14 June

A summer of serving: Part three, mastering the flat serve

The flat serve is both the bread and butter serve of tennis and the tennis player's most deadly weapon. Here's how to make sure you are correctly introducing it in to your arsenal

When they were young, the Williams sisters learned the basics of serving by throwing rackets over the net. That may not be an option for you, but keep the image in mind. Before you learn about slice and spin, it's this action that will give you the grounding for the flat serve.

As we discussed in section one of this Summer of Serving guide, the flat serve is the go-to serve of the pros. But it is also the starting point for all players intent on building consistency and effectiveness into their serving.

The Grip

Use the back-to-basics chopper or handshake grip. (It's easy to find this grip: try using your racket as an axe imagining the rim/edge of the racket to be the axe head).

The Toss

See last week's guide to where to stand and how to toss the ball consistently and then pay a little more attention to where the ball should be on contact point.

Of all the serves, the flat serve is perhaps the most straightforward. The ball, launched with a straight arm, should end up be in front of you almost in line with your head, but a little bit more toward the serving shoulder. You can experiment with this, but too far to the right (if you are a righty) and you will find it hard to generate power. Too far to left, and you won't be able to control direction.

The swing and hit

Do look online for serving tips... we enjoy former pro Florian Meire's detailed, sometimes daunting, Online Tennis Instruction 

Your job is to throw the racket in to play. Well actually, unless your are a young Serena, not so much the racket as the ball as it comes off the strings. The swing you need is the most natural interpretation of the task because unlike a slice or kick serve, there is no need to add another element to the process. Just swing and hit.

That said, the serve action is not that easy to grasp conceptually. The swing has two main parts to it: a relatively gentle long upwards motion and a faster pace steeper downward finish after the ball is hit. Analyse it, and you will see the the two parts of this swing head off in different directions (There's a nice illustration of this at Feel Tennis).

But what happens when you take your serve apart to mimic these directional changes? It can be confusing and end up not feeling natural, and without a coach to point out what is happening, it is easy to be discouraged.

So, for now, worry only about the long, relatively gentle swing toward the ball and the fast paced steeper "hit". 

The racket face

When you hit the ball for the flat serve you are not aiming to slice the ball or apply top spin. In fact you will be doing what seems obvious (until you have leaned the joys of slice and spin) and hitting the back of the ball with the racket facing the direction you want the ball to travel. This means that during the course of the serve your racket face will pronate - turn. Again, deconstructing this can be complicated but the general idea of wanting to hit the ball with the flat of the racket should come naturally. 

Adding direction and pace

To begin with your flat serve will simply be finding the court. That could be a problem as it will be hittable by your opponent (see Part one of our guide).

Adding pace and direction is largely a matter of practice, experimenting and commitment to the shot. 

For pace add racket speed, putting more of your body (and bent-knees) into the action and reaching for maximum height.

For direction observe the subtle changes in the hitting position that sends the ball to opposite corners of the serve box. The good news is you won't be changing the basic action, your stance or the position of the toss. The bad news is that you will have to get used to "thinking" the ball into the direction it must take.

Final thoughts

Book yourself a long practice session and grab yourself as many balls as you can find. Hammer the net, the back fence and polka-dot the court with tennis balls. As your co-ordination becomes second nature and your muscle memory kicks in, your fine flat serve will make itself known to you.

Do film yourself serving and compare your action to training videos or the serves of the pros and, if you are not in a league already, find one here