The most important shot in tennis is the serve. It delivers the first ball of each point, so you want it to be as effective as possible. Many club players have the tendency to just “get it in”, which is fine, but then the server won’t know how the opponent will return it. And some players can aim their serve and get it in, but only if they take the pace and/or spin off of the ball which a) gives their opponents a great chance to either run around their backhand and crush it back or b) gives them more time to prepare for a better return.
But wouldn’t you rather get it in, and get it in with a solid serve, AND know how it will be returned?
Along with strength, stamina, and skills, tennis requires STRATEGY. In other words, you need to be able to create points so that you know the outcome of your opponent’s shots before they do, and a great place to start is with the serve.
When serving to a righty in the deuce court, an obvious spot to aim is down the T (the middle service line) to their (usually) weaker backhand. I recommend using either a hard flat serve (first serve only,) the slice serve (which will bounce away from the opponent,) and the kick serve (which will bounce into them.) More often than not, these serves will result in softer, higher balls coming back up the middle of the court. Many times you’ll even get those nifty little floaters which are perfect for you (or your partner if doubles) to poach and volley for winners.
But what about going down the T in the ad court? Against a righty?
One of my favorite serves in doubles and singles is going down the T in the ad court. I can hear you thinking now… why serve to their forehand when you can serve out wide to their backhand? You just said that the backhand is the weaker shot of most players!
While it’s true that the backhand is a weak spot for most tennis players, it is a highly anticipated return for the opponent in ad court; therefore, going down the T with the flat (again, first serve only,) slice and kick serves to the forehand adds an element of surprise, which is not something players like to deal with on the court. Serving down the T in the ad court is a perfect choice when:
- your receiving opponent is standing really close to the alley. When you see this, your opponent is already thinking about returning a backhand serve, and therefore mentally preparing for it. Serving down the T will take them by surprise and force them to quickly re-think their reaction, which usually results in a weaker return and sometimes even an ace.
- your receiving opponent is a slow mover and standing close to the alley. They are guarding their alley so they won’t have to move so far to hit a backhand return, and left the T wide open.
- your opponent consistently rips sharp-angled backhands cross-court. Serving down the T will cut off those angles and force them to hit more up the middle, allowing poaching opportunities for your partner (if doubles.)
** All of these strategies work for lefties too — they have weaker backhands as well :-)
Not everyone has mastered aiming their serves, but it can be done! Rent a hopper of balls from your club, or save your balls from your matches and buy your own hopper, and then get out on the courts and PRACTICE, and practice often. Set up full or semi-full water bottle “targets” inside each service box near the center-court corners and try to knock them down with your serves (and make sure to add both pace and spin.) And if you practice with your teammates and/or friends, practice that serve, and before long, you’ll be comfortable going down the T — and winning more points!