The reason for a lack of power and speed in your tennis serve is a very common mistake that is made when practicing serves.
Whether you’re improving serve technique or power, you always want the serve to go in – in other words, you’re working on placement, too.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that there are targets in the service box that you’re aiming at. You may simply be trying to hit the ball in the service box – so that’s working on placement, too.
I know it makes sense to do that. We obviously need to develop a serve that makes the ball go in the service box (in), so that’s a constant in all service drills.
But unfortunately there’s one big factor that’s overlooked and that causes problems in the long term!
If you’re trying to serve the ball into the service box, you either consciously or subconsciously know that the window above the net into which you must serve in order for the ball to land in the service box is very small.
You’re also aware that the area into which you can serve is actually quite small – because as soon as the ball has some speed, it will fly quite far and therefore you won’t be able to serve, for example, in the middle of the service box.
So the real area into which you can serve is perhaps up to 5 feet into the service box – measuring from the service line.
And when you’re aware that the window above the net is small and that the target area is likewise small, you will consciously or unconsciously start to CONTROL the racquet head because you will try to figure out (feel) the angle of the racquet head that will send the ball into this small target.
And controlling the racquet in that way means slowing down the racquet.
In order words, you are NOT really letting go.
Therefore, you’re not learning how to serve at your maximum speed, but rather you’re creating a muscle memory of a slower serve that you’re controlling all the time.
This is especially true if you play mostly for points. When you play for points, there are painful repercussions for missing the second serve (losing a point), so the desire to control the serve and not miss it is very strong.
With lots of repetition of such serves, you have trained your arm to move relatively slowly, and now you cannot serve fast even if you want to because the slow serve has been stored in your mind and body!
Obviously in the long run, we need to learn how to serve with the full speed of the racquet head that our body can produce, but if we ALWAYS aim into the court, we will not develop maximum speed because aiming into the service box holds us back.
Therefore, we need to use serving drills that allow us to swing freely so that we can develop and FEEL what the maximum speed of the racquet head (and the ball!) feels like and so that we can store that feel into our muscle memory.
The following drills allow us to let go and swing freely. In order to swing freely, we need a very big target or no target at all.
With these drills, you’ll feel what it means to swing at full speed and hit the ball really fast – and once you have that feel, you’ll be able to transfer it to your serve when you’re trying to hit the serve into the service box.
Your goal here is to simply hit the ball with a loose arm, really let go without any control, and try to make the ball fly really far.
Ideally you would do this with a basket of balls on a football field where there would be no targets or obstacles for 100 yards.
But in real life, you can simply serve across the whole court and see if you can hit the back fence.
When you can actually hit the back fence while performing this drill, look for less and less effort and still try to make the ball fly to the back fence.
In time, you will realize that you can hit effortless serves without much tension and that, in fact, the less tension you feel, the faster the ball will fly.
The second drill that allows you to really let go of controlling your serve is serving from close up – namely from the service line or even closer to the net.
From that position, you can feel that it’s not that difficult to hit the opposite service box, and you can also really lean into the ball and let it fly.
You can then back up one step after each serve and keep the same feel of a relaxed arm and relaxed mind – as you need to be careful not to start controlling the serve again.
You can repeat this sequence of serves from the service line to the baseline quite a few times and in the process »listen« carefully to the feel in your body and arm to determine at which point you’re controlling the serve and when you’re really letting go.
If you want to develop a powerful tennis serve, you need to work on developing the speed of the racquet head.
When you work on that aspect of your serve, you MUST NOT work on placement, too.
Your goal is just to teach the muscles of your body, upper arm, forearm, and wrist to fire faster.
They do not need the target to learn to fire faster. They simply need to be stimulated repeatedly with certain tasks (and resistances) in order to change and improve.
Therefore, when you’re working on the speed of the serve, realize that these drills are designed only to teach your muscles to generate more speed.
In time, they will, and this new “muscle firing program” will be stored in your mind and in your muscles.
Then when you practice aiming into the targets, the new, faster firing program will be there and work for you. Of course, it will work only if you allow it to.
If you worry about missing and want to control the serve too much, you’ll slow it down again and will not allow your fastest serve to emerge.
But it will be there, stored in your muscles, waiting to be used to its full potential.
The problem at the moment is that it is most likely not there as you haven’t worked on developing it.
The full speed of the serve was never allowed because you wanted to serve the ball in and now you have stored a “muscle firing program” that works slower.
I suggest that every time you work on your serve – either on technique or on accuracy – you spend at least 30% of that time also working on speed where you apply one or both of the above serving drills.
In time, you will eventually reach your plateau, and the serve won’t go any faster even if you swing freely.
The next step will be to use medicine balls, resistance bands, and other training aids in order to develop stronger and faster muscles.
But right now you can add more power to your tennis serve if you just allow your current potential of developing racquet head speed to emerge by using the above-mentioned serving drills.