Why Your Tennis Serve Lacks Power And How To Develop It

Feb 08

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.

Serving Drills For Maximum Speed

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.

  1. Serving into the back fence

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.

Powerful tennis serve

You can only develop powerful tennis serves if you let go and not aim at anything.

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.

  1. Serving from close up

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.

drill for fast serving

Serving from the service line allows you to let go since the target area is easy to hit.

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.

How To Work On Your Serve In The Long Term

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.

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(39) comments

David Ostermann Gartner February 8, 2013

Super duper great 🙂 Thanks Tomaz!

Reply
Walter February 8, 2013

Hi Tomaz,

I’m already years a fan of you and this blog is again a jewel!
Have you any advice concerning, reps-sets-series to do for each session and how many sessions per week and for how long before the coordination has reached its limit.

Thanks again!

Reply
    Tomaz February 8, 2013

    Hi Walter,

    You can hit around 20 serves with each drill (so 40-50 in total) in every serve session for a while and after that do at least one session per week.

    How long does it take to reach the max speed is tough to say – it’s different for every person. I haven’t measured that so I really can’t say.

    Hitting overheads after the bounce and close to the net is another good drill that allows you to really hit the ball without holding back…

    Reply
Carl Johnson February 8, 2013

Hi Tomaz,
When I work on my serve (which is a lot) I do a drill where I start serving from the service line and after a few serves I take a couple of steps backwards and continue serving. I do this until I’m hitting serves from the back fence. This lets me work on both speed and accuracy. Some days I’ll work strictly on speed and other days I’ll work on speed and placement by using targets (cones, dots, etc.). I also use this drill as a warm up for my players at the start of practices. I’ll have my players warm up slowly at first and then on the second time through they’ll go for speed.

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    Tomaz February 8, 2013

    Hey Carl,

    Yes, great idea to start the warm up by serving from the service line.

    That starts the right “programming” of letting go right from the first serve the players make. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
Arturo Hernandez February 8, 2013

Hi Tomaz,

Your idea of training different aspects of the serve is I think the key idea here. Most people think of the serve as one thing and so they simply train that one thing over and over again. What you are saying (I think) is that the serve is many things that are put together? So you should train those different things separately and then let them come together on their own. In this case, you are writing about training power on its own. I never believed in drills until I tried them.

One idea I also had was to try serving with softer balls. This would make people have to serve much harder than normal just to get it in the box.

Have you ever tried this?

Great post!

Arturo

Reply
    Tomaz February 9, 2013

    Hi Arturo,

    Yes, in the same way as you would use medicine balls and throw them two-handed from open and closed stances to develop better coordination and more power for your groundstrokes, you can use various drills to improve a serve in tennis.

    So yes, you can work on smaller things and then put them together.

    As I was looking to find a good video for javelin thrower, I came across a few interesting training videos where you can see top athletes working on small things and progressing to eventual full throw.

    Here are two examples:

    Reply
Frercks Hartwig February 9, 2013

great drills! thats what we think about movement learning! our brain tells us to do, what it knows, what it is used to do. especially under pressure. so movement stays stabile, but this is not always the best solution in a match or in practice, when the coach or partners are watching) you. therefore it is necessary to change the rules in the practice: changing targets, material, field size, and so on.

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    Tomaz February 9, 2013

    I agree, Frercks, we need to stimulate the brain to keep adapting and it will later be able to put together more complex operations / movement.

    Reply
Jim Anderson February 9, 2013

Because I’m a technical person, I’m big on metrics & measurements. So what are your thoughts about buying a “speed gun” to measure ? [By I include “hitting the back fence on the fly”] Presumably, practice would produce progress — faster serve speed. But another question, what serve speeds are we talking about (for rec players)? I’m looking for numbers. I have no idea of the of the rec player — particularly “senior rec players” like myself. I’ve looked on the Web & couldn’t find this information. Best…..

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    Tomaz February 9, 2013

    Jim,

    I think the speed gun is a really good way to add some fun and motivation to your sessions. It also helps you see very quickly what happens when you hit the serve with tension and what happens when you’re more loose.

    The speeds of adult recreational tennis players (male) range from around 100 km/h to about 160 km/h.

    I measured that with http://www.speedtracx.com/

    Reply
    Walter February 9, 2013

    Measure without a speed-gun is also possible. You have to notice were your second bounce is.

    Example: You stand in the service-box and serve in the opposite service-box then you mark where the second bounce is.
    If you hit the fence before the second bounce, you mark the height..
    More speed is higher mark…

    grtz

    Reply
    Dublin Stringer February 17, 2013

    It’s also possible to measure your serve speed quite accurately by filming yourself with a digital camera that records with 30 FPS. I’ve calibrated this with actual footage of top pro’s (Federer, Murray) that I’ve taken myself.

    Use a program that allows you to move one frame at a time (VLC Player can do that for most formats if you enable it in the settings, Apple’s Quick Time Player will do it for the MOV format – Canon Cameras use that format, pause by hitting space bar, then use arrow keys to move forward/back) and count the number of frames between first contact with the racket and the ball and the time the ball hits the ground. 12 frames = 200km/h (125MPH)

    My fastest serve was 15 frames, so that roughly 12/15×200=160km/h (approx. 100MPH). If you can do better than that you should give yourself a big pat on the back because you’re doing really well.

    Reply
Ed B February 10, 2013

Hi Tomaz,

Thanks very much for the video – very helpful. I have been a huge fan of yours ever since I stumbled upon the video series of you teaching that German guy to hit a 1HBH on your Tennis Mind Games site, it made a huge difference to my game and I have been an avid follower of your stuff ever since.

What I would love to see sometime is some tips on placing the serve. This is something I can do reliably some days but other days I am completely random with my placement of the serve. So it must be something mental and feel-related.

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    Tomaz February 10, 2013

    Thanks for the kind words, Ed. I’ll keep in mind your questions for the future articles – but in the mean time, here are some ideas:

    1. Visualize the ball’s trajectory – meaning that you know the height above the net and the target in the court you want to serve to

    2. Do not think about technique, you “just need to do it”.

    3. You cannot control the outcome and no one serves fast serves with 100% success. So you need to accept the possibility of missing.
    If you don’t want to miss, you’re trying something unrealistic and your mind knows that and this makes you anxious. So you miss more now…

    4. Any doubt, fear, hesitation, etc. will mess up your serve – so you need to clear your mind before serving.

    Reply
Danny February 16, 2013

Hi Tomaz, another excellent tip on the serve. My game has really improved since the time I purchased your video. I never get tired of watching your tips over and over. My serve is decent and I can place it but it lacks power. My smash is powerful and sometimes I wonder why I can’t duplicate that when serving. They’re similar aren’t they. Watching you do it baffles me.

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    Zul February 16, 2013

    On the smash you hit ball down while on the serve you hit the ball paralell to the court surface. The spin generated by the wrist supination on the serve will bring the ball down. Try to brush the the back of the ball sideways when doing the so called flat serve and it will create side spin plus a bit of topspin. Thats why we often saw the trajectory of pros serves are curve during the hawk eye replay for their first serve.

    Reply
    Tomaz February 17, 2013

    Hey Danny, my guess is that you’re aiming too much when serving so you’re “guiding” the ball rather than swinging freely through it. Stay in touch for my upcoming serve video course where I explain all the mental locks that hold us back…

    Reply
Catherine February 16, 2013

Hello Tomaz,
Thank you so much for all the work you do for all types of tennis players. I took up tennis at the age of 50 after fighting cancer. For me, getting back on the court was my reward after each surgery. My knees are sore, and I pull a muscle far too often, but I love every minute. I live in a rural area so I enjoy your instructions very much. Once again thank you so much.
Catherine

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    Tomaz February 17, 2013

    Catherine, the joy we experience on tennis courts is healing and it’s one of the best addictions to have. 😉

    Reply
Jon Hanbury February 17, 2013

Really appreciate these non-commercial training sessions. I would be happy to make the occasional donations if you provide details.

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    Tomaz February 18, 2013

    Thanks a lot, Jon. Will consider your idea…

    Reply
Nasar February 18, 2013

Hi Tom
This is a very good one. In my opinion the serve is the most difficult but the only one stroke on which the player has complete control.

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David Kang February 18, 2013

Thanks for the serving tip. I’ll try two drills you suggested to generate more power on my serve. However, my biggest problem for serving has been inconsistent toss. At times, my toss becomes so erratic that I have to stop the ball and toss it again. It not only throws me off but also annoys my opponent. How can I do to make my toss more consistent?

David Kang

Reply
    Tomaz February 19, 2013

    Hi David,

    In my experience, the most common reasons for inconsistent tosses is thinking about it and thinking about technique on how to do it. That disconnects your body and causes loss of fluid movement- hence inconsistent toss.

    I suggest you imagine only where you want to toss the ball – like an imaginary box where you want to place the ball and have no thoughts on how you’re going to do it.

    If the ball is not where you want it to be, just repeat the toss and adjust. Again, the key is not knowing anything about the technique but only about placement.

    It would be best if you send me a video though so I can see if there is anything technical to correct.

    Reply
Jean Landry February 19, 2013

Dear Tomaz.
Once again, you have put your finger on a big tennis practice error: Tossing ball after ball, trying to get it to the service box, instead of hitting with feeling across the net.
I never tough of that while hitting (twice a week)100 or 200 balls.
Now i know why my flat serves are lacking power.
I am presently into my winter ski teaching but you can you be sure that when spring comes, I will go to the courts and put that precious drill into reality.
All the best, youre the best.
Jean

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chenni natarajhan February 20, 2013

Thanks a lot Tomaz. I think it should work for me too. I ‘d try from tomorrow & let you know. thank you again. nata

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Juan August 8, 2013

I did drill #1 this morning for about 20-30 mins. It was excellent!

It instantly got me out of my habit to ‘control’ and I was immediately hitting with much more power.

I thought that it would be difficult to aim the ball into the service box after this, but actually it came quite naturally and I was actually hitting more accurately than I did before.

Thank you so much for posting a great video!

Reply
    Tomaz August 8, 2013

    Thanks for sharing, Juan!

    Yes, we won’t just “forget” our usual serve and the angles at which it needs to go after some exercises like this.

    In fact, serving from different distances into the service box develops even more feel for the angle of the racquet head needed to put the ball in.

    Reply
      Juan September 22, 2013

      Tomaz, while this drill has helped my power, I am struggling with consistency during match play.

      Do you have any advice on how to develop consistency as well?

      Is it just a matter of repetition? I usually only have time to play on the weekends, unfortunately.

      Reply
        Tomaz September 23, 2013

        Hi Juan,

        Yes, mostly it’s about the repetition just trying to hit the same target over and over again so that you store the serve in your memory.

        I’ll see if I can show some serving drills for consistency on this site in the near future.

        Reply
Jd October 27, 2013

Brilliant tip… Tried it over the last month.
Now at 51 hitting the hardest serves of my Tennis Career…
Thanks,
jd

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Rick November 5, 2013

Hi Tomas,
I love your site and approach to learning/teaching tennis.

The 2 drills you mention are well known actually, so they surely must work for quite some people (i hope). Unfortunately they are not working for me and are even detrimental.

They make make think about targeting, controlling, and even make me think about my technique. Just the things the drills are supposed to get rid of.

Even if they might teach faster muscle action, I am afraid they also teach wrong things on the side because of the unrealistic weird targets (ground in front and fence back).

Do you perhaps have some alternate tips or drills to improve muscle firing speed from around the normal service position?

Thanks.

Reply
    Tomaz November 6, 2013

    Hi Rick,

    You may only control the serve from near the net is you take the task too literally. As if it is a MUST to hit a service box.

    It is not. The goal is to give you freedom to smack the ball. Don’t aim anywhere, just smack the ball down in the court and release.

    The same goes for back fence – you don’t need to hit or aim for the back fence. You simply smack 😉 the ball horizontally and let it fly.

    There are no targets that you “have” to hit. It’s about letting go.

    If you want to serve from the baseline into the service box, you will almost always apply too much control.

    If you insist, then in order to increase the racquet head speed, swing something heavier first – like a baseball bat or a racquet with a cover on.

    Swing a few times, then switch to a regular racquet and it should feel much lighter.

    Reply

[…] Therefore, you are creating a new muscle memory, a new path in your mind and with your arm that you will use later when you will want to add more power. […]

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Andrea Fae' January 4, 2015

Thank you for your web site. Go ahead! Wonderful!

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Bookends March 23, 2015

The best advice here is to work on one thing at a time!!!!

I’ve worked with my daughter for the the last couple of years and we’ve both learned that concentrating on more than one specific thing at any given time is a recipe for frustration and failure. For example her former coach had her doing a unit turn on her forehand and stopping like a statue before bringing the racket back to be prepared for the ball.

He taught it in two steps which really caused huge problems for her.. She ended up hitting late on balls with pace. Finally I explained to her what her coach wouldn’t.. that it’s one smooth motion not two. I gave her instructions to do nothing but work on her forehand prep for a few months.. and ignore the issues with everything else. Within a few weeks she was hitting the best forehands she’s ever hit…

I have to keep reminding myself not to concentrate on too much.. Another example: She has been playing some of her best tennis over the last few weeks… until she played a boy last week that she should should have easily beat. She was playing horrible and we were both disappointed and confused about it..

When reviewing her performance it dawned on me that I was yelling instructions from the side, “your swing on the return is too big. You’re not getting low enough on the BH. You’re racket is stopping on your serve.” I was falling back into the terrible habit of trying to coach her from the sidelines and thereby causing her to think about every single thing she was doing. No wonder she played so poorly and it was all my fault!!!

One thing at a time is the biggest lesson I’ve learned when it comes to improving technique, along with distinguishing between practice and playing. In practice we work on a bunch of things. In practice match or sets, she works on one or two (usually one) things. In a real/usta/tournament match she works on nothing and tries to get her mind out of her way.

Ive seen a lot of coaching over the past few years and I can tell you that your kids are at the mercy of their coach. I finally took over as my daughter’s coach after realizing that there is no connection between being a great player and a great coach. I can often see things in developing players that other coaches miss and I can almost always articulate and explain things better.

My daughter’s former coach is a great guy, a great player and a very motivating and encouraging guy but he does not explain things well.. I’ve seen him coaching her and I wanted to run on the court and explain to my daughter what he means because he often does a poor job of articulating what he wants out of his students.

Thanks for the tips!

Reply
    Tomaz March 25, 2015

    Thank you very much for sharing your experiences. Yes, one thing at a time, keeping it simple for the player to digest it.

    Their brain is already fully engaged by calculating the ball flight, timing, moving to the ball, at what angle and speed and amount of spin they’ll hit the ball, etc.

    Reply
Kris Pradez November 27, 2016

Thanks for the tip. When I was just starting tennis last year, first thing I did is learn to search properly. The pure drive at the time helped a lot since it is a serving racket. In the morning before any training session, I hit about 200 servers.

Miraculously, I learned to serve (flat, spin, top spin) even before I learned the forehand.

Now I want the first serve to be flatter, stronger, hence looking at the tips here.

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