Tennis is a game that requires coordination, power, balance, and, most important, a lot of practice. Even the most seasoned players can improve their game, and crafting a powerful, accurate serve is critical to victory in any match. Follow this step-by-step breakdown from 1993 French Open doubles champion Murphy Jensen to take your serve to the next level. As the director of tennis at Sea Island Resort in Sea Island, Georgia, Jensen heads up one of the most promising emerging tennis programs in the country. “Murph” is also the coach of the three-time World Team Tennis Championship-winning Washington Kastles featuring Venus Williams and Martina Hingis.
Assume the Position
Stand six to eight inches behind the baseline. Place your right foot (if you’re right handed) parallel with the baseline, about three feet from the center half mark. Place your left foot a few inches in front of your right foot to form a T. The toes of your left foot should be six inches away from the baseline. Move your left foot up to the line and turn the front of your left foot inward about three inches.
Get a Grip
Hold the ball with the fingers and palm of your left hand facing up. Pick up the racquet from a flat position with your right hand and hold it like you’re shaking hands with it—this is the Eastern or “shake hands” grip. You can extend your index finger out just a little. It has to feel natural.
Bring your arms down together with the ball above the racquet. Take a look diagonally downcourt at where you want to serve the ball. For the toss, imagine the racquet is an extension of your arm and the racquet face is your hand. To gauge how high to toss the ball, think of the serve as if you were throwing, not hitting, the ball—with the racquet head as your hand. If the ball were stuck to your “hand” with Velcro and you reached up and threw it, that is where you want to make contact with the ball. In terms of placement, you would want the ball to drop six to eight inches in front of your front foot.
After the toss, drop the racquet head down behind you like you’re scratching your back, and then accelerate into the ball and hit it at the top of the toss. You want to hit up into the ball and out into the court. When you swing, keep your eyes on the contact point even after you hit the ball. Keep your feet on the ground; as you get better you can start jumping up. The key to a great serve is balance; if you’re not balanced, your toss is going to end up too far either in front or behind you a lot of the time.
After you’ve hit the serve, keep your head up and finish the stroke by bringing the racquet down to your left pocket. Only after you finish the stroke, then look down the court.
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