The pronation in a tennis serve is the key move that produces a lot of power if you time it right and do it right.
Yet, learning how to pronate is often times a very challenging task.
The following 7 drills and additional tips will help you develop a proper pronation and improve your overall tennis serve technique.
There are two main reasons why the pronation is such a challenge: having old muscle memory from serving with the forehand grip and therefore performing the so-called “waiter’s serve” and the desire to control and not being able to let go.
I’ve shared more reasons in the waiter’s serve article, so here I just want to mention the desire for control.
Control and letting go are, of course, at the opposite ends of the spectrum; the more you want control, the less you will let go.
While it makes logical sense to try to hit the court when you work on your serve, this desire is the BIGGEST OBSTACLE to improving your serve.
Hitting the service box is actually very difficult as soon as the ball travels with some decent speed as the window above the net through which you need to “thread” the ball is fairly small.
Because you either consciously or subconsciously know that, you try to steer the ball into that small window and therefore you exert a lot of control.
The “control” approach to serving causes these effects:
On the other hand, the “letting go” approach causes these effects:
The most important point to take from this comparison is this: you absolutely need to practice your serve technique and NOT aim in the court.
That will ensure that you can let go and finally feel what it means to serve effortlessly.
First, you need to develop an effortless serve that goes ANYWHERE before you can develop an effortless serve that goes SOMEWHERE.
This is so critical for developing the proper serve technique with pronation that I will probably mention it too many times here, but it is that important.
Think speed, not hard. Let go, don’t control.
The final question in your mind is probably this: how will I eventually control the ball if I keep letting go?
You will learn to control the ball in another way – not by consciously steering your racquet but through lots of repetition and storing in your memory the serve that happens to hit the court.
At first, when you let go, the balls will go all over the place, but occasionally you will hit the court.
Now you need to find that serve again, but you’ll still need to keep letting go. Do no control it now.
And with repetition, there will be more and more lucky serves landing in until you reach the point when you won’t be lucky, yet you’ll still be letting go almost completely.
In my experience, the first serve is 95% of letting go and 5% of direction control, and the second serve is 80% of letting go and 20% of control.
That’s the only way for me to describe how I personally feel the ratio on my serves between letting go and control.
1. Throw balls and let go
If you throw the ball with your hand and want to throw it far, you will most likely accelerate very naturally and pronate your forearm.
Throwing some balls often will help you develop pronation very naturally.
If you currently serve with the »waiter’s tray« technique, try throwing a ball like that so you can feel how stiff that feels and how that type of movement doesn’t create much speed.
2. Lead with the edge, pronate, and follow-through behind your back
Perform this exercise without the ball and move your racquet slowly. By doing the follow-through behind your back, you will feel how you need to rotate your forearm and pronate it.
Important tip: Most players pronate too consciously and actually do it too early. Your arm will naturally pronate if you keep extending your arm.
Only once you feel the pronation start happening should you add some power to it.
3. Lead with the edge, pronate, and follow-through in front of your body
Make sure that the racquet path when you lead with the edge and pronate is not forward related to your body but at an angle, roughly around 45 degrees.
Important tip: Do not orient too early toward the court. In fact, did you know that at contact the body is not facing the court?
4. Serve with slice toward the ad court and pronate well after the contact
Because pronation on the serve happens so often way too early and creates early opening of the racquet face, we need to counter that by pronating too late.
Once you feel what it means to pronate too early and what it means to pronate too late, you’ll find the right timing much faster.
Perform this exercise very slowly at first so that the ball you hit won’t fly over the net.
Lead with the edge, hit the ball with slice slowly, and pronate after the contact.
After some serves like that, start pronating with less and less delay after the contact so that eventually you will hit the ball with slice but also with some power.
You will feel when you time it correctly as the ball will have slice and speed.
5. Serve without the body rotation and isolate the pronation
This drill is similar to the one above, but this time you try to hit the ball flat. Make sure you don’t rotate your body and keep facing the net post.
Imagine the path of the racquet which first goes straight toward the ball leading with the edge and, just before reaching it, changes abruptly and goes toward the court.
This second part and change of direction you’ll do only with your forearm that pronates and pushes the racquet toward the target.
6. Smack the ball in the ground
Start with the racquet above your shoulder, facing the ball with the edge. Drop the ball and hit it on the bounce and follow-through on the same side.
Start the motion nice and smooth, not forcefully, and only add some power just before contact.
If you do it correctly, your elbow will be pushed back up as the racquet face accelerates downward.
Do not push down with your elbow or try to hit the ball very forcefully as this is merely a technical exercise.
There are different drills to develop more power on the serve.
7. Hit the ball backwards
This is a similar drill to the previous one except that now you hit the ball backwards after a few bounces and again follow-through on the same side.
This again forces you to pronate and feel how to perform this move quite effortlessly.
The index finger is very important if you want to perform the pronation in a tennis serve correctly.
That’s because you will push the racquet face outward with the base of the index finger and also with the index finger itself.
If the index finger is not positioned correctly on the racquet, you won’t feel the leverage you can create. In other words, you won’t have much power to pronate.
Try this: Imagine pointing with your index finger toward the target at the end of your pronation.
Do not point with your body toward the target but use your index finger.
Perform all drills in this article slowly at first so that you are completely aware of what goes on during the pronation.
This part of the tennis serve is hard to correct because it normally happens very fast, so it’s crucial that you slow it down at first when working on your serve as that will help you feel and see whether you’re on the right track or not.
Only when you perform the drills correctly at low speed can you start to gradually increase speed.
Again, do not worry about hitting the court. Focus on correct pronation technique and let the ball fly.
In time, you will find a way to perform a tennis serve correctly and hit the court with high probability.