4Tennis » Tennis Technique » Tennis Serves

Understand the Serve for Better Technique


The power of knowledge

In 2011 and the first few months of 2012 I traveled all over the US visiting tennis clubs, facilities and academies in order to talk with pros, coaches and players about serve technique.

There are many thoughts about how to best achieve a great serve and many personal opinions on how to get the job done.

Whether your technique is classic or abbreviated, your stance is platform or pinpoint there are some central characteristics that every successful serve must contain.

No ONE technique is the right or only way to produce a serve.

Beware of anyone trying to convince you otherwise.

Generally speaking the following components MUST be incorporated into EVERY serve no matter how you choose to get there:


Starting Position & Continental Grip:

A “throwing” motion is the basis of the serve motion and consequently hands, arms and shoulders must be positioned so that they can produce the act of “pronating”.

Pronation is defined as: “the forearm moving the palm of the hand from an anterior (inside) position to a posterior (outside) position, or, palm away from the body without involvement of the shoulder”.

Starting with a relaxed Continental grip is critical.

Along with the grip the starting position of both hands and the direction of the racket head begin good serve technique.

Typically the tip of the racket head starts in the direction of the box that you are serving into so that the racket head lifts or drops in a straight line in relationship to the body.

Rotation occurs from the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders not from winding the racket around the body.



The toss is an extremely critical movement of the serve. It is a “whole body action” and completes the timing sequence of the hitting arm and leg action.

There are several techniques to hold the ball for the perfect toss.

The cleanest, simplest way is using a flat hand, straightened arm, the ball across the joints of the finger tips, thumb over the top and wrist laid slightly down.


Bent fingers, wrist and elbow cause the ball to arc and spin. The toss comes from the shoulder not from the wrist and elbow.

Popping the hand open at release and following the ball up rather than flipping the ball off the fingers is key.

The biggest difficulty with the toss is that the tossing arm needs to stay straight while the hitting arm is loose, flexible and makes a full elbow bend in the back. Since our arms “like” to do the same thing on either side of our bodies these opposite movements are difficult to coordinate.


Stance, Weight Loading and Shifting:

Many stances are used for serving but Platform and Pinpoint are the 2 primarily used.

Most players don’t understand what shifting and loading is all about.

Often “shifting” weight is misunderstood and players end up simply bending their upper bodies forward and backward from the waist. Shifting weight is subtle and comes solely from the legs.

Weight “loading” is the feeling of pressing against the ground with your feet.

After shifting weight back in the initial phase of the serve it is important to get a feeling of pushing against the ground with the back foot.

Weight is then shifted forward again to the front leg with the front foot pressing against the ground.

The front leg is responsible for the upward drive to contact point.

The back leg becomes the “forward” driver and is responsible for the explosive forward rotation of the back hip.

Correct weight loading is essential to produce the “kinetic chain” of events leading to the hit.


Chest to the Sky Position:

The chest must lead up to the sky on the upward swing of the racket to contact point.

Shoulder angle after the toss release finds the tossing shoulder higher than the hitting shoulder.

As the racket tip goes down the back and points to the ground in back the tossing arm has already begun its action of bending, tucking and powerfully producing upper body rotation.

The legs are pushing up in a direct line through the chest to the hit.



Coordination and timing of the upper and lower body create the ability to accelerate.

A “2 speed” motion is most effective for developing good timing, efficiency and power.

Begin with a slower phase of toss and racket preparation leading to a faster, accelerated phase swinging to contact point.

One common acceleration error is using a “3 speed” technique.

This occurs when a player starts with fast toss and racket preparation, slows or stops in back then tries to go fast again.

The “3 speed” hit is jerky, leads to toss inconsistency and is difficult to time.


Contact Point:

A great contact point is achieved by full extension of the body and racket arm with body weight driving up and falling into the court.


It is important to understand that our entire preparation phase (everything leading up to contact point) must be well timed and executed in order to ensure a perfect contact point.

If the start, grip, stance and toss techniques are haphazard there is no chance of achieving the optimum contact point.



The serve isn’t over when you contact the ball!

Deceleration is often overlooked and is essential for finishing the serve.

After the player accelerates up to contact it must quickly slow and stop the racket as it crosses the centerline of the body.

This can be equated with slamming a door.

The motion goes from a still starting point to an abrupt stop and finish.

This phase also begins our ability to balance and move on to the next shot.


Finishing Position:

Finish with the head still, eyes looking forward and a slight bend at the waist while landing on a flexed front leg.

Great balance will enable the player to be prepared for movement to the next shot.

Remember that balance is the central theme to movement on the court.

The serve is called the most difficult shot in the game for many good reasons!

Understanding technique and terminology can be a major obstacle to change and improvement.

Challenge yourself by choosing one element of the serve to concentrate on.

Start developing a better serve today…. it may be easier than you think!


Lisa Dodson

USPTA Pro 1 Lisa is the inventor of The Total Serve, a tool for learning and teaching great serve technique and owner of Tennis Concepts, LLC.

She is a former WTA world ranked player, teaching professional of 35+ years, national speaker and published writer.

Included in Lisa’s areas of expertise are: fitness, comprehensive teaching all levels of play, club management, program direction, coaching high school, college, Sectional teams and USTA developmental programs.

Her broad knowledge and love of the game of tennis makes her a powerful force to those she touches.

Website is : www.thetotalserve.com