Serving with purpose was something unfamiliar in my junior days. I used to measure the success of my serve counting aces and unreturned serves. I tried to hit flat T serves as fast as I could. My serve was fast enough and most of the time my opponents had hard time returning them. Especially, in the beginning of the match. However, my first serve percentage was really low. There were matches when I missed all of my first serves during a service game… So there is no point in hitting 200 km/h serves, if your first serve percentage is somewhere around 30 percent. Unfortunately, we don’t get bonus points for breaking service speed records or number of aces we hit. Yes, these things look ”sexy”, but tennis is not a beauty contest. Don’t get me wrong! If you serve really powerful serves and your first serve percentage is somewhere around 60 percent or higher, keep doing what you are doing. However, many players, especially recreational players, relay on service power too much.
Statistics show that the optimal first serve percentage is something around 67 percent, meaning that you should make 2 out of 3 first serves. Players with such first serve percentage tend to win majority of matches. If the percentage is higher, it means that most likely you serve to slow or you have an amazing ”serving” day 🙂 If your percentage is lower, it means that most likely you are going for too much on your serve. You may think: ”And so what!? I still have my second serve!” Yes, you have, but statistics say that for most of the players, especially recreational players, it is easier to win a point when returning a second serve rather that serving a second serve. Worth considering, huh?
However, not just high first serve percentage alone will make you more successful. But if you combine it with a good serve placement, it will. It is quite clear that a second serve should be aimed to the opponent’s weaker side (usually backhand) in order to make opponent’s life more difficult and eliminate the threat of being attacked. And you can try to do even more with the first serve. Look at your first serve as a shot you set up a point with. Flat T serves are really good to mix things up and win points fast, however slower wide serves are extremely powerful weapon to hold service games consistently. Look at Roger Federer, for example. Statistics show that most of his first serves are wide serves. On deuce court he loves to push his opponent wide of the court and wait for that harmless short ball, which he puts away with down the line or inside-out forehand into the open court. On ad court he does the same. Wide serve followed by cross court or inside-in forehand into the open court does the job for him. And Roger is not the only one using this pattern of play. Most of the world’s best tennis players use this simple, but effective strategy. They don’t go for aces. They set up the point with their first serve!
The best thing is that we all can copy this strategy. I did it. And it helps me big time. I hit less aces than in my junior career, however I hold my service games more consistently. My first serve percentage is much higher comparing to my junior days and points on my first serve are more structured. I still hit aces from time to time, however I really enjoy to start manoeuvring my opponent around the court with the first shot after the serve. That makes me calm and confident.
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