Tennis, like everything else in life, has a set of rules that make life easier when followed but complicate matters when not. I call this set of rules: the laws of the battle. They describe the ideal response to any situation that a player may encounter on the court, just like a chess manual describing the best move for every position on the board. They are the theory behind the tactical aspect of the game, and the first step towards helping players understand how to use their weapons effectively, or in other words understand where to hit their shots to have the best chance of winning the point.
Lets take a look at the laws of the first serve in singles:
1) The goal of the first serve is to force the opponent to return a weak shot and gain control of the point.
The first serve needs to be a weapon, not just a preview of the second serve.
Take advantage of having two serves and be aggressive with the first serve. Use it to force a weak return from your opponent and gain control of the point. You will not get very far in competitive tennis if you cannot control the points with your first serve. I would even go so far as to say that in the men’s game a player who is not able to serve consistently over 115 miles per hour, will not last too long on the tour.
2) Adjust your serve so that you can get at least 50 percent of first serves in, shoot for 70 percent.
A bullet is only effective if it hits the target. Having a “huge serve” might scare the opponent in the warm up but will only help you win the match if you can hit it with consistency. If you are hitting less that half your first serves in, you are basically playing most points with your second serve, leaving you at a great disadvantage.
3) Look to move into the court to attack a short return after your first serve.
Remember that the goal of your first serve is to force a weak return from the opponent, so make sure that you are expecting a short ball. There is nothing worse than hitting a great serve that the opponent barely hits over the net and then not being ready to attack the second shot because you were not ready to move into the court fast enough. Next time you watch a professional tennis match count how many points are won by the server the next shot after the serve.
4) Vary the location, pace and spin. Use the serve to the body.
Even a very hard serve will not be effective if it is hit to the same spot every time, unless the opponent has a dramatically weaker side. The key to great serving is to keep the opponent guessing. Use different spins, speeds and targets. The serve to the body is a great option that is not used enough. A good serve to the body is very effective, especially on key points against an opponent who has been returning very well.
5) Use the slice serve to hit wide or to the ‘T’.
A slice serve bounces away from the player. The additional spin allows you to land the serve closer to the net when serving wide, thus pulling the opponent farther off the court. This is an especially effective serve against players with extreme grips or left-handers.