The 4 Main Types of Tennis Serves
The Serve Can Give a Big Advantage
The serve in tennis can be a difficult shot to learn for beginners, but it is worth persevering. Once you have mastered the serve, it can give you a big advantage over your opponent.
It is the only shot that you will play where you have complete control of the timing and execution. All other shots are to some extent reactive.
There are essentially four main types of tennis serves, and I have outlined them below. They are the flat serve, the slice serve, the kick serve, and the underhanded serve.
Good players will often use a mixture of different types of serves. Typically, they will use a flat serve or a slice serve for their first serve, as these types can make things difficult for the receiver and are most likely to get aces. There is a relatively large margin of error for these types of serves, however, and there is a reasonable chance of the serve hitting the net or going out.
The serve, I think, is the most difficult, you know, in terms of coordination, because you got the two arms going, and you got to toss it up at the right time so.— Roger Federer
The kick serve is often used for the second serve. Although it is sometimes easier to return than the flat serve or the slice serve, it is relatively straightforward for a good server to get it over the net and in—which is vital for a second serve.
The underhanded serve, although legal at every level of tennis, is very rarely used in practice, except by young children (when starting out, most young children are encouraged to use an underhanded serve until they are old enough to learn an overhead serve).
The 4 Types of Tennis Serves
- the flat serve
- the slice serve
- the kick serve
- the underhanded serve
Each of these is described fully below.
#1 The Flat Serve
For the flat serve, the server normally uses a Continental or an Eastern grip and swings directly through the ball, using no spin.
The key to a good flat serve is power. Some professional players can hit them at over 150 mph.
The fastest serve ever recorded by a male player was 156 mph by Ivo Karlovic. The fastest serve ever recorded by a woman was 129 mph by Venus Williams.
#2 The Slice Serve
For the slice serve, the server adopts a version of the Continental or Eastern backhand grip and brushes the racket across the right-hand side of the ball (assuming the server is right-handed; a left-handed person brushes the left-hand side of the ball), making the ball spin.
The sidespin makes the ball curve to the left and dip slightly, then bounce off the ground in a leftward direction (or rightward if the server is a lefty).
The slice serve can be used to go for an ace, to push the receiver off court and out of position, or to make the ball bounce up at the receiver’s body.
#3 The Kick Serve
The kick serve has been around since the end of the 19th century. The ball is tossed up over the head and the racket brushes up and through it from roughly a 7 o’clock to 1 o’clock position.
If done properly, the ball should arch over the net and then hit the ground with topspin and bounce up towards the receiver.
A variation of the kick serve is the American twist, which is similar to the kick, except that the spin is applied to the ball to make it bounce up and towards the left of the receiver, rather than straight at them.
#4 The Underhanded Serve
Out of all the different types of tennis serves, serving underhand is the rarest. It is legitimate at all levels of the game, however, and can be employed at any time.
As it is so rare, it is often used to surprise an opponent.
One famous example of an underhand serve being used at the professional level occurred when Michael Chang famously beat Ivan Lendl in the 1989 French Open.
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© 2014 Paul Goodman