It’s a clutch moment. You’re ready to put the game away. You toss the ball into the air, swing your racket to drive home a powerful serve, and—thwack!—you drill the ball straight into the net. Onlookers laugh. Your opponent breathes a sigh of relief.
Few things are more frustrating than serving a tennis ball into the net, but it often happens when you try to muscle up a powerful shot. Yet if you focus on nailing the fundamentals, according to Weylu Chang, a coach at the IMG Academy Bollettieri Tennis Program, you’ll consistently deliver solid serves, which—if they don’t blow past your opponent—will set you up for an easy groundstroke or volley winner.
Here are the three key elements you must master, along with a drill for perfecting each.
The toss seems like the easiest part, but taking it for granted leads to faults. “Players think that the toss is casual and not precise, which is everything that it’s not,” asserts Chang. “It needs to be consistent and gentle.” To place the ball in your best hitting zone, toss the ball high and slightly in front of your body.
Perfect It With: Fence Toss Drill
Face a fence with your front foot 12 inches away from it. Toss the ball up, then swing to pin the ball between your racquet and the fence. If your arm is straight with the ball high and in front, the toss is in a good position.
Reps: 20 tosses
Young players tend to swing down at the ball, but this position “locks your wrist, which kills your consistency and racquet speed,” according to Chang. Try leading with the butt cap of your racquet. Chang says this helps the wrist “snap through the ball, which allows the racquet to come through with more speed.”
Perfect It With: Towel Serves
Set up for a serve at the baseline, holding one end of a sport towel. Toss the ball up and swing the bottom of the towel toward the ball. This adds speed to the end of the towel, allowing it to snap through and hit the ball.
Reps: 20 serves
Spin can improve your serve percentage and keep your opponent at a disadvantage. “If you miss a first serve, your opponent knows a softer serve is coming and they go from defense to offense,” says Chang. “If you hit that first serve with a little more spin and less pace, that will give you a huge advantage.”
Perfect It With: Serves Over the Fence
Go outside the court and face the fence encircling the playing surface, about 15 feet away. Serve the ball over the fence and into the court. Brush up on the ball (rather than drive though it) to give your shots the height and spin they need.
Reps: 20 serves