How do I serve in tennis?

Tennis serve
File Photo Credit: Wei De/SSC

By Laura Chan


There is nothing more demoralizing than performing a failed serve even before you begin an actual Tennis rally. A failed serve also negatively affects the outcome of the game - a point is lost to the opponent from the failure to successfully serve twice, also known as a double fault.

The tennis serve is a fairly challenging stroke, that requires a precise sense of timing and good hand-eye coordination. The following aims to be a comprehensive step by step guide on how to serve in tennis.

Step 1: Know the Serving Stance

In tennis, the ball is served diagonally across to the opponent’s service court. A good way to decide a serving position is to align your body in a straight-line in the intended direction of your serve. In a serve, both feet have to be behind the baseline, with the left foot pointing far right or towards the right net post, and the right foot parallel to the baseline.

Step 2: Know the Serving Grip

The two most common grip types in serving are the Continental grip and the Eastern Forehand grip. 

Beginners tend to find the Eastern Forehand grip more comfortable and natural. Serves with this grip tend to hit the ball flat, without any spins. However, flat serves offer lower clearance over the net. 

The Continental style is another option for consideration in a grip for serving. Besides higher net clearance from the Continental style’s topspin, it encourages fundamental habits such as full extension and natural pronation.   

(Above) Wrong way to hold the ball while serving.

(Above) Right way to hold the ball while serving.

Step 3: Know the Serving Motion

A wind-up is a preparatory move in serving, involving the swinging of the arms. In a wind-up, the swing begins with elbows bent upwards, the racket swung to the back, followed by the straightening of the arms and the snapping of the wrist. 

A wind-up is not necessary in a serve but will be essential in many other strokes. If executed well, a wind-up generates more power in a serve.

Step 4: Know the Serving Toss

A good distance to do a toss would be the space in between your legs as there is a greater likelihood of hitting the ball with lesser timing precision required as compared to tossing it from an arms-length distance. 

The direction of a toss may not in a vertical direction, but in a diagonal one, towards your right, or your left, depending on your dominant arm. This will put the ball in a convenient position for your dominant arm to strike the ball.

Both a high and low toss have its advantages in catching opponents off guard. However, beginners should focus on having a consistently successful serve before anything else. 

A common mistake made by beginners is tossing the ball with the palms, rather than their fingertips. The Tennis ball should be held by the fingers in a pincer-like grip and with all fingers losing contact with the ball at the exact moment when the ball is released.

Additional tip

Many professionals would recommend striking the ball when it is close to or at its highest point. However, to achieve a consistent serve, it ultimately depends on what feels the most natural for you.

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