Some players are so good at serving that it can become a weakness.
“Huh? That makes no sense, Tom. How can strong serves be a weakness? You’re talking nonsense, man.”
Well, let me elaborate. This is what often happens at lower levels…
A player will develop some strong, spinny serves. His opponents don’t have the receiving skills to return many of the serves. He wins many points outright with his serve.
He serves. His opponent misses. Point.
He serves again. His opponent misses. Another point.
Playing at a lower level, the strong server can win 5 or 6 points directly from his serve, every game he plays. In this situation it becomes very tempting for the strong server to develop the habit of expecting his opponent to miss when he serves. The player serves with the goal of winning the point straight away. He serves. He watches. His opponent misses. Job done.
These strong serves are a big, big advantage at the lower level. The strong server can win a lot of matches through the quality of his serves alone.
But problems arise when the strong server faces higher ranked players – players who are capable of returning his strong serves. By developing a habit of expecting his opponent to miss, the strong server has not developed the necessary recovery skills after the serve. Now his big strength turns into a big weakness.
He serves. His opponent returns. He hasn’t recovered properly after the serve and is not in position to attack, so plays a passive shot, giving all the advantage to his opponent. He loses the point. This happens again and again. He loses the match, shaking his head, complaining that his serves were not good today.
Sound familiar? It may do. There are so many players I have helped in coaching sessions with this exact problem – what I call the curse of the strong server.
Breaking the curse
So what’s the solution? Get more spin? Get more disguise? Learn new serves? Well maybe this will help you develop even better serves. But what is really needed is a complete change of mindset. When you play at a higher level, more and more of your serves will be returned, no matter how amazing your serves are. This is because players are equally as skilled at returning serves.
Instead of expecting (or hoping!) your opponent will miss your serve, change your mindset so that you anticipate your opponent will definitely be able to return your serve. This changes everything. When you start to expect your opponent to return your serve, you begin to develop the following three skills…
- An understanding of how each serve is likely to returned
- Your ideal recovery position after the serve
- The ability to execute strong 3rd ball attacks
When you develop these skills, the purpose of your serves will start to change. Instead of serving with the goal of winning the point outright, you serve with the purpose of getting a predictable return of serve, so you can dominate with a strong 3rd ball attack. If your opponent happens to miss your serve anyway, that’s a bonus.
This doesn’t mean that you should do more simple serves. Do the best quality serves you can do, just expect your opponent to be able to return them. This forces you to make a quick recovery after the serve, observe your opponent’s shot and move to play a positive 3rd ball.
Then you will have a more complete service game. You still have strong serves, but you can also dominate when your opponent is able to return your serves. You will no longer be afflicted by the curse of the strong server.
Here’s three videos of this topic, which you may find useful…