How to Serve in Tennis for Beginners

How to serve in tennis for beginners
  • Toss the ball up to an appropriate height
  • Contact the ball in front of the body
  • Extend the arm on contact and push with the legs

   Your Guide

Gavin Davison   Gavin Davison

The serve is ARGUABLY THE MOST important shot in tennis.

It’s the only shot that you’ve got complete control over.

And it’s ALSO CRITICAL that you hold on to your service games when playing competitively.

Needless to say, it’s a shot that you need to learn if you are to become an EFFECTIVE TENNIS PLAYER.

And on that note, I’m glad you are here, as I have some top tips on how to get a decent serve – even as a beginner.

As you can see from the three tips above, these are the MECHANICS NECESSARY to hit a good serve.

But if these seem a little broad right now, make sure you read through the specifics below so that you understand them better.

Now, I can’t promise that your serve will INSTANTLY become like Roger Federer, but I’ll try my best!

Specific advice on giving your serve a boost

Speaking of the great Roger Federer, have a QUICK WATCH of this slow-motion video of him serving to see what a perfect serve looks like:

It really is poetry in motion watching this man hit a serve.

And many of the basics that he does EXCEPTIONALLY WELL are explained below.

The Ball Toss

When coaching, I used to always say that the ball toss is the MOST IMPORTANT PART of the serve.

After all, if your ball toss isn’t right, the entire service motion gets thrown off.

So, what should the ball toss actually look like?

Well, the toss needs to go in front of the body for starters.

While this does vary based on personal preference, I’d say that the ball toss NEES TO GO AROUND one foot in front of the baseline to be effective. 

Tossing the ball up this way actually FORCES YOU to drive up with the legs to reach the ball – more on this later.

In addition to tossing the ball out in front of you, it is CRITICAL that the ball toss goes high enough.

For your own reference, stand with your racket at full extension in your hand, above your head. That’s about where you need to be making contact with the ball. 

The Service Grip

This one is somewhat OPEN TO DEBATE for beginners.

Some coaches will try and get you to hit a serve with a forehand grip, to begin with, as it’s EASIER TO MAKE CONTACT.

However, I like to teach players to use the APPROPRIATE GRIP right off the bat.

Sure, it makes it a little tougher to learn, but it avoids the player GETTING INTO BAD HABITS by serving with a forehand grip, to begin with.

It also makes it tougher to transition should they initially learn to pancake the serve with a forehand grip.

Anyway, putting my pet peeve coaching tips aside, what is the right grip?

Well, the right grip for serving is the continental grip, sometimes called the chopper grip depending on your coach.

This is the OPTIMAL GRIP for hitting any kind of serve you like.

If you want to hit it FLAT, you can.

And if you want to hit a slice or topspin serve as you get MORE COMFORTABLE with serving, you can do that too.

Use the Legs

In every single shot in the game of tennis, you should be looking to involve the legs as much as you can.

Take a groundstroke as an example, you should bend your knees and drive through the shot with your legs to get as much pace and movement on the ball as possible.

This is SOMEWHAT TRUE of the serve too.

If you are to maximize what you get from your serve, you must use your legs to jump up to the ball and drive into the court. 

What else do I need to keep in mind?

Remember what I said about the ball toss being as high as you can reach with your racket and around a foot in front of the baseline?

This BECOMES OBSOLETE if you don’t involve the legs with your motion.

To get specific, when you toss the ball, you should try and bend your knees towards the court, and then jump and hit the ball when it’s time to do so.

This EXPLOSIVENESS ADDS:

  • Power
  • Heightens Your Contact Point, and
  • It Ensures That You Are Getting the Most Out of Your Body When Serving

As a beginner, don’t worry too much about vertical, horizontal, or any other form of jumping when serving.

Just FOCUS ON PUSHING UP and forwards towards the ball.

Lead With the Elbow and Extend the Arm

We’ve all thrown a ball before.

The tennis serve is actually no different from how you’d throw a ball.

The one and ONLY DIFFERENCE is that you’ve then got a racket in your hand!

So, when throwing a ball, ideally, your elbow should actually come through ahead of the rest of your arm.

This gives it a bit of a CATAPULT EFFECT, and while it may feel strange to start with – STICK WITH IT.

This will add enormous value to your serve in the LONG RUN.

Why leading with elbow and extending the arm is important?

When leading with the elbow, your forearm WILL ACTUALLY BE hanging back around your shoulder blades.

Take another view of the Federer video posted above if you are struggling to imagine what I mean.

And when your elbow then drives forward, you should pull the rest of your arm up to extend towards the ball.

This creates a NICE SNAPPING MOTION over the ball, and it’s the best way to hit your serve as hard as you can.

Of course, in the beginning, you might miss quite a few serves if you are trying to hit it as hard as possible.

Instead, I’d Recommend:

  • Reducing the Power
  • Focusing on the Control, and
  • Really Concentrating on Mastering the Technique

And if you don’t FEEL OVERLY COMFORTABLE with mastering this with a racket in your hand, just go back to throwing a ball.

That’s actually what I did hundreds of times to figure out how to lead with my elbow and extend my arm on a serve.

So don’t FEEL SILLY by doing it – it all helps to learn the serve as best you can as a beginner.

Let me know if these tips help you to develop your serve after reading this. I’d love to know in the comments below.

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