Home Pro Tips How To Improve Your Game – Start with Your Serve

How To Improve Your Game – Start with Your Serve

Close-up of female hands holding two puzzle pieces.

By Sue Beatty-Hites, Coach, Cherokee Town & Country Club

The most important shot in tennis is the serve, followed by the serve return. Many players simply underestimate the importance of this first shot. I often hear, “I just want to get it in.” However, what you do with this first shot can dictate the point. A wide serve opens up the court, whereas a deep serve helps keep the receiver from coming in or taking control of the return.

A good serve begins with the proper biomechanics. These elements are essential to developing the many puzzle pieces that create a serve. It’s the only shot you hit the same almost every time. Here are the basic puzzle pieces:

  1. Correct grip — use the continental grip, no exceptions.
  2. Proper stance — transfer weight to back hip/leg and bend the knee. This is also called “loading.”
  3. Correct backswing — engage the shoulder and have your elbow parallel to the ground.
  4. Accurate ball toss — with tossing arm acting as a lever, slowly toss the ball slightly in front where you can easily “throw” your racquet at the ball.
  5. Exact contact point — with a fully extended arm, reach to hit the ball and follow through across your body for the finish.
  6. Practice — take the time to serve a hopper-full of balls.

More complex puzzle pieces include: topspin and slice, vary where your racquet hits the ball; placement, target three locations (Alley, Body, Center); and pace, create racquet head speed from using proper mechanics.

The good news is once you have an effective serve, you HAVE IT! It doesn’t go away but it does need constant practice. Often, how your serve goes is how your game goes. Serve well, play well. Serve poorly, play poorly. This circles back to the importance of practice and how it creates confidence. The serve is much like the Cinderella story. Often treated like the stepchild, but once discovered, it becomes a beautiful part of your game.

Here is a guideline to practice for success: Hit 100 serves three to four times a week, working on one puzzle piece then adding another and another. Top it with targeting and precision. Do this for six weeks, adding a private lesson each week to be sure the technical execution is correct. If you are a beginner, consider 50 serves, two to three times a week, again with lessons. This will make all the difference.

Start each point with a plan. There are many fun parts of tennis and out-thinking your opponent is one of the most fun and challenging. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make first serves — creates more pressure for returner.
  • Mix placement with slice & spin.
  • Keep ‘em in the corner — a weak return gives you an open court.
  • Serve based on the position of the receiver — use the underhand serve or short, soft serve if returner is behind the baseline.

It’s a great feeling knowing you have an excellent chance of winning because of your serve! Some players are happy just coming out to play. Others want to work at improving their game. The following components put you on the fast track to overall improvement: private lessons, group team practices, drills/ball machine/point playing/practice matches/playing on your own time, competitive competition, and improving your fitness.

In summary, learning to serve well with variety and creativity aids in your success and enjoyment of this wonderful game!


Sue Beatty-HitesHometown (City/State): Sonoma, California

How did you get involved in teaching tennis? My mom had a tennis court in her yard in Sonoma and I began teaching there.

Diehard fan of what sports team? San Francisco 49er’s

Best part of your game? Slice backhand

Dream doubles match would be me and… My best friend Susan Wright playing anybody!

When I’m not teaching tennis, I’m… Traveling, hanging with daughters, friends, family, Maverick (my dog), and enjoying wine.

My favorite tennis memory is: Playing at the US Open the last year it was at Forest Hills.

My favorite professional player is: Coco Gauff

#1 reason why I enjoy teaching & coaching tennis: Introducing people to the game and watching them fall in love with everything tennis offers!

What important tennis message do you want to promote? Learn to play the game well. It’s so much fun!

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