Home Pro Tips Keys to Hold Serve

Keys to Hold Serve

Closeup top view of a male tennis player hitting a ball during a serve. It's played on blue hard court surface just like at US open. Very shallow focus, only tip of the racket and the ball are in focus.

By Paul Bartholomai, PSST Tennis Director

I read this stat that indicates at the 3.5 & 4.0 level, tennis teams hold serve only about 40 percent of the time. So, what can we do to improve that number? In order to hold serve more often we need to practice the following:

  • Increase percentage of first serve in.
  • Focus on placement of your serve over power.
  • “Server’s partner” needs to apply constant pressure.
  • Change the serving formation — “I” formation, Australian formation, Open Alley, Plan Poach, Never-hit-a-backhand formation.

Increase percentage of first serve in
If your first serve is not going in as planned, you will need to take some pace off and increase your number of first serves in. There are two main reasons why getting the first serve is so important:

You can control the point right away and even get some free points.

The receiver’s mindset on returning a first serve is of “respect” and “caution” unlike the returning of a second serve which is of “attack,” “control,” and “dominate.”

Placement over power
A well-placed serve is as effective as a powerful serve. When serving, you have control over the ball and you get to choose the targets. Each target has a potential return:

  • Wide serve (target A) = cross court or down the line return
  • Body serve (Target B) = middle/cross court return
  • Center serve (Target C) = middle return
  • Knowing the possible return helps us plan how we want to play the point out. If the server’s partner is a good net player, you will want to serve “center serve.” On the other hand, if the server’s partner doesn’t like to volley, you might want to serve “wide” so it comes back cross court, away from the net player.

“Server’s partner” needs to apply constant pressure
Server’s partner plays a very important role; his/her job is to D – A – D:

  • D = Distract
  • A = Attack
  • D = Defend

The more active he/she is, the more he/she will force the returner to hesitate and to pay more attention to the net player than to the ball. The less attention he/she pays to the ball, the weaker or more inconsistent the return will be.

Different doubles formation
The majority of the players feel confident returning serve cross court, but struggle on the down-the-line or lob return. Why set up different formations when serving?

  • It is a useful way of disturbing the rhythm of players used to returning against standard doubles formations.
  • It creates some indecision in their return game.
  • It forces the receiving team to change direction on the return of serve.

Try to make them return up the line, which is over the high part of the net. Many players aren’t comfortable doing that.

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