Pat Rafter Serve


Tosses while weight on his back foot

Severe back arch, and poor balance — makes it extremely difficult for him to rotate fully through the serve with his hips and core.

Power generation primarily coming from the shoulder

Brings right foot to the right outside of his front foot, causing an opening of the hips prematurely.

Practically zero degrees of lateral rotation of the shoulders. Compare that to John McEnroe.


How to Beat a Chip-Returner

A lot of times you will be serving very well but your opponent will just dink back a very high chip or slice shot – just bunting your serves back into play, and then starting out the point.

When playing someone who is returning serve like this, you have a few options. First, you can move in after your serve to hit a volley or swinging volley, immediately taking the offensive.

Second, you can wait for the ball to bounce, and then direct it deep and to their weaker side, hoping to gain control of the point. From there, you can finish them off.

In both cases, do not go for the outright winner. Go for an aggressive control shot, followed by closing in on the net or using angles to get your lazy opponent running. Of these two strategies, I much prefer the swinging volley follow-up, as it sends the message to your opponent that merely dinking back your serves will be punished

Anticipate the Serve


So, if you understand proper tennis technique, and the biomechanic limitations caused by improper technique, you can not only improve your own game, but you can readily spot flaws in your opponent’s technique, allowing you to anticipate where the ball is going before they even hit it.

Hitting the ball this far behind you on the serve can lead to shoulder problems as you physically cannot get your shoulder through the shot. It can also cause back problems if you arch your back on your serve. Plus your opponent will see it coming a mile away.

Do you have a certain opponent you have trouble anticipating the serve with? Comment below and we can figure it out!

Top 10 Most Common Serve Mistakes


If you don’t turn your shoulders horizontally, you will likely hit the ball into the net.

If you don’t turn your shoulders enough vertically, it is difficult to get lift-off from the ground, and you will likely be hitting the ball into the net.

If you drop your left hand too soon, the ball will fly horizontally with no spin or slice, and likely hit the net.

If you pull your head down and take your eye off the ball before contact, it will cause the ball to be pulled into the net.

If your toss is too far left, you’ll likely hit the ball into the net because you cannot hit under the ball.

If your toss is too far to the right, it will also be hard to hit under the ball, and you will likely only be able to get the ball in if you hit it with slice. It will feel like all arm.

If your toss is consistently errant, it may be because you are shifting your weight between your feet at the wrong time, causing the ball to move with your body weight. Your body should be still with your weight on the front foot, moving slightly forward when you toss the ball to encourage a slightly forward ball toss. Errant ball tosses can also be caused by a bent left arm, or moving shoulders too much during the toss. I find it is helpful to pause as I rock back, and breathe out slowly to relax myself. Being relaxed helps the toss be more consistent.

If you are hitting many balls into the net consistently, check the above problems. If that does not work, consider checking your overall rhythm. Your motion should consist of an easy toss, body coil, and hit. You should be able to count “one, two, three” with plenty of time as you practice your rhythm.

If you can’t get much spin, keep the face closed on takeback (salute style), with your palm down, rather than opening the strings up to the sky.

The Varying Toss Myth

A common thing coaches tell their students is that to hit a slice, toss the ball further to the right, to hit it flat, it’s more in the middle, and to hit a kick serve, toss it behind you and arch your back.

I really disagree with this common teaching tip. Yes, if your toss is extreme enough one way or another, you will be forced to hit the ball with a certain sidespin. But at higher levels of play, this can be a death-sentence for your serve. What makes the best servers in the world so great is that they can toss the ball exactly the same way every time, and do the same motion, but direct the ball any number of ways. In other words, they are totally unpredictable until they hit the ball.

If I am playing someone who tosses the ball behind their head, I instantly KNOW that they are not going to hit a slice serve. They also will not be hitting a flat serve out wide because they physically cannot come through that way with their shoulder. If I see them toss the ball out to their right side, I instantly know even before they hit the ball that they will likely hit it with slice, and towards my forehand side. As a returner, I can instantly adjust my court position and neutralize every single one of their serves.

Disregard my slop service motion here and just look at the toss locations – If you opponent tosses into the yellow area or further, it’ll be a slice. In the red area or further, it’ll be a kick serve (ouch! my back!), and if it’s in the green, it’ll be unpredictable.

If the difference in the placement of the ball toss is subtle (less than 2 inches), then it’s probably fine, but if your toss varies greatly depending on if you are trying to hit it slice, flat, or kick, then it’s counter productive. You have to use a different motion for each serve, you can hurt your back and shoulder, and your opponent will see it coming a mile away. Practice hitting all your serves with the same ball toss.

Ball Toss

Toss consistency

This is one of the most frustrating problems to have. You toss the ball behind you and have to chase it. You can hurt your shoulder and elbow, and dump a ton of serves into the net.

For a consistent ball toss, first let’s go over where you want it to be: about ½ a foot in front of you inside the court, and off of your front toe.

1)        Make sure your weight is on your front foot when you toss the ball. I like to lean back, then put my front foot down, roll onto my front foot, and toss as I lean my hips into the court, taking time to coil my whole body as the ball rises to its peak. Once it reaches its peak, I then spring upwards toward the ball and unleash all power in one motion. If you toss the ball when your weight is leaning back, as you move forward to coil, the ball is staying behind you and you will have a hard time coming through the serve with your shoulder properly.

2)        When tossing, I keep my left arm straight and relaxed. I hold the ball lightly in the tips of my fingers, almost as if I were holding a wine glass. The tossing arm raises straight up and stays up to increase your vertical shoulder turn. Don’t think about your hand too much, just do what feels natural.

3)        When I lean back onto my back foot, I exhale my breath and look to my target. I keep exhaling right up until I toss, to stay relaxed. The same as how a sniper exhales slowly before they are about to pull the trigger.

4)        Make sure your shoulders are fully turned before you start your motion. If your legs and hips are turned properly to the side of the court, but your shoulders are too open, the tendency will be for you to toss the ball behind you as you move forward. This is because your body will follow the angle of your feet and hips, but your shoulders are too open to the court, causing you to toss the ball at a different angle. The result is that the ball toss is going one way and your body is moving another.


Practice tossing without hitting. Put a dime where you want the ball to land, and practice landing the ball there.

Visualize where you want the ball to be upon impact, and then simply raise your arm to put it there, then catch it.

Serve Hip Lead

If the serve motion feels really strange to you, think about it like you are pitching a baseball as high into the air as you possibly can. You can even do a drill where you do an imaginary toss, bend your legs and hips, coil your arm, and then with your right hand, throw a baseball as high as you can. This will help you understand the pronating arm motion of the serve.

Check out this link to a professional baseball pitcher. The mechanics of the serve are virtually identical, except on a different plane.

The hip lead at 9 seconds in is identical to the hip bend on the serve.

His glove hand at 20 seconds is extended just as your left hand would be after the toss.

His pitching arm at 21 seconds is bent and coiled as your racquet arm would be.

At 22 seconds, there is a big stretch in his chest and shoulders as he initiates the pitch through.

The legs and hips lead, followed by the shoulders, and the arm only comes whipping through at the end from 24 to 25 seconds.

At 26 seconds you can see the natural pronation of his arm as he snaps through. This occurs with the serve as well, although it does not help to think about it (See Roddick serve video). The pitcher certainly doesn’t think about pronating his right arm immediately after his relase – it’s just a natural outcome of the movement.

At 31 seconds you can see he came right through, across his body with his right shoulder, and landed on his left foot. This is identical to how you should come through on your serve.

The Serve

The hardest shot to master. Expect it to take at least 4-5 months of 3x weekly practicing before you feel any comfort with your serve. You just have to hit thousands of serves because it is not a movement done in any other part of your life.

There are many components to a good serve, and you must start with the basics, layering on additional components only when you can do the basics without thinking.

Here is what I would think about.

1) Proper grip. You want to use a proper serving grip, not some pancake paddycake loser grip. You’ll see this all the time with recreational players who only care about serving the ball in. But this means they will always be stuck with a lame serve. Every time they do it wrong, they’re hammering in bad habits. So you want to start with the harder to learn, but proper grip.

2) Point your left toe at the right net post. Your right foot should be about 1-2 feet behind your front foot.

3) Shoulders should be turned, so that if you were to draw a line from your back shoulder to your front shoulder, it would extend towards the right net post.

4) Shift your weight onto your back foot, then back to your front foot.

5) Toss the ball, directly above your head. An ideal toss would land slightly inside the baseline, perhaps 2-3 inches.

6) As you have tossed the ball, reach up with your left hand to create shoulder rotation in the up-down axis.

7) Bend your legs, and continue to stretch up with your left hand.

8) Explode up with your legs and swing up towards the ball, keeping your head up.

9) Land on your left foot and recover quickly ready for your opponent’s return.

But if you are a beginner you’re never going to be able to do so many things all at once. There are too many moving parts. So you have to break it down at first and then build on your foundation. Here is how to do it.

1) Starting with the racquet behind your head, check to make sure you have the proper stance.

2) Toss the ball and reach up with your left hand.

3) Swing up and out at the ball, spinning it into the court. At first you will likely feel like you are only carving the very side of the ball due to your grip, and you can expect many balls to bounce on your side of the court, or go into the net headed straight left. To compensate, you must try to hit the ball very very high and off to the right of the court. Even try to hit the ball over the fence on the right side of the court in order to get it to spin into the service box.

4) Once comfortable with the above, incorporate an increased shoulder turn both sideways and vertically.

5) Increase your leg bend and hip bend. Practice exploding upwards at the ball.

For a very technical understanding of the elements of the serve, I found this article to be interesting and useful.