Pete Sampras Serve ()Pete Sampras Serve () © Copyright

Win with your serve

You’ll see top players at the US Open win and lose matches because of their serve. Here’s what you should watch out for

It’s hard to argue against the fact that the serve is one of the most important shots in tennis: it’s the first shot in each point, and it can either give you free points (with aces and winners) or a gift for your opponent (in case of a double fault or poor serve). The best servers do not rely just on power and accuracy, but also on a little bit of variety. They must know which serve is needed for that moment in the match, their opponent and the surface.

Flat Serve

When you hear a cracking sound coming off the strings of an Ivo Karlovic serve, you know it was a flat serve even without looking at it. This is the fastest serve, and it’s achieved by hitting the ball with a flat racket slightly in front of you. The main advantage is that it transfers all of the power to speed, so opponents have very little time to react. It works well on every surface, and it is also the easiest to learn. The disadvantages are accuracy (fewer flat serves go in and over the net), and also the speed itself – good returners can also use the pace of the serve to generate a fast return.

The reserve

“A tennis player is only as good as his second serve”, said Pete Sampras. Great servers know they can rely on their second serve and, because of that, they can take bigger risks on their first serve. This is the case for Roger Federer or Milos Raonic. Players with a more timid second serve – such as Rafael Nadal – end up having higher first-serve percentages as they take fewer risks, but also fewer first serve points.

Slice Serve

The slice is the favoured serve for most lefties as the ball spins opposite to right handers and creates lots of trouble for their return. The slice is produced by brushing the ball on the side, creating a rotation of the ball that makes it spin out wide once it touches the ground. Its main advantage is that it is a fairly solid shot, easy to master and offers a good variation to a flat serve. It is also the easiest technique to use for a second serve. It works best on fast and low-bouncing surfaces, such as grass, forcing opponents out wide. The main problem is that you lose speed, and it can become predictable.

Kick Serve

This is the hardest to master, but one of the most efficient in the game. You add topspin to the ball by brushing it upwards with the racket  while moving sideways to the direction of the shot. The trickiness is worth the reward: kick serves have a high first serve percentage, as it clears high over the net, and they have power. They are difficult to return because the ball jumps higher than the ideal hitting point. It does not work on low bouncing surfaces. Andy Roddick was king of the kick serve, but watch out for 2010 US Open winner Sam Stosur of Australia – she has one of the best on tour right now.


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