Type of Serves
A serve (or, more formally, a service) in tennis is a shot to start a point. A player will hit the ball with a racquet so it will fall into the diagonally opposite service box without being stopped by the net. Normally players begin a serve by tossing the ball into the air and hitting it (usually near the highest point of the toss). The ball can only touch the net on a return and will be considered good if it falls on the opposite side. If the ball contacts the net on the serve but then proceeds to the proper service box, it is called a let; this is not a legal serve in the major tours (but see below) although it is also not a fault. Players typically serve overhead, but serving underhand, although rare, is allowed. The serve is the only shot a player can take their time to set up instead of having to react to an opponent's shot.
A flat serve is hit with a Continental grip (holding the racket as if it were an axe) and a swing path directly through the ball, which causes the ball to cut quickly through the air without spinning. Some professional players can hit flat serves at speeds near 150 miles per hour (240 km/h).
A flat serve must come close to the net therefore having a small margin for error. Therefore, flat serves are usually hit straight across the center, where the net is lowest. They are usually delivered as first serves, when the server does not risk a double fault. The ball is thrown straight above for the optimal serving point.
A slice serve is hit with sidespin, which requires the server to brush the back of the ball toward their dominant side with the racket. It is commonly hit with the Continental grip or the Eastern backhand grip (using the forehand face of the racket). The ball is thrown slightly to the dominant side of the server then is struck laterally on the server's dominant side.
For a right-handed player, a sliced serve's sidespin causes the ball to curve leftward. When the ball bounces, it skids and curves farther leftward. The curve of a good slice serve can draw the receiver 10 feet (3.0 m) wide of the singles sideline to play the ball. Since a slice serve has little or no topspin on it, it cannot be aimed high over the net and has little margin for error. Therefore, it is generally used as a first serve. It can be used to ace the receiver, to draw the receiver out of position, or to "jam" the receiver with a serve curving sharply towards his or her body.
The reverse slice serve (or inside-out serve) is analogous to the screwball pitch in baseball. It is hit with the opposite spin of the slice serve. The server must pronate his or her racket arm and sweep the racket across his or her body while striking the ball when hitting a reverse slice serve. Because the direction of spin applied is reversed relative to the standard slice serve, a reverse slice serve from a right-handed player will have the same motion as a slice serve from a left-handed player, and vice versa.
In professional and amateur tennis, the reverse slice serve is rarely used except as a novelty. As the word reverse is defined, one must hit opposite to the side and opposite to the path of the slice struck serve.
A topspin serve is hit with forward spin imparted by brushing the back of the ball upward at contact. Like all spin serves, the topspin serve travels slower than a flat serve. The topspin on the ball makes it dive downward, so that it can be aimed high over the net and still land in. For the physics involved in the flight of spinning balls, see the Magnus effect. The topspin serve therefore is a relatively safe serve often used as a second serve. The topspin serve should not be hit weaker than the first serve, but with the same amount of, or even more power than the first serve in order to generate the necessary spin. The topspin on the ball also makes it bounce high. Many receivers handle the high bounce well on their forehand side but not on their backhand side. Therefore, placed to the backhand, topspin serves are useful for serve and volley play, even on the first serve.
The topspin serve is harder to learn than the flat serve and the topspin-slice serve, as the contact point is directly over the server's head or perhaps even a little behind it, requiring complex body mechanics. It is hit with a Continental grip or an Eastern Backhand grip (using the forehand side of the racket face).
The kick (or topsin) serve is generated by tossing the ball over the head, then hitting it laterally on the server's non-dominant side brushing upward toward the dominant side. When hit correctly, the ball clears the net in a high arc with heavy topspin, causing the ball to dive into the service box. Upon hitting the surface of the court, the ball may bounce high directly toward the receiver for a kick serve, or to the left for the receiver for an American twist serve. The physics of the spinning ball in flight involves the Magnus effect because the spinning ball creates a whirlpool of air around itself. The twist serve is a more extreme version of the kick serve, which involves more brushing of the ball from the 7–8 o'clock position to the 1–2 o'clock position, and faster swing speeds. If performed exceptionally, it can completely change the direction of the ball movement away from the other player, although this requires a very strong and flexible back.
- Main article: Twist Serve
The underhand serve is struck below shoulder level. In children's tennis, young children may be encouraged to use the underhand serve on 36 feet (11 m) courts. Although this serve is legal, it may be seen as unsportsmanlike in adult tennis.