Service - The Starting Shot In Tennis
In tennis, the service marks the start of a new round, a new game, a new set or a new match; and it was of no more significance than that until Holcombe Ward and Dwight Davis revolutionized the game by giving the serve a totally new dimension as a very crucial shot to win points. The new look service that this pair originated is now well known as an “American Twist Delivery”.
As it gradually gained popular acceptance among top tennis players around the world, another US player, Maurice E. M’Loughlin, popularly referred to as the “California Comet” made more of a thunderbolt of the Service by sending them like canon balls that left his receivers stunned and gaping. This new style raised a hornet’s nest among mainly the players of the old school clamoring for intensification of the severity of footfault rules to arrest this menace that left all their good old groundstrokes obsolete overnight!
The new impetus that M’Loughlin gave the Service continued to dominate the tennis scene until R. N. Williams came up with an effective way to counter the latest “cannon ball” service. His answer to the latest serve that were shot in the form of cannons was to simply follow the delivery and take it on its rising bound.
Although a service has to be delivered with some speed, it is not the beginning and end of an effective service. A service to be more effective to the extent of being a winner should have along with speed, the additional elements of accuracy, variety and reliability. The service should never assume a set pattern, but be varied to take the opponent by surprise at every turn.
Tests have established beyond doubt that a taller person is at an advantage in serving than his shorter counterparts. A perfectly flat service delivered by a player 6 feet tall with an added 3 feet reach (and unaffected by wind or twist), has been found to just clear the net around its lowest point of 3 feet at the center with the possibility of the ball falling only within an 8-inch area of the court with the remainder being at a level under the net angle. The importance of adding some twist to get the ball to come into court is very much in evidence here.
Bringing it into court is not the only factor that matters, but the speed with which it is brought leaving hardly any room for the opponent to go for an easy kill. When serving, thinking of that shot alone is not good enough; rather, you must think ahead to your next possible move as well, if the receiver plays the ball in to the court. So, while serving. Make sure you place the ball well, so that the receiver will not have much choice it putting the ball back to an area where you cannot have a good smash at it or cause problems for you.
Just as much as the main concern of the receiver is to return the ball, the main plan behind the service should be to make the receiver to err. Rather than wasting a lot of effort to make a clean sweep, concentrating on throwing your opponent into confusion over his groundstrokes is more likely to bring you better rewards.
Serving should be done from the highest point possible without unduly tiring yourself by trying to overstretch. The hallmarks of a good service are varied speed and pace with accuracy.
When it comes to the Slice Service, it should originate from the highest point possible over your right shoulder (for right-handers) by standing firmly on both feet at around an angle of forty-five degrees to the baseline. Swing the racquet from behind your back freely and easily transferring the weight first on to your back (right) foot as you do so. Toss the ball up in the air to send it a little above your intended horizontal hitting plane, and as you start your swing, with proper timing to meet the ball as it descends to your intended horizontal hitting plane, accelerate the swing while giving maximum power to the service simultaneously by transferring the weight now on to your front (left) foot exactly at the moment of impact of the racquet with the ball to smash it in at your recipient.
In order to impart some twist required to get the ball to court, the ball should be struck with the inner side of the stringed area, as the racquet moves towards the court. Remember to have a rather flexible wrist (as distinct from a rigid one) when serving. In order to impart the maximum power or pace to the ball, you may even lift your back foot (right foot for right-handers) well off the ground while leaning forward and transferring your full weight on to the front (left) foot along with the swing at the moment of impact.
The path of the swing of the racquet should be in a right to left direction (for right-handers) while giving it a slight additional twist towards the right using your left (front) foot pivoted at the moment of striking the ball. Left-handers only need to reverse the foot arrangements and directions as given above.
A very important aspect of serving is to take utmost care over foot-faulting. Either foot touching or crossing the line prior to delivering the ball amounts to a foot fault. This will not arise if you take adequate care to place both your feet firmly within the line as you prepare to serve.
Foot faulting deliberately is just as bad as miscalling a ball; but is more often than not caused through carelessness, a lack of knowledge of rules, or over anxiety; all of which could be easily overcome with time and exposure.