Tennis Second Serve: The Foundation Of Serving in Tennis

On TV, pro players are admired for their first serve. But few players and coaches recognize the importance of having a solid second serve in tennis. Typically, the tennis second serve is hit when a player misses the first serve, leaving them one chance to hit a serve before a double fault is given.

Few players work on the second serve in tennis, because it is often seen as less important than the first serve. Also, the tennis second serve requires a greater amount of topspin, which can present a level of difficulty for club players. This article will discuss the basic fundamentals of improving the second serve in tennis.

Learning the Tennis Second Serve From Pete Sampras

Who has the best serve in the history of tennis? Many people will say that it is Pete Sampras. The 7-time Wimbledon champion and 6-time year-end world number one had one of the fastest and most accurate serves. Few people could effectively return against him because he kept them guessing with variations in speed and placement. He seemed to hit a ton of aces in every match he played. This was certainly true about his first serve. But what people need to appreciate just as much is that Sampras also had the best second serve ever. It’s true that tennis players are only as good as their second serves.

Even if you don’t serve like Pete, it is important to learn how to hit a good second serve if you want to be competitive. Unlike the first serve, it is inherently a stroke that is under immediate pressure. If you miss it, the point is lost, and your opponent didn’t even have to do anything. It is essentially a gift that you give away. At the professional level, there have been players who had great talents but were handicapped by their second serves.

Former teen prodigy and glamor queen Anna Kournikova retired without winning any singles title mainly because of her weak second serve. To an extent, Venus Williams, great player as she is, has not won as many titles as her sister Serena in part because in comparing the two, Venus’ second serve is more vulnerable.

Using Topspin in the Second Serve in Tennis

The second serve

A good second serve is almost always a spin serve. Sure, you can go for a big flat second serve just as you would go for a first serve, but only if the score is 40-0 and you are up by a break or two. Basically, the most effective second serves are all hit with a good amount of spin. It is even recommended that players hit spin serves for their first serves as well. It just gives you that much many more options and keeps your opponent guessing – the same way Sampras kept his opponents guessing!

The Tennis Kick Serve – One of the Spin Variations

There are two kinds of spin serves – the slice serve and the kick serve. Most coaches recommend the kick serve as the main second serve for any player. There are variations of the kick serve as well. A kick serve is essentially a topspin serve. Like all topspin shots, it bounces up high and pitches forward. It can force the returner to try to hit the ball from an awkward height. A heavy kick serve is very difficult unless the returner is well inside the baseline and taking the ball early. But the spin can make the timing required for this kind of return very difficult.

Using a Twist Serve on the Second Serve

The slice serve

A variation of the kick serve is the so-called twist serve. It is a topspin serve that also has sidespin. If you imagine the ball is spinning on an axis, a pure topspinning ball and a sliced ball are rotating upon a horizontal axis. But a twist serve is rotating on a diagonal axis. Therefore, when it bounces, it goes up high and to the left or the right, depending on the way it was hit.

For right handers, the ball almost always bounces to the opponent’s left side. Only a few players can hit a variation of this twist serve that bounces high to the opponent’s right side.

A slice serve, by contrast, has backspin. The difference is that all slice serves have sidespin as well. For a right hander, this shot bounces low and bends to the right side of the opponent. When hit with force, it can bend so much that it really drags the opponent off the court.

The slice serve travels a bit lower over the net than the kick and twist serve, but it still has more margin for error than a purely flat serve. Nevertheless, it is a useful serve to learn if only for the variation, even when used as a first serve.

Tennis Second Serve: The Different Spins

There are many different situations where you would hit different kinds of serves. The most obvious way is to get to the opponent’s weakness. As mentioned above, the topspin serve bounces high, so if you are playing against a short player or someone who struggles with high bounces, then this is the most sensible option. Additionally, if you put sidespin to produce a twist serve, then you can hit to your opponent’s weaker side. Let’s assume that both server and returner are right handed. The server’s twist serve will bounce high over the returner’s backhand, the side that is traditionally seen as the weaker wing for most players.

Tennis Second Serve: Choosing the Type of Serve

Conversely, if the returner’s forehand is the weaker side, then the slice serve should be more often employed. It is not uncommon anymore for modern players to have forehands that are somewhat weaker than their backhands, especially since a lot of players nowadays are quite powerful with their double handed backhands. Sometimes, for these players, the forehand is the side that breaks down more easily, especially if they use western grips and have elaborate, long swings. Now imagine a left handed server.

A slice serve from a lefty will bend out wide to a right hander’s backhand. Even if it is a strong two hander, the returner will have to stretch out so wide that he or she may be forced to hit with one hand or be so far off the court that the server’s next shot will almost automatically be a winner. John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova made careers out of this kind of serve.

The surface also dictates a little as to what kind of second serve to use. On surfaces where the ball bounces high, topspin serves should be used more often. On low-bouncing surfaces like grass, the slice is more effective. Clay is unique because it accentuates the way a ball bounces. So both the slice and kick serves are useful because slices bounce really low and topspins really kick.

Tennis Second Serve: The Kick Serve

Having established the importance of learning how to hit a good second serve and the tactics that can be used with it, we now go on with the technical aspects of hitting this shot. All strokes in tennis begin with the proper grip. For most serves, and definitely for second serves, the continental and eastern backhand grips are recommended. For flat first serves, players can actually use an eastern forehand grip. But this grip usually doesn’t allow a player to put the desired amount of spin that makes a good second serve.

Kick serves are more commonly hit using backhand grips, but continental grips can work too. The toss is extremely important. When learning this shot, the toss should go up over and behind the head. The racket is taken back just as with any other serve, but since the toss is going behind, the player’s back has a much more pronounced arch. The height of the toss varies from player to player, but there is sense in not tossing too high because it would be strenuous for the back to be in that arched position for a prolonged amount of time.

Tennis Second Serve: The Technique of Hitting The Serve

The second serveAs you get ready to hit, you are aiming for the bottom of the ball. Basically, what you should try to do is to hit up and away from your body. It makes sense, because your racket starts its contact with the bottom of the ball; then you hit up to impart the topspin; then you hit away to give the power and direction of the serve.

After the ball leaves your racket, the wrist pronates. The pronation is more severe than on other kinds of serves. The racket head finishes on the same side of the body, not across.

The way the wrist snaps dictates whether the serve will have sidespin as well. The one problem here is that, because you are tossing differently, you sort of give away a clue to your opponent what kind of serve you are attempting. But even at the pro level, players toss slightly differently for different serves.

Sampras and Roger Federer are about the only players who can hit all kinds of serves from the same toss – and that is why they are the owners of the most grand slam singles titles in tennis history.

Tennis Serve Toss For The Second Serve

The slice serve also has a different toss. It is forward and slightly more to the right for right handers and to the left for left handers. In a sense, there is less of a difference between the toss for a slice serve and a flat serve, so it is possible for ordinary players to learn to hit this serve from almost the same toss as the flat serve, giving it a little more disguise than the kicker. The stance through contact is sideways as you are also hitting the ball sideways along the back of it. As with the twist serve, the wrist snap facilitates this action. The racket then finishes across the body, same as for the flat serve.

The serve is the cornerstone of a player’s game, because it is the shot that relies solely on that player alone. It can be severely affected by issues like confidence, focus and physical factors – all internal factors for any player.

Second Serve: A Foundation For Your Game

In a sense, the second serve is the most crucial shot because if any of these factors are affecting the player (like when confidence is low) double faults will follow. You wouldn’t want to give any gifts to your opponent. You have to at least make him or her earn the points. So be sure to practice your second serve. Give it even more priority in your practice sessions than your first serve. After all, if you have a good second serve, you automatically will have a reliable serve to hold all your service games – and that’s half the battle already.

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