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Serve and Return
by Clark Corey
PBI Director of Tennis Kapalua
USPTA Tennis Professional

There are two types of people who want to learn how to play tennis. First, there are those that practice their strokes endlessly with a professional, on the ball machine or against the wall but actually never play a game of tennis. Second, there are those that get an initial understanding of the game and strokes and then immediately try and play games.

The whole purpose in learning how to play tennis is to play the game of tennis not just to hit balls. Tennis is an incredible game in that a situation may change each time the ball is hit. Playing tennis is all about being flexible and dealing with emergencies. Practice allows us to build the foundations of each stroke but games put those foundations under pressure so we find out what needs to be improved. If we play in an artificial world (like with a ball machine or against the wall) we may never find out if our strokes will hold up.

In order to play a game there are two strokes that need to be learned right away. These two strokes are the Serve and the Return of Serve. If you don't possess either of these strokes, playing a game of tennis will be quite challenging. Let's take a closer look at the first of these two strokes, the serve.

In its simplest form the serve is actually a throwing motion. Your dominant arm would wind up and throw the racquet forward (similar to throwing a baseball) into the ball that you have tossed up. There are two very important keys to the serve.

The first is the use of the wrist. You should have a flexible wrist in your throwing hand in order to allow the racquet motion to hit up and snap down. If the wrist is flexible then you can adjust the angle of the racquet face at contact with the ball and make corrections for serves that go out. The palm of your hand will be facing up as you swing up to hit the ball and then the palm will finish facing down after you have contacted the ball and snapped your wrist. Do this hit up and snap down wrist action by itself first. Isolate the wrist action by raising your arm and just tossing the ball up and flicking at it with the racquet. After you have done that several times to get the feel of the wrist then go into the full motion of the arm swing and full serve.

The second key on the serve is balance. When you serve this is the one time a player controls the ball and can decide on where it goes without having to react to the other player's shot. Because of this we want to make sure our body is on balance before, during and after the service motion. To do this make sure your feet are shoulder width apart and that you are standing perpendicular to the line. Your lead foot would be at a 45 degree angle to the line while the back foot could be the same or parallel to the baseline.

Throughout the serve your feet should not move. You can bend your knees a little for stability but keep your feet on the ground while serving. If you have accelerated through the serve there is a very good chance the heel of you back foot or both feet might lift off the ground. That is fine as long as you are on balance.

The second key stroke in learning to play a game is the Return of Serve. If someone is hitting a hard ball at you and it is probably directed away from you then you won't have much time to react. The most efficient way to make contact and get the ball over is to simply prepare the racquet so that the strings are facing the net and make contact with the ball. One of the biggest mistakes players make is to take a large swing while trying to return serve.

The Return of Serve is a controlled directional shot. If you simply place the strings towards the net and make contact you can use your opponent's power and re-direct it towards an open spot on the court.

Use your Opposite Hand to help set up the racquet face. You would use your opposite hand to help set the angle of the racquet face on the Return of Serve as well so that the ball goes over the net rather than in the net.

Think of your racquet as a mini-trampoline. Move the racquet into position and then let the ball rebound off the strings towards the target you were aiming for. The ball only weights 2 ounces so we don’t have to take a big swing to hit it 39 feet!

Tips Archive

Getting Started

Three Fundamentals of Tennis

The Foundations

Serve and Return
Forehand and Backhand
The Volley
The Lob and Smash
Keep Your Opponents Off-Balance with Backspin
Give Balance Priority