It's Tennis, Not Teeter Totter!

First serve, you glare across the net at your opponent, ready to fire your cannon and blow him away.  Oops, it hits the fence on the fly!  Second serve, you just push the ball over and pray you don't double fault.  Your opponent knows it, and now he's glaring down at you.  Dude, you're on the teeter totter!  Learn a spin serve and get off.

There's a truism in tennis:  your first serve is only as good as your second serve.  But the only way you can hit a reliable, aggressive second serve is if you learn how to spin it, and it's one of the skills I find most lacking in recreational tennis players.  Flat contact is unforgiving:  a quarter-inch too open, and your serve is long; a quarter-inch too closed, and you're in the net.  Hitting a slice serve, on the ball's side, takes some pace off because you hit less of the ball, and it adds spin, which pulls the ball down.  Combine those two elements of control, and a good server will swing just as high and hard at his second serve as he does on his first; all that changes is the angle of the racquet face.   If there's enough spin imparted, it's almost impossible to hit long, exactly the fear that encourages most players to just push the second serve over.  You should feel equally aggressive on both serves!

Beyond safety on the second serve, spin provides variety for an alternative first serve.  Good servers are like good pitchers in baseball:  fastballs work only if you can keep the batter off-balance with curves and change-ups, slower pitches than make the fastball unpredictable.  For example, if I'm up 40-15, and I've been pounding the deuce court with flat serves to the T and starving my opponent's forehand, as a first serve, I'll often hit a nice, slow spin serve wide to that forehand, giving my opponent a chance to make up a two-point deficit with one swing of his stick.  It's one of the reasons they put fences around tennis courts.

To learn to hit a slice serve, just move whatever grip you use on first serve toward your backhand.  Just that adjustment will make you swing toward the ball with your racquet sideways instead of hitting flat, over the top.  You're still looking to reach high, but on the side, 2 o'clock for righties.  If you can see the ball spin and make it curve left (for righties), you're on your way.  If you miss the court wide to the left, keep your changed grip but direct your aim more to the right.  You'd  be surprised how easy it is to learn, and how good it feels to get off the teeter totter.

c Keith Shein