Serving in tennis can be stressful unless you’re confident that you can consistently hit your spots.
If you thought you were bad at tennis because you keep serving into the net, think again.
You’re not alone, and there’s a ton of people who have dealt with the same issue.
It’s actually far more common than you think, but we’re going to help you fix it.
Nobody wants to hit the net – it just sort of ends up happening.
There’s likely a few things that you’re currently doing that add to your chances of hitting the net and they’re simple enough to correct.
If you’ve been playing tennis for a long time, you might have more difficulty administering these changes to your routine and form, but trust us, it’s absolutely worth it to at least give it a try.
Check out these tennis serving tips and I’m sure your serve percentage will be on the rise.
Different Types of Tennis Serves
Let’s start off with defining the different types of tennis serves.
So your game isn’t super predictable, give different serve types a try.
If your opponent doesn’t know how the ball will come at them, you have an advantage.
Here’s info on the main serve types:
Commonly used on the professional circuit as well as in local tennis clubs, a flat serve tends to have the most pace.
You throw the ball up into the air in front of you and slightly toward your right (for a right-hander).
Pull back with a slight elbow bend on your racket arm.
Your body twists slightly into the direction of your racket before you swing up to make contact with the ball.
A slice serve is kind of like a change-up pitch in baseball.
When you want to add some spin or pull your opponent off the court, using a slice serve can accomplish either of those goals.
Like the toss for a flat serve, you throw the ball up into the air slightly toward your right, but not as far forward into the court.
Using a continental grip and hitting up, your racquet hits across the ball.
The spin starts when the racquet first makes contact with the ball.
A kick serve is one of the best serves in all of tennis. It’s the topspin version of tennis serves!
If executed properly, the bounce on the ball when it hits the court will propel itself into your opponent above their strike range.
Unless the returner is prepared to hit the return early, they’ll be hitting a very high ball and will likely be off balance when they do make contact.
The toss is always important in serving, but in a kick serve it’s crucial.
The ball should be tossed (for a right-handed server) above your head and slightly to the left.
When you strike the ball, you may sense a bend in your back as you reach up to make contact with the ball.
Since the toss is slightly behind you, the bend in your back makes sense.
Many tennis players use a kick serve for their second serve. You have to hit it harder than you think to impart spin and so the ball clears the net.
Kind of opposite thinking for a second serve (playing it safe), but it works.
Have you seen headlines about underhanded serves being used to win matches?
They’re tricky, but they’re legal moves you can use at any point in any match. They’re just not expected so they tend to catch returners off guard.
Some players think it’s ‘dirty play’ using them, but since it’s allowed, there’s no reason to not take advantage of an opponent being very far behind the baseline.
Rather than an overhead toss, you use an underhand toss and hit up from directly underneath the tennis ball.
While this post is about making sure you don’t hit the net, this type of serve can often skirt the top of the net if you don’t give it enough gusto.
(I’ve included this in the types of serves section, but to me, it isn’t one of the primary serves used in matches on a consistent basis. Having it in your arsenal might come in handy some day though so it never hurts to practice it.)
Most Common Serving Mistakes
We’re all going to make mistakes, but there are rookie mistakes that certainly affect your serve.
Avoiding these each and every time you serve is imperative to maintaining your form and adding consistency.
Leaning Too Far Forward
When you serve, leaning forward too early compared to where you expect your toss to be usually ends up in a missed serve.
Your balance and center of gravity are going to heavily impact your service motion.
If you lean forward too far, you’re likely early to the ball.
The point of racket contact is crucial in serving.
Being too far forward or too far back in your service motion will impact the point at which contact is made with the strings.
With wonky body positioning and timing, the serve will more than likely either go into the net or be significantly long as the racket face won’t be pointing where you expect when you make contact.
Ball Toss Timing is Off
This continues the last point…
If you toss the ball up too high or swing before you should, it’s going to throw off your timing and you’ll be out of sync on your service motion.
Then you shank the ball and it grazes the top of the net or doesn’t even make it over.
Timing is everything. Serving technique is about precision.
Lack of Pronation
A good wrist “snap” is often key for serving.
It’s usually referred to as pronation. You can’t just swing the racket and have it merely graze the ball.
Hit it with authority and pronation and you’ll be amazed at the results.
A lot of people in the tennis world talk about pronation, but it isn’t always explained very well.
Check out this video (it’s a bit older) that gives a simple, yet effective explanation for what it is and how you can drill it yourself.
Yes, you should grip your racket, but don’t use a death grip. Continental grip, yes, but not a death grip!
Your wrist is what provides that snap/pronation mentioned above, so constricting it will bring on other common problems.
Absence of Spin
To have a consistent serve, your service motion must be solid and the ball should have some spin to it.
Without spin and variety, you’ll be making a series of ultra predictable moves that your opponent can quickly catch onto.
Variety and spin while serving won’t allow returners to get as comfortable with the ball as it comes off your racquet.
It’s best if your opponents are always kept guessing.
Some spin in your serve makes you more unpredictable, but it also allows you to use multiple serves to deliver more power and placement for serving success.
How High Should Your Ball Toss be When Serving?
Your toss happens with your non-dominant hand. It requires a lot more fine-tuning to get it right than one might think.
How high you throw your toss is entirely up to you, but it’s often based on your height, playing style, and speed so you’ll have to experiment to find the best toss height for you.
You need to throw the ball high enough so that by the time it falls, it’s making contact with the sweet spot of the racket – not near the bottom of the frame, or the top of the frame, but right in the center.
Toss Practice Suggestions
On paper, throwing your ball up and smacking it perfectly in the middle of the racket looks easy, but it takes practice.
You can practice your form simply by performing ten swings in a row without a tennis ball.
Yes, without a tennis ball. On the eleventh swing, that’s when you’ll put the ball into the mix and see how you do.
You can also forget the hitting part and just toss the ball for a particular kind of serve (flat, slice, kick) and see where it bounces. If it bounces in the same spot repeatedly, you’re gaining consistency.
If it lands in the same spot repeatedly but that isn’t where it needs to be, you have something else to work on.
Consistency of toss is great, but not if it isn’t going where you want it to be.
Be open to working on your toss as much as you practice hitting serves.
The toss starts the whole thing off, so if it’s incorrect and you hit it anyway, the chances of a fault are pretty high.
5 Actionable Tennis Serving Tips
#1 Relax Your Toss Arm
Your non-dominant hand will be the one tossing the ball into the air – and it needs to be fully relaxed.
Relax your wrist and throwing arm so you’re not constricting your range of motion.
You can have control over your arm without holding it so rigidly.
#2 Zero Bend
Keep your tossing arm as straight .
Practice having that loose wrist and shoulder, but the goal is to throw the ball into the air without bending your arm.
Your shoulder moves throughout it’s plane of motion (as a fulcrum), but your arm remains completely straight.
Let your body be as fluid as possible throughout the serving motion but especially during the toss.
#3 Don't Drop Your Head
You see it all the time on television replays of a serve that hit the net – the server’s head fell after the toss but before the ball strike.
Maybe the sun was directly in their eyes or maybe they got ahead of themselves, but it happened.
If your head tilts down during your serve, the ball will likely go into the net rather than over the net.
Watch the ball as you strike it to ensure that your head doesn’t go down as then your shoulders are pulled down, and ultimately the ball heads into the net.
The body just naturally follows the head…
In the picture above, Serena has her eyes squarely on the ball as she makes contact. Her head is up, her arm is extended, and the likelihood that the ball sailed over the net is high.
#4 Practice Toss Height
Make sure you’re throwing the ball up enough but not too much.
Some people like to think that tossing it up higher is beneficial, but that thought process is incorrect.
Using a higher toss than necessary increases your chances of missing the ball because your timing might be off.
Serving is about technique and timing is a key component of that technique.
Having a single, fluid service motion not having to wait for the ball to come down is the goal.
Practice the right tossing height so you can be comfortable every time you step to the line to serve.
Regarding placement, check out the toss practice suggestions provided above.
#5 Know Your Grips
The toss component of each serve type is important. The way you grip your racket also goes along with that.
You might not be using the proper grip for the serve you’re attempting.
Check out these posts for more information about serving grips and grips in general.
Most tennis players will use a continental grip for serving, but as with everything else in tennis, it’s a process to find what works best for you.
Stronger Tennis Serves Every Time
When you step to the line to serve you’ve got multiple ways to start off the point.
Will you slice it and pull your opponent off the court, hit a flat one with some pace to test their reaction time, go directly at their body to jam them, or kick it so they have to deal with a high bounce?
The choice is yours. Practice all scenarios and be comfortable with your serve technique no matter the situation.
Based on a proper toss, head position, and a solid service motion, your serves can be weapons.
You’re not only going to stop hitting the net after reading this, but you’re doing to diversify the serves to keep your opponents always guessing.
Practice, practice, practice!