The serve is generally regarded as the most complex shot in tennis. It is also common for the effectiveness of a player’s serve to diminish as they get older, as a result of reduced muscle mass and flexibility.
In this article I will focus on a few simple tips which can help you to maintain the quality of your serve at a fairly good level for many years. So, how should you go about developing the best tennis serve for senior players?
(This section appears in other articles in this series concerning the forehand and the backhand, but is reproduced here for convenience). The way you grip the racket is absolutely fundamental to how you hit the ball. Before we discuss the grip in detail, we need to find a clear way to explain the differences between various grip types.
A racket handle has an octagonal (8-sided) profile, so the easiest way to describe a grip is to explain how these sides, or ‘bevels’ as they are known, sit in your hand. The bevels are illustrated and labelled in the diagram below.
The numbering of the bevels differs for right and left-handers, as they hit the ball with opposite sides of the racket. Most players will hold the racket reasonably firmly in their dominant hand, with the thumb and index-finger making a ‘V’. The index finger will be in a kind of ‘trigger’ position, with the rest of the fingers staying close together as they wrap around the handle when hitting a groundstroke. When serving, it is likely that the fingers will be spread out more along the handle.
The continental grip is widely accepted as being the best grip to use when serving. To hold the racket in this grip, you will place the index knuckle and the heel of the hand approximately on bevel 2. The fingers will be reasonably spread out along the handle when a player is serving. The continental grip is also popular for volleying, but the fingers may be closer together for this.
Stroke Mechanics of Tennis Serve for Seniors
The reason the serve is such a complex shot is that you are required to place the ball in the best position to be struck, and must then execute a chain of movements at the right time in order to produce a solid, repeatable serve. Virtually every player does this slightly differently, but there are certain key elements that everyone can adopt and which will make their serve more efficient.
The Ball Toss
This is the starting point, and if it is not accurate the serve will never be effective, as the ball will not be struck from the optimal position. You should aim for the feeling of pushing the ball upwards with a fairly straight arm and a firm wrist, as this will prevent you from flicking the wrist and making correcting movements which might be unhelpful.
In addition, you should hold the ball between your thumb and forefinger(s) in order to keep it under control. It is not helpful if the ball is rolling all over the palm of your hand, as this does not help you to release it accurately.
The Preparation Phase
This is where you load various muscle groups prior to striking the ball. Advanced players will bring their feet together, bend their knees and jump into the shot, but, whether you can execute this whole sequence or not, it is always a good idea to bend your knees prior to serving, as this will add power.
You will throw the ball up, holding your racket arm behind you and bending it approximately 90 degrees, leaning back a little. The final stage, as you begin to move up towards the ball, should involve the racket dropping down behind you briefly. Your wrist should be very relaxed, and the edge of the racket will probably be pointing towards the ball at this point.
Striking The Ball
Your objective should be to make contact with the ball at somewhere close to the maximum height you can reach. During this phase of the service action, you will push up with your legs, perhaps even jumping. The racket will be moved towards the ball with a relaxed throwing action.
At contact, the use of the continental grip becomes increasingly important as it allows the wrist to ‘pronate’, essentially bending to produce additional racket head speed with little effort.
Crucially, you should not try, consciously or subconsciously, to control the speed of the racket head in order to enhance your chances of landing the ball in the court. An effective serve will stem from a relaxed wrist and forearm allowing as much racket head speed as possible.
The Follow Through
The angle at which you are serving and the degree of pronation achieved will determine the precise direction the racket takes after hitting the ball, but it is in any case vital that the serve is followed by a significant and relaxed follow through. If the follow through is short, it is likely that you are controlling the speed of the racket at impact and reducing the effectiveness of your serve.
Spin Or Flat
If you are successful in developing a good level of racket-head speed, you will be able to use this to develop either spin or speed. In certain conditions, slice and topspin serves can be very useful, and, as your age, pure pace becomes more difficult to generate. It is therefore an excellent idea to work on applying extra spin to your serve, as this is likely to be more effective than flat serving in competition.
In addition, spinning serves are more likely to land in the court than flat ones, which frees you up to attack the ball more on both first and second serves. It is vital that you do not get into the habit of pushing your second serve slowly, as this is easy for the returner to attack and is more likely to lead to double faults.
Wrap Up on Tennis Serve For Seniors
Everyone serves differently, but keeping the following points in mind will help you to get the most out of your tennis serve for seniors:
- Use the continental grip.
- Hold the ball between thumb and forefinger(s) when tossing it.
- Bend your knees.
- Relax your wrist and forearm.
- Hit the ball close to the highest point you can reach.
- Pronate your wrist.
- Do not try to control the path of the racket too much, and allow it to follow through.
- Work on spinning your serve (more effective than flat serve in seniors).
- Attack your second serve.
Follow these guidelines and your serve will stand the test of time.
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