Play Like a Tennis Pro

7 tips for a better serve by one of Jamaica’s top tennis instructors.

Our expert

Richard Ferdinand has been coaching beginners and professionals at Jamaica’s Tryall Club for years, including Dustin Brown, who defeated Rafael Nadal at the 2014 Gerry Weber Open. A former junior champion, Ferdinand is now director of client services at the hotel, which runs a high-end tennis program with a dedicated concierge, pro coaches, hitting partners and even ball-boy service. No wonder the property has hosted Davis Cup tournaments on multiple occasions.

1) Loosen up

A lot of people grip their racket really tightly even when they’re not hitting the ball. Instead, hold the throat with your opposite hand when you’re not in contact with the ball. It seems like a small tip, but it puts the weight in your opposite hand and will save you from tennis elbow.

2) Master the hammer grip

Most beginners use the Eastern four-hand grip because it’s one of the easiest. It’s good if you’re running a flat serve, but it doesn’t showcase your muscle when you hit a spin serve. To use the hammer grip, hold your racket like – yes – a hammer. It will allow you to hit the ball with spin, and with a little wrist action you will also be able to serve flat.

3) Watch your posture

For good balance, stand sideways and point the toes of your left foot (if you’re right-handed) to the net post on the right side of the court. (Vice-versa if you’re left-handed.) And remember that the ball is going to go wherever the strings of your racket are pointing.

4) Aim high

Beginners send balls into the net because they think they have to hit down. The serve action should be very similar to the motion of throwing a ball overhead: Throw it up and hit it up – gravity will bring it down for you. To practice this motion, take a few minutes to just throw balls over the net.

5) Relax your wrist

Speed comes from acceleration as you hit the ball. To achieve this, you need to keep a loose wrist. It’s like golf – you can hit farther only if you relax and let the club do all the work for you. Look at the tennis pros: When they serve, a lot of them release their last three fingers. It unlocks the wrist and allows for more speed.

6) Don’t forget to snap

Snapping your wrist is a great way to give more power to your serve. This trick is called pronation: Before you hit the ball, lay your racket back a little and then snap your wrist up. To prevent injury, don’t forget to keep your wrist loose.

7) Keep practising

If you practise your strokes for one hour, spend at least 10 minutes on serving. It’s ironic: You need to serve to start the game, but when you play, it’s the stroke that most people practise the least. Make sure you keep some time to work on it – it’s the only way to get better.

Top photo: David Madison/Getty