Every day, coaches from all around the world tell their students "get a bucket of balls and practice your serve.” This is great advice; however, just going out and practicing your serve without a purpose might just lead to boredom.
Oftentimes, you will see players hitting serve after serve, and they are more concerned with how many balls are left in the basket than with the quality of the serves they are hitting. Serving practice can be extremely monotonous, and many players need to be challenged during practice in order to succeed. Give yourself goals when you serve!
Here are a few tips to help improve your serve and get the most out of your practice.
I like to advise players to set up targets during serving practice. Serving without putting focus on your placement is akin to a pitcher practicing throwing the ball in the middle of the strike zone on every pitch. No matter how good their fastball is, if it is right down the middle of the plate, eventually they are going to get hit hard! No matter how big your serve is, if it is right in the middle of the box every time, your opponent will be able to time it and take control of the point with their return. Place three targets in each service box: Down the tee, into the body and out wide. Depending on how advanced a player you are, you can make your targets different sizes. As your serve improves, make your targets smaller. Give yourself a goal. Start with having to hit the serve on each target 10 times. If you can accomplish that, you’ve just hit 60 good quality serves! See how many serves it takes to get to 10 on each target—the ones that take the most serves are obviously the ones you need to start practicing more.
The next game could be a simple scoring game. Start on the deuce side and play a game to 10. Practice like you are playing a point. Hit a first serve to your target. If you hit your target, you get two points. If you get the serve in but not to your target, you get one point. If you miss the serve long or wide, you lose a point, and if you miss the serve in the net, you lose two points because serving in the net is the worst place to miss (just like any other shot!). If you get to plus-10, you win, and if you get to minus-10, you lose. Now repeat to the ad side. This is a great way to actually compete while practicing your serve.
The last piece of advice to spice up your serving practice is to judge your power. For less advanced servers, you should count how many times your serve bounces after landing in the box before it hits the fence. If the number is four, then try to make it three a few times to each box. When the ball starts bouncing fewer and fewer times, you will realize that your serve has become more powerful. If you are a more advanced tournament player, see if you can hit the back fence before a second bounce. This is especially important when practicing your second serve, as it is extremely important to get good depth so your opponent cannot attack.
By adding these little games and competitions to your serving practice, you are likely to have better focus while really having fun! Before you know it, you will notice a big difference in the quality of your serves.