About 17 or so years ago I moved away from a flat first serve to a slice (which doesn’t imply kick/topsin) serve. Prior I was tossing more directly into the court rather than more down the base line and ripping it. Flat power (relative to level of play) serving, using so much forward motion of the body can be quite exhausting, inefficient use of the body and the over-the-net-and-in-the-service-box window gets much smaller.
Also, many returners, even at lower levels, can be quite accomplished at nailing a flat serve or just blocking it back, perhaps dropping you.
I was getting a good handle on my slice serve and I don’t quite know what I was doing with my second serve, but it was consistent enough and seemed to suffice, at least as I was beginning to play more and more doubles.
As I moved up in level and began to encounter opponents who were beginning to grasp the idea (thanks Agassi) of jumping the serve, some change was due. I know most people feel the worst thing one can do in doubles is to double fault. But, being annihilated on your second serve too often can be humiliating. I also don’t want my net partner having to answer too many of my second serves.
Over this time I probably began to put some top spin on both serves, but I still wasn’t certain what the mechanics were of my second, but they worked. It wasn’t being pounced upon that often or allowing my opponent to do with, whatever, at will.
And then, within the last few months, I found I was sometimes losing the rhythm and fluidity and dumping second serves into the net or hitting long.
I tried watching some of the pro’s and scoped out a few videos, but something in my head was now my second serve’s worst enemy.
A friend mentioned this to a pro she knew and he asked for me to come out during her next lesson and spend some time with him.
During her lesson, I hit about 30 serves against a huge backboard. I haven’t seen a backboard with an opposing court yet, so I get on a court and serve for about 10 minutes - first serve, then second, no exception, as if I were serving in a match. I’m feeling good and I barely miss only two second serves.
He’s ready for me and I go over and I introduce myself and before I can begin to explain, he said “Show me your serves.” I tell him I am going to serve first and then second serves and he tosses me two balls after each set of serves.
I didn’t miss a single serve and he said, “So what’s your problem?” I began laughing, “Nothing right now obviously, but I am not in a match and I don’t have an opponent or a net man.”
I am expecting some deep mental explanation when he tells me how fluid my service motion is and the fact that they all had good pace and slice.
“So what do your think your problem is?” he asks. And I tried to reflect on recently having a lack of confidence in my second and that I didn’t feel the same fluidity and rhythm. I didn’t want to think about my second serve for one nanosecond other than as to where I wanted to place it.
He then had me stand in the same position and told me that once a tennis player has established good mechanics and the proper and fluid motion, one thing can enhance the serve more than anything else – the toss.
He then directed me to do exactly what I was before, but instead of tossing the ball slightly into the court and in front of my shoulder, to tossed it above my left shoulder (right shoulder for lefties), slightly arching my back. Bingo – I felt confident with each serve from ball bounce to toss to contact and the results. They were all in and had slice and kick (stop spin).
He told me my first serve looked very effective, but occasionally, to do the same toss with my first to mix it up.
Why this was so important to me was although I didn’t expect my second serve to have the pace of my first, I wanted some authority with less chance of error.
The slice makes the ball difficult for the returner and the kick does as well, but the topspin produced by this toss and coming up and through the ball opens the window above the net while much more likely to bring the ball down into the service box. Triple benefit – more difficult to handle and more reliable, while still using the same mechanics I had used before.
This is why I believe this one-step piece of advice is an easy transition for already mechanically sound servers.
Check out the video below for more detail on the stroke and only incorporate the techniques you may be missing if you are already comfortable and successful with your first serve, not breaking it down to square-one.