Strategy - Serving
The most important thing you can do on your serve is to just get the ball in the correct court! Most beginning players lose opportunities for points on their serve, because they make a bad serve. I have observed that the best players don't always hit the hardest serve, but they usually make the least faults on their serve.
Once you are able to get your serve in consistently, you are ready to experiment with it a little to make it more difficult to return. There are three things you want to try in order to improve your serve which I will list in the order of importance:
- Try to make your normal serve land deep in the court. The deep serve is more likely to be missed or hit weakly than any other serve you can do.
- Once you can serve consistently and reasonably deep into the court, the next step is to develop your ability to serve the ball either to a player's backhand or to their forehand. Start by aiming for the left 1/2 or the right 1/2 of the service court. When you can do that consistently, then start trying to aim to the left 1/4 or the right 1/4 of the service court. If you are making several service faults each game, then you need to aim closer to the middle until your error rate is acceptable again.
- Once you can serve consistently with most serves landing close to where you aim, then you need to think about adding some variety to your serve. Your opponents are more likely to make mistakes when you give them a variety of serves. You are also more likely to find a serve they don't like if you give them 6 different looks rather than a serve at the same speed and same spot every time.
Now that we can get our serve in consistently and fairly accurately, we want to add variety to our serve. I will list a few ideas that I and others have tried in an effort to make things difficult for the person returning the serve.
- Vary the speed of the ball. Occasionally hit it extra hard. If you serve hard all the time, you will find that the other team will adjust and start getting the ball back every time.
- If you have normally been serving to their backhand, then throw in some occasional serves to their forehand, or vice versa. Try to keep them guessing unless one side is much weaker. If one side is a lot weaker then just keep serving there.
- Many players will have a bit of trouble with a medium high serve to their backhand that bounces higher. That is because a high backhand is harder to hit for most people than a low backhand. With a little practice, this is a fairly safe serve to use!
- A fairly easy serve to get in, but which requires more concentration on the returnee's part is a side slice that jumps to the side when it lands. Even a small jump to the side by the ball is enough to bother many players, especially if you suddenly throw it in when they aren't expecting it.
- Throw in an occasional very high deep serve (like a lob). If it lands deep, many players will return it weakly because they don't like the higher ball. Even some of the best players will hit it out on occasion trying to hit it back to hard. Occasionally, you will run into someone who just hits it so hard you can't return it. In that case you probably shouldn't try it again! Variations on this high serve include: lobbing it high and straight with top spin, hitting up on the right side of the ball to make it jump left when it hits, or hitting up on the left side of the ball to make it jump right when it hits. These are more likely to result in faults unless you practice them a fair amount in your practice games. They also work best against the inexperienced players who don't read spin too well. Although they will occasionally win a point against a good player, the main value is in adding a little variety and causing them a little aggravation.
- When you reach the point that you have very good control on your serve, you might on occasion go for the sharp angle serve where you aim about an inch inside the corner. This is a highly risky shot and will often result in faults, so its usually best to save it for the practice court or a day when you seem to have really good control of your serve. Being a right hander, I usually use this serve from the right hand court and I try to set it up by having served mostly to their backhand. If they stand to far towards the middle, I'll throw in a quick sharp angle serve for an easy point when it works. From the left hand side, I might throw in an occasional heavy slice to the extreme right corner and short for a point. Again this is an extremely risky serve, but occasionally when all else has failed and you just can't seem to get a point, it might be worth the risk!