With a lot of emphasis being given to service techniques and learning new serves lately, I thought I should give my thoughts on this very important topic.
First and foremost, I don't think it can be emphasized enough just how important having a wide variety of good serves is, after all it is the only time in the match when a player has 100% control on the execution of a shot. Also, you would have noticed time and time again when you hear or read an interview that the winning player will be quoted as saying something along the lines of 'I thought I served really well today'.
It is fair to say that for most players, if they have a good serve they will be a good player, and if they serve well in a match they will typically feel like they have played well also.
How to Practice ServingThere are many and varied suggestions for improving your serves and all have positive attributes. I believe that when you are practicing serving it is best to constantly mix up what serves you are doing. There is definitely a place for continuously practicing one serve, especially in the development phase, however in a match situation you would seldom use only one serve. Therefore, it is the ability to be able to change your serves at will and place them exactly where you want to first time and every time that will give you the confidence to do the same thing in a match.
It is also important to practice your full array of serves during each service training session. You should endeavor to keep up your skills over your full range of serves, even the ones that you rarely use, as you never know when you will need to be able to rely on them in a match situation.
Practice Makes Permanent, Perfect Practice Makes PerfectAfter knowing how to practice your serves, the next logical question is how often do you need to practice serving? In my opinion, you can definitely have too much of a good thing.
It is much more beneficial to even just serve 100 balls at a time, a couple of times a week at high intensity rather than spend a good couple of hours or more at a time simply hitting the ball over the net. When it comes to serving, it is definitely a case of quality over quantity.
Ideally, you should aim to serve approximately 500-600 balls a week over 3 or 4 sessions. You should strive to imagine that you are in a game situation and that you need each serve to go exactly where you want it and focus your energy on making each serve set you up for what you would do next in a match. This can be surprisingly mentally strenuous, which further backs up the point of quality over quantity.
More is BetterWhen it comes to the amount of serves you possess, I can only say you can never have enough serves!!! If you have the ability to constantly change serves in a match, your opponent will constantly have to adapt which as all players would know is not an easy task to do, especially under pressure. Also, the greater the range of serves you have, the better your chances of finding one that your opponent particularly does not like.
It is a good idea to base your game around 2 or 3 reliable serves that suit your style, but then also have as many change-up serves as possible to throw in regularly to keep your opponent guessing. It is the change up serves that can quite often be unreturnable and earn you a lot of cheap points in a match, which quite often can be the difference between winning and losing. This further reiterates the point made previously about always practicing your full range of serves.