How-to: Tennis Serve

The tennis serve will be one of the most important parts of your game since you’ll be serving for half of each set, or three games out of six. Every point starts off with a serve as well, so you’re going to need a good one in order to put pressure on your opponent. The serve will determine the way in which a point will pan out, since a player with a good serve will be on the offensive, controlling the general direction of the ball. Armed with a good tennis serve, you’ll be forcing the receiver to chase your shots down, having them worry about returning your shots while you set up to strategically win the point. If you have a ridiculously strong serve, your opponent might not even have the chance to return it! So, with that in mind, today we’ll be going over how to serve in tennis.

How-to: Tennis Serve


Before we show you how to serve in tennis, let’s take a look at positioning. When a game starts, the player begins by serving on the right side of the court behind the baseline, alternating sides after each point. The only requirements for the tennis serve here are that you don’t pass the center line–conveniently indicated for you with the center mark (that little line that juts out from the baseline’s midpoint)–and that you don’t step into the court before you’ve made contact with the ball. Where you choose to serve on your side of the court is up to you, however.

For singles, a strategic plan is to serve close to the center of the court for the best coverage, as you’ll already be at the center for your opponent’s return.

For doubles, the best position to stand is at the corner since you will have two people to cover the middle, with each player covering their own respective corner.

tennis serve positioning - how to serve in tennis

How to Serve in Tennis

Now then, let’s go over how to serve in tennis. Once you’ve chosen the position where you’d like to serve, it’s time to perform the actual motions. For a tennis serve, the goal is to hit the ball diagonally from where you stand into the opposite side’s service box. You can see from the picture below that there are four separate service boxes, and as long as the ball lands within the correct service box–landing on the white lines is okay–without hitting the net or net cord, the point can continue.

service box - tennis serve - how to serve in tennis

If you fail your first serve, it is called a fault, but you will have two attempts at completing your serve. Missing the second serve will be a double fault, which will result in the loss of the point. If the ball happens to hit the net or net cord and then lands into the correct service box, you are given a re-do, officially known as a let. You are allowed an infinite number of lets (although this rarely happens), but we don’t recommend it as it doesn’t lead to much progress.

tennis serve stance - how to serve in tennis

All types of tennis serves practically use the same serve stance, which is a back foot that lies parallel with the baseline and a front foot at an angle around 45 degrees. The different serves move across the court in different ways, so having practice with all of them can help you outplay your opponent. As we describe the different serves, we’ll be explaining it for right-handed players so if you’re left-handed, just assume that the opposite is true.

You will also need to know the correct way to grip your racquet for a tennis serve. The most all-inclusive grip is the continental grip, which is used in all of the serves (the only exception being the slice serve, which can also use an eastern grip). For a continental grip, you are going to want to hold the racquet so that it is perpendicular with the ground. To practice the continental grip, try hitting a tennis ball against the ground with the side of your racquet continuously. You’ll know if you’re gripping the racquet correctly if you can consistently hit the ball like this.

tennis serve grips - continental eastern grip - how to serve in tennis

Before Each Serve

Before a serve, you’ll want to perform a ball bounce before each attempt. This is mainly for preparation (changing grips) while also getting a feel for the ball and the court. All you’ll need to do is bounce the ball once or twice with your left hand (if you’re right-handed, and vice versa for lefties) and bring the ball and your racquet face together before you perform the actual serve.

Ball Bounce -  how to serve in tennis - tennis serve

Types of Tennis Serves

There are four different types of tennis serves you can learn, some of which have different learning curves:

  • Flat Serve
  • Slice Serve
  • Top Spin Serve
  • Kick Serve

Flat Serve

A flat serve is the strongest tennis serve out of the four, and it’s also the easiest to learn (since it requires no spin). This will probably be the first tennis serve you learn as you progress, and most other tennis serves are variants of the flat serve. Here’s how to serve in tennis, beginning with the basic flat serve:

1. Hold the racquet grip with a continental grip in a semi-loose fashion. You don’t want to hold the racquet too tightly or else it will restrict the fluidity of your power.

2. Line the front of your right shoulder up in the direction you want the ball to travel. Don’t make this too obvious because you want to catch your opponent off-guard.

3. While having the ball in the left hand and the racquet in your right, bounce the ball a couple of times in preparation for the serve. Afterwards, bring the ball to the racquet face and shift some of your weight onto the front foot to prepare for the ball toss.

4. Next is the ball toss. Toss the ball up in the air vertically at a decent height (about as high as you can reach with your racquet) and a little in front of you (so that if you weren’t to hit the ball, it would land in the court close to the baseline). Point your tossing hand in the sky for guidance and remember to not step into the court or cross the center mark until you’ve hit the ball.

5. After tossing the ball up, bend your knees while shifting most of your weight from the front foot to the back foot. This helps to concentrate all your power to the right side of your body, as well as helping you to jump to to the point of contact to hit the ball. It’s really important to time everything right or else you will end up jumping too early or too late.

6. Bring your racquet behind you with the elbow bent in preparation of the serve. Pretend like you are about to whip something, preferably an inanimate object that cannot feel pain.

7. As the ball reaches its apex and just starts to descend, swing your racquet over your head until it’s fully extended to come into contact with it. Again, imagine that the ball is further in front of you and you are about to whip it. Swing with as much force as you can muster while turning your shoulders; the sweet spot of your racquet will lie slightly above the center of your racquet.

8. After you have hit the ball, follow through by bringing your racquet down toward the bottom of your opposite foot, making sure to bend your elbow in the process. Shift your weight now to your front foot and step into the court and prepare for your opponent’s return.

Flat Serve - how to serve in tennis - tennis serve


  • Leaves little time for the opponent to react
  • Can get some easy points
  • Helps you save energy
  • Fastest tennis serve
  • Easiest to learn


  • Serve and volley players have less time to get to the net
  • Harder for shorter people to get over the net without spin
  • When the opposing opponent returns the shot, it will come back stronger because the shot was returned using the power you generated

Slice Serve

A slice serve is a little like the flat serve, although the way in which you hit the ball is slightly different. Instead of emphasizing on power, the ball will bounce really low and can either move toward the outside of the court or towards your opponent’s body, which can effectively disorientate them. This is a good tennis serve to use to get your opponent guessing.

The grip used to perform this tennis serve is the continental grip (can also use an eastern grip). With the serve motion you would need to toss the ball at 2 o’ clock but for left handed players, you would throw it at 10 o’ clock. This is to get the ball farther away from you in order to perform the slice serve properly.

You will also need to bend your knees to help you jump in the air to reach the point of contact. At the point of contact, you will be hitting the ball on the outside with a brushing motion (left to right for right-handed players and right to left for left-handed player), rather than dead center like a flat serve. This brushing motion helps to create side spin, which will help it to curve in the air and also once it bounces on the ground.


  • Can throw your opponent out of the court
  • Can run into your opponent’s body, causing an awkward return
  • Bounces low
  • Easy to learn


  • This tennis serve lacks topspin so it has a higher chance to hit the net

Topspin Serve

The topspin serve is a tennis serve that travels straight like a flat serve but bounces high for your opponent, which can put you on the offense as you have time to setup. It is also the most consistent serve out of the four, as it’s easy to get over the net.

The topspin serve also uses a continental grip (can also use a eastern grip). The biggest difference between how a topspin serve is executed vs. a flat serve is the way in which you toss the ball and where you make contact with it.

With the toss, you would have to throw the ball directly above your head or a little bit behind your head. This differs from a flat serve in which you would toss the ball slightly forward so that it would land within the court close to the baseline if you were to let it fall.

As for the point of contact, instead of hitting the ball as it descends with a downward motion of the racquet, you will be hitting the ball with an upward motion. So, before the ball reaches its apex, your racquet will be behind you face down with a bent elbow, moving from 6 o’ clock to 12 o’ clock. You will be hitting the ball with a brushing motion in order to create spin and the harder you brush the ball, the more spin it will have.


  • Bounces high
  • Easy to learn
  • Gives you a lot of time to approach the net
  • With enough practice, can make for a consistent serve


  • Easy to see coming and easy to return
  • Loses its effectiveness if the ball is hit as the ball is rising

Kick Serve

The kick serve is the hardest tennis serve to learn out of the four, although it’s also the most difficult to return. You can think of a kick serve as a mix between a topspin serve and a slice serve. A kick serve is different from the rest of the serves as it will have some combination of topspin, backspin, as well as side spin, so you can only imagine how devastating this tennis serve will be if executed properly.

The ball will have to be tossed behind your head. This is because in order to execute a kick serve properly, it will have to be hit while it’s in motion.

The grip to use is a continental grip, just like for most other serves. And just like a topspin serve, you will be hitting the ball with an upward motion in order to create topspin. But, the ball will be behind you, which makes it difficult.

The point of contact will be at 11 o’ clock (left-to-right brushing motion) for right-handed players and 1 o’ clock (right-to-left brushing motion) for left-handed players. You can imagine the brushing motion as if you were swinging the racquet from 8 to 2 o’ clock (for right-handed players, vice versa for lefties). In order to have a better view of the ball, it is best to lean back more than you normally would for a flat serve.


  • Ball bounces high, moving away or into the opponent’s body
  • Ball changes direction once it hits the ground
  • Works well against inexperienced players
  • Gives you a lot of time to approach the net
  • Hard to return


  • Difficult to learn
  • Loses its effectiveness if the ball is hit as the ball is rising