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World Class Serving Tactics

Tennis Serving Tactics
By: Rob Antoun

World class serving tactics – part 1

Rob Antoun

Before we study the most common serving tactics used on the Tour today, let’s take a look at how tactics can be defined in general:

Establishing a clearly defined game style by using specific tactics is a key goal for every tennis player. As a coach, in order to help shape this game style, it is important to be familiar with the most commonly used tactics in tennis and how they apply to each of your players.

Every successful player uses repeatable tactics that maximise their own strengths whenever possible. The best players don’t necessarily use a wide range of tactics - they simply execute a few extremely well! Therefore, you must be able to ‘paint a picture’ of how your player plays best - and focus your attention together on making this happen. Without a doubt, having a clear tactical focus will help each player develop the confidence and competence required to achieve their goals in tennis.


A player’s game style represents everything they are on the court. In other words, it is their tactical ability, technical ability, physical ability, and personality all rolled into one. Often referred to as a player’s ‘signature’, a game style is not something that can be altered immediately. Instead, it is a constantly evolving tennis identity that each player ‘grows’ into over time.

Case Study: players with strong groundstrokes who attack mainly from the back court possess ‘aggressive baseline’ game styles. Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova are good examples of this type of player. They are physically strong, their technique allows them to produce power and control, and they are prepared to take risks in order to dominate their opponents

Each player uses specific tactics within their own game style. Tactics are simply the decisions that a player makes during every rally – i.e. why, where, and when to hit the ball (compared to technique which represents the ‘how’ to hit the ball). These decisions, when repeated often enough, culminate in a clear and successful method of play.

Case Study: the aggressive baseliner uses tactics based around strong groundstrokes that are hit with the intention of dictating the play. For example, Andy Roddick commonly uses the serve and groundstroke attack tactic. He hits an aggressive serve and looks to follow this up with a forehand hit from almost anywhere on the court.

Patterns of play represent the actual sequence of shots that are used to execute each tactic. These patterns can be altered between points and matches without the player changing their tactics. These shot selection decisions will be based upon such factors as the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, match conditions, court surface, etc.

Case Study: Andy Roddick will vary between hitting the serve down the middle and the serve out wide when using the serve and groundstroke attack tactic. The serve out wide allows him to create more space to hit his second shot into, whereas the serve down the middle allows him to use his inside-out forehand more often. In other words, he changes his patterns of play while using the same tactic.

Perhaps the best way to study singles and doubles tactics is to break them down into the five playing situations in tennis – i.e. when serving, when returning, when both players play from the baseline, when approaching and playing at the net, and when facing an opponent at the net. To start this series, let’s look at the number one serving tactic used on the Tour today:


Serve and groundstroke attack

This is the most commonly used serving tactic used in tennis today – particularly at Tour level. A player using this tactic employs a powerful two-shot combination of serve and groundstroke to outmanoeuvre and overpower an opponent. Ideally, the server chooses the serve that allows his/her favourite second shot (either a forehand or backhand) to be used as often as possible.

The serve and groundstroke attack tactic is often used effectively with a wide serve that forces the opponent out of the court. This serve creates a natural space for the server to hit their second shot into. Right-handed female players use this tactic particularly well from the deuce court (using the slice serve – see diagram 1),
Serving Directions 1

Diagram 1 shows the server hitting a first serve out wide from the right court.  The return fades down the line leaving an obvious space for the server’s second shot to be hit into. This could be either a forehand or a backhand.

whereas right-handed male players tend to favour the wide serve from the advantage court (using topspin to out manoeuvre the opponent – see diagram 2).

Serving Directions 2
Diagram 2 shows the serve and ground stroke attack tactic being used from the left court. Again, the return fades down the line leaving a space for the right-hander’s forehand to be hit crosscourt.

Both of these serves allow an aggressive second shot to be hit either into the space or back behind the returner:

A more central return is expected when serving down the middle from both sides. If this is the case, encourage your players, whenever possible, to run around the backhand to hit an aggressive forehand. More angles can often be created with this shot, as well as the fact that it ‘looks’ more threatening!

Remember to encourage your players to use the back behind tactic if the returner recovers too quickly back into the court. This simply means hitting the second shot back in the direction in which the serve was hit. This wrong-footing tactic is used particularly well on clay courts where it is more difficult to change direction quickly.


Watch the Pros:

· The pros seem to move instinctively to their second shot after serving because they recognise the flight path of the return so quickly

· They often they hit this second shot as a forehand

· They move straight to the ball when moving into a space, and around the ball when creating a space

· An aggressive second shot will often lead to a winning volley or smash


‘20 Core Drills for Tennis’ shows some great drills to use with younger players to help develop these tactics. Please visit for more information


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