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Expanding Your Service Repertoire

John Mills Photo
John Mills, USPTA

All tennis pros have a repertoire of serves, just like baseball pitchers have different pitches. Pros have a minimum of four target areas for their serves:

  • Wide - about 4 to 6 feet short of the service line, along the sideline
  • Corner - on the deuce court, to a right-handed returner's forehand, and on the ad court to a right-hander's backhand
  • Body
  • Down the Middle - along the centerline.
Some pros get more specific than these four, but all of them have at least these targets in their arsenal. Additionally, pros can hit different types of serves to each target area. The fundamental serves all pros can hit are:
  • Flat - no one hits this serve on the pro tour very often. It has no movement, other than forward velocity, and is an easy ball to return by all pro players. Interestingly, this serve is used as a change-up to fool a returner who was expecting something else. If, like most recreational players, the pros used flat serves more often, they would be eaten alive.

  • Slice - recreational players generally don't have a clue as to what slice is. Here is the difference. A pro will hit a slice so that it rotates principally sideways, that is from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock. The path of the serve is an ace, from right to left before the bounce, and most importantly, after the bounce as well. A pro's slice serve to the corner on the deuce court will hit the side fence before it hits the back fence. Recreational players can produce the sideways arc before the bounce, but almost without exception, the ball bounces either up or in the opposite direction of the bounce. This is because the spin is not 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock, but rather 8 o'clock to 2 o'clock or 7 o'clock to 1 o'clock.

  • Kick - this is the serve that made Stefan Edberg famous. Huge topspin drives the ball into the court, making it actually pick up speed after the bounce, rebounding hard and high in the returner's face or over a shoulder - making it very hard to return. Most recreational players will move way back returning it on the fall. All pros must hit it on the rise. Serve & volleyers like this serve because its high arc through the air before the bounce gives them more time to get closer to the net. It's also a very "safe" serve with a good rate of success of landing in the box. Like a topspin groundstroke, it vigorously seeks the court. Your goal is to keep the returner off balance. You simply cannot depend on being able to overwhelm an opponent with pace.

There are many variations of these fundamentals, and even some types of serves that bear no resemblance to what I have just outlined. But you should know what the fundamentals of hi-level serving are. You, like the rest of us, have plenty to work on for the next 10 years. Good luck!

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This column is copyrighted by John Mills, all rights reserved.

John Mills' experience includes four years as head pro at the Windemere Racquet & Swim Club, where he was responsible for organization of all tennis activities at the club. John also played college tennis at the University of Houston and has spent 20 years teaching tennis at the Memorial Park Tennis Center, the Pasadena Racquet Club, and as the head pro at the Bay Area Racquet Club.


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