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Strategies for an effective tennis serve

posted Apr 6, 2013, 7:40 PM by Simon Nguyen

Consider this situation. You are playing on centre court Wimbledon. Your opponent is Roger Federer, the reigning #1 player and defending champion. You are set to serve for the match. What type of serve should you deliver? A 135-mph blast aiming indiscriminately or a 110-mph serve targeting Roger’s weaker side. The answer to this conundrum will vary according on the player’s experience.

A less seasoned player is likely to pick the former. More power is always better, is it not? A more seasoned player is likely to pick the latter. Federer has seen his share of power serves; he won’t be troubled by power alone. The tennis superstar is likely to still be able to attack the serve or at least block the ball back deep enough to set up for his next shot. This article illustrates why strategic serving, and not power serving, is the key to an effective serve.

Uncertainty is the greatest fear in life and in sport. To achieve success in tennis, it is extremely important for the player to vary the speed and location of his or her serve as to plant uncertainty and doubt in the mind of the opponent. This doubt will lead to the opponent playing a less aggressive game. The strategic advantage gained from a less assertive opponent will allow the player to control the pace and tempo of the game. This is vital as the one who dictates how the match is played usually ends up as the victor. The key question is: how will the server be able to accomplish this serving strategy?

To implement the strategy, we must first realize that each player holds certain beliefs with regards to the other player and his or her playing style. The best strategy for the player would be to play against those beliefs. For example, the opponent has done some scouting on you and finds that you like to serve to the deuce court. As a matter of fact, two thirds of all your serves are to the deuce court. If you could recognize this, you should counter your opponent’s beliefs by serving to the ad court instead. When this happens, the opponent will update his beliefs; he now expects that you will serve to the ad court. But his strategy will once again be foiled if you promptly go back to serving to the deuce court. The end result is likely to be in your favor, since you have basically outwitted your opponent.

The same strategy can be applied to varying serve speeds. If your opponent expects that you will deliver a power serve, hitting an off-speed serve will put the opponent off his game and induce either an error or a weak return. The opposite is also true. Of course, this strategy will only work if you are skilled enough to execute it. If you are not confident with your serving, the best strategy would be to stay within your comfort zone until your improved skills allow you to do otherwise.