It is often said that a tennis player
is only as good as her/his second serve…and I couldn’t agree more. The
second serve is the serve that has to go in the box, or a player will
lose the point! There are no third serves.
Quite often, I will see players who do practice their serves working
on the first serve. They will be banging serves as hard and as flat
as they can. Their hope, I guess, is to win the point with these "big
guns." If you are a Venus Williams, Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic,
or Lindsey Davenport…you probably will win lots of points of the first
serve…either by aces or out and out winners.
But, most of us are mere mortals, and unfortunately, we are probably
going to have to hit some second serves. Because the second serve is
the last chance, it is the pressure serve. Yet, many players do not
work on developing a second serve that is reliable. Unfortunately, for
some of us, our second serve is nothing more than a three quarter paced
first serve. These slow, flat second serves are rarely reliable, and
are usually easy to read and to put away.
To make a second serve reliable (particularly when there is pressure),
a player has to hit this serve with spin. Why? Well, spin will help
the ball to drop into the box, particularly if it is hit with topspin.
The two most common spin serves are the slice serve and the "kick"
serve. The former of these two serves is most appropriate for grass
and other fast surfaces where the ball is likely to skip and/or bounce
low. The kick serve is the primary second serve used by most of the
pros. It is good on every surface with, perhaps, the exception being
The slice serve has sidespin and curves as it moves in the air. It
also travels in such a way that forces the ball to curve after the bounce.
The kick serve is primarily a topspin serve but has a little sidespin
associated with it, as well. It will bounce higher than first serves
and on the ad court (when hit by righties) it will probably bounce to
the right, which pulls the opponent out of court.
I have had such success with my kick serve that I use it as both my
first and second serve. I just vary the position of the first serve.
The second serve is almost always going to the right-handed player’s
Well, this month’s column is going to put you on your way to developing
a great second serve. When you have confidence in your second serve,
you will see that your first serve improves dramatically.
Let’s begin with grip. For second serves, the continental, "hammer,"
and eastern backhand grips are the only grips that really impart spin.
When I played a national tournament in Arizona, Peter Bronson (a well
known, multiple gold ball, senior player) showed me that he could hit
kick and slice serves with an eastern forehand grip (the grip he uses
for all his serves). However, I don’t advise following his example.
The continental, hammer and eastern backhand grips allow the wrist to
bend or "break" at the moment of impact with the ball, and
this is how one can generate dramatic.
Here is the continental grip.
Here is the eastern backhand grip.
Here is what the hammer grip looks like. Remember, the hammer grip
is really a tight-fisted continental grip. It derives its name from
its similarity to the way one would hold a hammer.
Note that the blue areas on the racquet handles represent the top and
sides of the racquet grip. The black areas are the bevels.
For the slice serve, the continental or hammer grips are probably the
best choice. For the kick serve, I truly think that the eastern backhand
grip needs to be adopted, if you really want to impart spin.
When hitting any spin serve, a closed or semi-closed stance works best.
I try to teach my students to use the most closed stance possible (given
their motions). Why? Well, a closed stance will automatically provide
some shoulder rotation, which will help generate pace. Generally, if
your front foot is pointing directly at the right net post (for righties)
or left net post (for lefties) you are in proper stance. By the way,
this "rule" applies to serving to either deuce or ad courts.
The biggest variation in spin serves is the toss. Although some pros
like Pete Sampras can hit any serve with the same toss, most of us need
to alter the toss to achieve the right result. Now, I know many of you
are saying…"Yes, but won’t that telegraph the serve to my opponent?"
The answer is probably. But you know what? After a few games, a heady
opponent has locked in on your serve patterns anyway. My thinking is
that telegraphing is okay…if the desired spin is achieved.
For slice serves, you need to toss a bit more to your right (if you
are a righty) or a bit more to your left (if you are a left). The toss
should still be primarily in front of your body. However, by making
this toss adjustment, you will notice that you are actually hit sideways
along the back of the ball. After a few experimental tosses and serve
attempts, I am sure that you can find the right blend of toss position,
and racquet head "attack" to achieve sidespin on the serve.
Slice serves can be hit with lots of pace. On the deuce court, the
righty’s slice serve can really pull an opponent out of court. I like
to use this serve when I find my opponent hits his forehand with a big
western grip. Likewise, the lefty has a great weapon when serving to
the ad court if she/he uses the slice serve. In fact, I cannot imagine
why any lefty would not really work on this serve. Its spin is so foreign
to left handed and right handed players alike that free points are almost
The finish of the slice serve is the same as it would be for the first
serve that is hit hard and flat. The racquet should cross your body.
Look at these examples.
The kick serve is usually the serve that is most difficult for players
to learn. Still, it is probably the single most important serve to have
in your arsenal. Why? Well, almost every kick serve will drop in the
box, and in such a manner that the opponent will usually not be able
to tee off on it. Good kick serves land deep, and bounce high. If they
have some sidespin to them…so much the better!!!
Adopting the eastern backhand grip will make your kick serve easier
to hit. If you look at some pros, they use a very severe, backhand grip
for this serve.
The toss with the kick serve is the most different and important aspect
of the serve. You must toss the ball behind you. What do I mean
by this? Well, if you are tossing the ball up and did not hit it, it
would land behind your body…if you are tossing correctly for the kick
serve. Now, I know this sounds crazy, but look at any pro that hits
a great kick serve. You will notice that her/his back is arched significantly.
This arch is necessary because of the toss.
The idea is to hit up and hit away from your body when hitting the
kick serve. I often give cues to my students like, "Toss the ball
behind you." "Try to hit the bottom of the ball." "Try
to hit the ball straight up."
The finish in the kick serve is very different and distinctive. The
racquet actually finishes on the same side of the body as the racquet
arm and in a very pronated
manner. It is difficult to describe, but a picture is worth a thousand
words. Here are a couple thousand words…
The final ingredient in any spin serve (whether slice or kick) is to
break the wrist a bit at the moment of impact with the ball. When slice
serving, the wrist should be broken in such a way as to facilitate the
racquet head moving sideways along the back of the ball. When kick serving,
try to break the wrist upward then downward.
Each of these serves requires a little practice. I have taught students
each of these serves in a one-hour lesson. Once you get the knack of
each serve, it becomes simply a matter of practice before you can control
the location, spin intensity and pace of each one.
Practice these serves using targets. I do at least 100 serves everyday…apart
from the serves I hit in match play or practice play.
A word of caution. If you are using the continental or eastern backhand
grips for the very first time when serving…don’t overdo the number of
serves you hit in practice. Build up gradually. These grips will put
a new strain on muscles, etc.
By getting used to them a little at a time, you will save yourself
unnecessary arm and shoulder discomfort. Not to worry, however. In time,
the muscles, etc. will get used to the new grips/motions and you should
experience no discomfort.
Well, these are my thoughts on the second serve. If you can develop
a reliable second serve, you will invariably become a tennis overdog!