Why Is The Serve Important In Tennis? (Coach Explains)

25 May 2023

In tennis, the serve plays a pivotal role in determining the outcome of a match. As the motion that initiates every individual point, a player’s serve is an essential weapon in their arsenal, and its effectiveness can often make or break their overall performance. A strong, well-executed serve provides an opportunity to score points quickly. It allows the server to dictate the pace and direction of the game, increasing their chances of dominating the rally.

Multiple factors contribute to the importance of the serve in tennis. First and foremost, a powerful serve can lead to quick points, as opponents may struggle to return the ball effectively. Moreover, a consistent and accurate serve can significantly improve a player’s winning rate, as seen in the case of tennis legends like Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, whose first serve performance plays a crucial role in their chances of winning a point.

Even though physical power and skill are key elements in delivering a strong serve, the often overlooked aspect of the serve is the toss. A consistent and well-placed toss sets the stage for a successful serve, allowing the player to execute their service motion effectively and apply the desired level of spin and speed to the ball.

Importance of a Good Serve in Tennis

The serve is one of the most important shots in tennis. Therefore, it is crucial that you learn the serve well so that you can use it as a weapon during your matches. Below I will explain why it is important to have a good serve in tennis.

Starting the point:

A good serve in tennis is the foundation of every successful tennis player’s game because it initiates the point. The serve allows the player to dictate the ball’s pace, angle, and spin while also controlling the direction and placement.

By starting the point with a strong serve, a tennis player can immediately establish dominance during the rally, potentially leading to more straightforward points and easier wins.

Putting pressure on the opponent:

Besides just starting the point, a powerful and accurate serve can put significant pressure on an opponent. Players with a strong serve often serve aces or unreturnable serves, denying the opponent any chance to gain control of the point.

Consistently hitting powerful first serves forces the opponent to improve their return game, which is physically and mentally tiring throughout the course of a match. Furthermore, a well-placed serve can create opportunities for the server to attack with powerful follow-up shots, further increasing pressure upon the opponent.

Winning points:

A good serve is instrumental in winning points in tennis, as statistics from top players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic show.

In 2019, the point was won between 71% and 72% of the time when these players successfully executed their first serves. However, when they had to rely on their second serves, they only won the point between 60% and 62% of the time.

By excelling in the serving department, a player increases their chances of winning points and, as a result, gains an advantage over their opponent.

In summary, the serve plays a central role in tennis because it allows players to start the point, put pressure on their opponent, and win points more directly. To maintain a high level of play and stay competitive, tennis players must continually work on improving their serves.

Essential Elements of a Serve


In tennis, power in a serve is crucial as it can put the receiving player on the defensive, making it difficult for them to return the ball effectively.

A powerful serve begins with a strong and stable stance, followed by a smooth weight transfer from the back foot to the front foot. The player should then utilize their racket to generate racket head speed, transferring maximum energy into the ball upon contact. A full throwing motion with the serve can contribute to increased power.


Incorporating spin into a serve can create unpredictable ball movement, making it challenging for the opponent to anticipate and return the ball.

There are two primary types of spin in tennis serves: topspin and slice. Topspin serves cause the ball to dip quickly after clearing the net, keeping it within the boundaries of the court. Slice serves involve putting side spin on the ball, causing it to curve away from the opponent.

Adding spin to a serve involves brushing the racket strings up and around the ball rather than hitting it squarely.


Strategic placement of serves can put pressure on the opponent and exploit their weaknesses.

A well-placed serve can force the opponent to stretch or move out of their comfort zone to return the ball, potentially leading to weaker responses.

Players should aim to hit the ball accurately into the diagonally opposite service box, targeting areas that are more difficult for their opponent to reach successfully.


Varying the direction of a serve can keep the opponent guessing, making it harder for them to anticipate and prepare for the incoming ball.

By mixing up the direction of serves, players can prevent their opponents from establishing a rhythm or pattern in their returns. Effective direction changes can be achieved by adjusting the racket angle and contact point on the ball during the serve.


Manipulating the height of a serve can influence the trajectory and bounce of the ball, adding an extra level of difficulty for the receiving player.

A low serve, typically achieved through a flat or hard serve, can make it more challenging for the opponent to initiate an offensive return. On the other hand, a high serve can create a sharp bounce, potentially forcing the opponent to adjust their positioning and timing as they attempt to return the ball.

First and Second Serves

Differences and significance:

In tennis, the serve is one of the hardest strokes and a crucial aspect of the game, setting the pace for each point played.

There are two main serves: the first serve and the second serve.

The first serve usually involves a powerful, flat shot to challenge the opponent with speed and accuracy. Players tend to take more risks with the first serve point, as they have a second chance if the first attempt is unsuccessful. As a result, first serves more often result in a winner than a second serve.

The second serve points, on the other hand, are typically played with more caution, prioritizing consistency and placement.

Players often use a spin technique, such as a slice or kick serve, to ensure a higher percentage of successful serves while minimizing the risk of double faults. This serve type provides better net clearance, making it a safer option.

The difference between the two serves also lies in their respective roles during a match: the first serve is meant for strategic advantage, while the second serve is primarily intended to avoid losing a point due to a double fault.

Consistency and risk management:

The importance of consistency in both first and second serves cannot be overstated.

According to stats, when top players like Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic landed their first serves in the court, they won the service point 72%, 71%, and 72% of the time, respectively. When they relied on their second serves, those numbers dropped to 61%, 62%, and 60%.

This data illustrates the significant advantage gained by consistently landing first serves and avoiding reliance on second serves.

Risk management plays a key role in determining the appropriate balance between the first and second serves. Players must strategically evaluate their serve based on their own strengths, their opponent’s weaknesses, and situational factors such as score, court surface, and weather conditions.

By considering these variables, players can optimize their serve strategy to maximize their chances of success.

In summary, the first and second serves in tennis serve distinct purposes and require different approaches. Mastery of both serves, and their appropriate use in various scenarios is essential to achieve success in tennis.

Effective Serve Techniques

Serving effectively is key to having a successful tennis game. In this section, we will discuss three main types of serves: flat serveslice serve, and kick serve. Each type has its own set of techniques and advantages.

Flat serve:

The flat serve is the most basic and powerful serve in tennis. To execute a flat serve, follow these 4 tips:

  1. Position your shoulder and grip: Keep your shoulder and hitting arm aligned with the service box, and hold the racquet with a continental grip.
  2. Toss the tennis ball: Aim for a high, smooth toss slightly in front of your leading shoulder, allowing you to make contact at the peak of the toss.
  3. Use your wrist and shoulder: During the swing, engage your shoulder and wrist to generate maximum power and snap upon impact.
  4. Focus on technique: A well-executed flat serve requires not only power but also proper timing, positioning, and fluidity in your motion.

Practicing and mastering the flat serve will greatly improve your overall tennis performance.

Slice serve:

The slice serve adds an element of spin to your serve, making it harder for your opponent to return. Here are 4 key points to consider when executing a slice serve:

  1. Maintain a continental grip: This grip lets you apply side spin to the tennis ball more effectively.
  2. Toss the tennis ball: Aim to toss the ball slightly to the side and slightly in front of your body.
  3. Brush the side of the ball: During your swing, maintain a relaxed wrist and brush the ball’s side (clockwise for right-handed players and counterclockwise for left-handed players).
  4. Follow through: Ensure a smooth and controlled follow through in the direction you want the ball to curve.

The slice serve can be a powerful weapon in your arsenal, as it makes your serves less predictable for the opponent.

Kick serve:

The kick serve is a more advanced technique that imparts topspin on the ball, causing it to bounce higher and with more movement. This can be effective in disrupting your opponent’s timing.

Follow these 4 steps to perform a kick serve:

  1. Adjust your grip: Use a continental grip, but slightly rotate your hand towards the backhand side to maximize topspin potential.
  2. Toss the tennis ball: Place the toss slightly behind you and to the left (for right-handed players) or right (for left-handed players).
  3. Swing up and across the ball: During your swing, focus on brushing up and across the ball to generate topspin.
  4. Practice your timing: Properly timing your kick serve is essential for success, as the swing path and contact point differ from a flat or slice serve.

Incorporating the kick serve into your game can make your service game more diverse and challenging for your opponent.

Common Serving Errors

By now, you know that having a good serve is very important, and why this is the case. For this reason, it is therefore essential to make as few mistakes as possible while serving.

Below you can see the most common reasons for making a service error. By knowing and recognizing these in your own game, you can make sure to minimize them, making your serve even more dominant.

Double faults:

One common serving error in tennis is the double fault. Double faults occur when a player fails to execute a serve on both their first and second attempts.

This can result from a serve not clearing the net or landing outside the designated service box. Double faults can be costly as they result in losing a point without any effort from the opponent.

Consistently committing double faults can significantly negatively impact a player’s overall performance and confidence.

Weak serves:

Another issue that players may face in their serve is weak serves. A weak serve lacks both power and placement, making it easy for the opponent to hit the return aggressively.

This can lead to the server being put on the defensive immediately, reducing their chances of winning the point. Weak serves can be a result of poor technique, insufficient upper body strength, or a lack of confidence in the serving motion.

Inaccurate ball toss:

The ball toss is essential to a good serve, as it sets up its power and accuracy. An inaccurate ball toss can result in various issues, from hitting the net to the serve going long and landing outside the service box.

Consistently inconsistent ball tosses make it difficult for a player to maintain a high level of serving accuracy and control. Players should focus on developing a consistent and accurate ball toss to avoid these issues.

Incorrect grip:

Using an incorrect grip is another common serving error. An appropriate grip, such as the continental or eastern backhand grip, allows for better technique and a higher contact point.

Incorrect grips can lead to a low serve percentage due to reduced control and a lower contact point. Players can improve their serve’s power, placement, and consistency by adjusting their grip to the proper position.

Serve Statistics and Analysis

Points won on serve:

One way to understand the importance of the serve is to analyze the points won on serves. According to a data-driven study, there is a significant difference in points won with the first and second serves.

  • First serves: When a player manages to get their first serve in, they often have a higher chance of winning the point. This can be attributed to the increased pace and precision of a first serve, which can put the opponent on the defensive.
  • Second serves: With a second serve, players tend to mitigate risk by reducing pace, giving their opponents more opportunities to take control of the rally. Consequently, the number of points won on second serves is generally lower.

Serve breakdown by type:

There are different types of serves in tennis, each with its own advantages. Players typically choose the serve that best suits their playing style and strengths:

  • Flat serve: The flat serve is usually the fastest type, aimed at overpowering the opponent and generating a higher probability of scoring an ace. However, it's also the hardest to control and offers less margin for error.
  • Slice serve: This serve imparts sidespin on the ball, which can cause it to curve in the air and bounce unpredictably. Slice serves are often effective on short or wide angles, where opponents are less comfortable with their returning volley strokes.
  • Kick serve: Incorporating topspin, the kick serve bounces high and is difficult for the returner to control. It provides a larger margin for error and is less reliant on pure pace, making it a popular choice for second serves.

Probability of winning with a strong serve:

A player's serve performance can directly influence their probability of winning a match. Using a dataset that takes into account the number of serve points played, points won on the first and second serve, and the number of double faults, it becomes evident that a stronger serve heavily impacts a player's success (source).

This concept is encapsulated by the term "Serve Impact" (SvI):

  • Higher SvI values indicate a more significant contribution of the serve to a player's overall performance.

By analyzing various statistics, players can identify areas for improvement and enhance their serve to increase their chances of winning matches. Incorporating tennis tips, such as focusing on consistency and accuracy, or tailoring the serve to the surface being played on, can give players an edge over their competitors.

Improving Your Serve

Practice tips:

To enhance your tennis serve, it's essential to focus on key aspects during practice sessions.

First and foremost, develop a consistent and reliable toss. Aim to place the ball in the optimal position for your unique serving motion, allowing you to make proper contact. Continuously work on perfecting your full "throwing motion" for the serve, while also ensuring your form is correct.

Another crucial aspect for a tennis player is to vary their serve. Experiment with placement, speed, and spin to keep the opponent guessing and increase the chances of causing unforced errors.

Furthermore, incorporating these tennis tips into your practice routine can significantly contribute to overall serve performance and comfort on the court.

On-court drills:

On-court drills are vital for transforming your tennis serve into a formidable weapon. Focus on developing the three primary types of tennis serves: flat, slice, and kick.

Each of these serves requires a different technique and yields diverse results, making them crucial for an effective serving arsenal. Some serve drills to consider include:

  • Target practice: Place targets in different areas of the service box and aim to hit them with various serve styles.
  • Serve and volley: Practice serving and immediately following up with a volley, increasing your all-court capabilities.
  • Pressure serving: Simulate match situations by repeatedly serving under pressure, such as break or set points, to build mental resilience and confidence.

Analyzing and adjusting technique:

Regularly analyzing and adjusting your serving technique is key to maintaining and improving your serve in the long term. Consider recording your practice sessions or matches to study your form and identify any inconsistencies or areas that could benefit from refinement.

Additionally, seeking guidance from a coach or experienced player can provide invaluable feedback on your groundstroke and other technical aspects of your serve.

By continually assessing and adjusting your serve, you will be able to stay ahead of your competition and maximize your on-court performance.


Tennis serves play a significant role in dictating the flow of the game and impacting a player's overall success. One reason behind its importance is the ability to gain points with very short rallies, while another reason is how it offers a strategic advantage and control over the ensuing rally.

An effective serve is not only about power, but also about technique and accuracy. Players who master these elements are better equipped to face their opponents, as they can minimize return opportunities and maximize the chances of gaining points directly.

Additionally, the serve allows for variations in speed, spin, and placement, allowing players to keep their opponents guessing. These variations make it difficult for returners to anticipate and counteract the server's strategy, ultimately giving the server an upper hand.

A strong serve also helps build confidence in a player, as they are not constantly under pressure to play defensively.

In conclusion, the serve is undoubtedly an important aspect of tennis, as it sets the tone for the entire game. It influences both the server's and returner's strategies, playing a role in determining the outcome of matches. Mastering the serve is essential for any player aiming for success in tennis.


Would you like to learn more about tennis? If you do, have a look at the 107 best facts about tennis!

Written by

Neil Taylor

Tennis is my passion

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