Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lesson : Making the Most of Your Second Serve

Instead of just trying to get it in, create a plan of action. From beginners all the way to advanced players, the second serve is one of the most undervalued strokes in the game. Most players think of the first serve as a weapon.

But many of those same players, once they have to put a second serve into play, change their mentality—their goal becomes simply to put the ball in the box. That’s a fundamental mistake because the serve, whether it’s the first or the second, sets the tone of the point.

And if you start it on a cautious note you’re placing yourself in a hole before the point has even begun. By concentrating on strong and repeatable mechanics, good placement, and spin, you can develop a second serve that helps you play points on your terms.

OBJECTIVE 1: Develop a consistent motion
The most important thing to focus on at this level— whether it’s the first or second serve—is consistency with your delivery, and that begins with the ball toss. It’s normal to tighten up a little on your second serve, so it’s vital, if you want to use that stroke effectively, to take as many variables as possible out of the equation and let repetition and habit take over.

The best way to do this is to have a consistent ball toss that doesn’t fly all over the place and force you to make technical changes in order to hit the ball. Practice by holding the ball in your fingertips and using a lifting, not throwing, motion to place the ball to the right (assuming you’re a right-hander) and in front of your body just above the height of your outstretched racquet.

Also, remember to extend your arm fully for your second serve just as you would for your first. Many players unintentionally lower their toss on their second delivery because they get tense.

OBJECTIVE 2: Bridge the gap
At the club level, it’s common to see players hit big, flat first serves that rarely go in, and then follow them up with weak second serves that travel at less than half the speed of their first. Ideally, your first serve should go in 60 to 70 percent of the time and your second serve should move at about two-thirds of the speed of your first one.

If you have trouble reaching those levels, you might consider being less ambitious on your first serve. Build your serve up from your second serve, not down from your first.

OBJECTIVE 1: Pick a target
Your first priority at this level is to master placement. Make sure you can direct serves to each of the three important locations in the service box: the forehand, the backhand, and right at your opponent’s body. Players tend to forget about the body serve, but it’s an important part of good strategy.

Many receivers don’t handle the body blow well and you can use it to get your opponent off-balance so you can take advantage with your next shot. But most of your second serves should be aimed toward your opponent’s weaker side—just don’t become predictable.

Mix it up by occasionally going toward his stronger wing or right at him. By doing this, you not only keep your opponent guessing, you also create opportunities to dictate play. And by serving to his strength you make it easier to target his weak side, which will help you get on the offensive after the serve. Practice this tactic by placing targets on the court and aiming for them.

OBJECTIVE 2: Experiment with spin
Adding spin to your serve gives you another dimension to play with. Spin adds margin for error to your serve—you can hit the ball higher and harder and it will still fall into the court—plus it produces tricky bounces that can confound your opponent.

Start by learning the slice. It’s easier than the kick serve because it’s not quite as complicated and it’s a more natural motion for your body. To hit the slice serve, toss the ball farther to the right (if you’re righthanded) than you would for a flat serve and hit across the outside of the ball from 2 o’clock down to about 8 o’clock.

Don’t do this solo. It’s best to get an instructor to help you lay the groundwork for a spin serve. As you get better, you can also begin experimenting with the kicker, too.

OBJECTIVE 1: Notice your opponent’s tendencies
At this level you should have a pretty sound second serve in terms of technique, placement, and spin control. While you don’t want your second delivery to be overly aggressive, which invites double faults, you should serve with the intention of setting up the point so you can hit your second shot from a position of strength.

For example, if you have a big forehand and you want to hit as many as you can once the point begins, figure out where to place your second serve to increase your chances of getting a return to your forehand.

How you get this done will vary depending on your opponent’s tendencies and strengths, so there are no hard and fast rules here. Pay attention to your opponent’s patterns and tailor your second serve accordingly.

OBJECTIVE 2: Rely on your second serve in practice There’s a saying in tennis that you’re only as good as your second serve. This is absolutely true. Your second serve is the foundation of your service game; it’s the shot you rely on when your first serve isn’t working well, so it has to be dependable under pressure.

A great way to hone your second delivery is to play practice sets in which you get only one serve. This forces you to find a balance between aggression and consistency, which is exactly what you’re looking for in a good second serve.

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