Giving points away is a cardinal sin. Doing it with your serve? Now, that’s the ULTIMATE sin.
Nothing feels worse than double-faulting. You start with the ball in your hand, looking to do something positive for your game, but end up building your opponent’s morale and demolishing your own.
If you want to be competitive, you can’t lose points without at least giving your opponent a chance to make a mistake. And tossing a pancake second serve won’t cut it. Fact is, the mark of a good server is the effectiveness of that second ball.
So, the next time you’re in a tight match and you’re double-faulting points away, here are seven things that should help:
Get that first serve in
It’s so obvious, yet so overlooked: the best way to limit double faults is to hit fewer second serves. That could mean taking the pace off your first serve, or using more spin, or staying away from the lines. Whatever it takes, get more first balls into the box!
What happens when you miss a lot of serves in a row? The nerves set in and you start to rush, and this just compounds the problem. That’s why it’s a good idea to follow a pre-serve routine. I bounce the ball three times before each and every serve. Pretty simple. Players like Rafa Nadal and Maria Sharapova have more elaborate rituals, but the bottom line is: what you do isn’t nearly as important as the fact that you do it. Every time.
Check your toss
When my serve fails me, I look at my toss. Serving is about rhythm; if you want to be consistent, you’ve got to groove your motion. And you can’t do that if you’re constantly chasing a bad toss. So, identify the ideal contact point for your first and second serves and do your best to place the toss there. And don’t be afraid to catch a bad toss (with your hand only, NOT your racket) and do it again.
Increase your racket-head speed
You hit as hard as you can on the first serve, miss it, then float a cream puff second serve. Sound familiar? Many recreational players don’t put spin on their second ball and/or they dramatically slow down their swing, which causes the serve to float long. Truth is, the racket-head speed on your second serve needs to be about the same for your second serve. You just need to use spin rather than fear to get that ball into play.
Keep your chin up
In an effort to keep the serve in the court, most recreational players share a common fault (no pun intended): they pull their heads down. To counteract this, create upward momentum. Bending your knees (with more weight on your back foot) and pushing your body up into the serve while keeping an eye on the ball will prevent your head from dropping.
Another thing that causes double faults is facing the net too soon. Essentially, what you’re doing is hoping to guide the serve in as you turn toward the direction in which you want to guide it. To prevent your shoulders from turning prematurely, keep your tossing arm up a bit longer after releasing the ball, because as soon as the tossing arm drops, the shoulders turn. This should also help prevent your head from dropping as well.
Clear the net
Before you serve, you have a 50-50 chance that you will win the point, but if you hit your serves into the net and you’ve got no chance at all. Imagine a horizontal line about 4-5 feet above the net, and aim for it when you serve, making sure you add spin. The extra height will get the ball over the net, and the spin will bring it down in the service box.
Invest in an inexpensive ball hopper and some pressureless tennis balls, and then get out on the court once a week and practice your serve using the above tips. This will develop your muscle memory and soon, you’ll have a serve you can count on to win more matches!