Serve For Placement, Not Power

Growing up, one of my favorite players was Ken Rosewall, the Aussie nicknamed "Muscles."  He was 5'6" on a tall day, but was able to serve and volley his way to grand slam championships, and obviously not because he could serve aces like Pete Sampras.  Rosewall could place the ball on a dime and pick apart a returner's weaknesses.  For us recreational players, he remains a great model.  Before trying to knock down the fence, get a bucket of balls and learn to hit the six placements, both corners of each box, both sides of the T, and at the body.  A good server can hit all six with both a flat and a spin serve.

Once you've mastered at least some of those placements, your job isn't done.  I know it's a lot to ask, but you've got to think before you serve!  For example, where is the receiver standing?  If, on the deuce court, she's moved toward the center mark to protect her backhand, for God's sake, slice the serve out wide to her forehand and hit the ace she's giving you.  Or what about if he's taken a few steps back behind the baseline to get a better look at your hard serve, or because your kick serve is bouncing high on him?  Again, go to a soft slice out wide and make him worry about your short serves in the box.  That will trap him inside the baseline where he can't run away from your pace.  Or what about if she's crowding the service line on your second serve, trying to intimidate you?  Say thank you very much and aim your serve right at her body.  If it sticks in her belly button, you get an extra point.

And how about remembering where you served last and changing it up?  If, for example, you've been pounding the backhand out wide on ad court, when it's 30-15 and you've created just that expectation, how about hitting one up the T?  Or, what about changing pace?  At 30-Love, instead of looking for a big ace to take advantage of your lead, how about slowing that first serve down, the way a pitcher throws a change-up instead of his heat?  Serve counter to the receiver's expectations and you can pick up some cheap points.

The biggest advantage you have as a server is not hitting serves that can't be returned, but making the receiver start the point with the stroke you want him to make.  Placement trumps pace any day.

c Keith Shein