From USTA, a reader-coach conversation: http://www.usta.com/USTA/Global/Imp...ture/2009/0115_Tips_For_Improving_Serves.aspx Last week's question from Malea: (Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question) I have been playing tennis for nearly three years now. I play a lot and am improving fast. I love the sport, and I love competing, but I'm really struggling with my serve, and it is really holding me back. I have never had a good serve. I know how to serve the correct way and can copy all the movements without a ball, but as soon as I toss the ball up, my serve gets messed up again. I have videotaped my serve, tried to get help from a pro, but I am stuck. I practice my serve nearly every day, but nothing ever changes. It is my one main weakness, but I don't know how to get past this major roadblock. I would love any tips on how to serve the way I know how to. From John, Glen Carbon, Ill.: As a certified PTR Pro and MTM coach, I have seen your case hundreds of times. People take lots of lessons, work very hard, and yet can't serve until they are given the correct data. In fact, if you know how to simplify things using a learning gradient (per Oscar Wegner), I don't know anyone who can't learn a decent serve in a short time with just average athletic ability. I had an 18-year-old recently take his first-ever tennis lesson in July '08 because he heard from the varsity players tennis was an easy sport to learn. Because he had no bad habits and I gave him the correct data to start with, in five months, he now serves 120 mph at 70 percent first-serve rate, rarely double faults, and dropped baseball because he discovered tennis is simple to play well. He is a good athlete but never underestimates the power of simplicity. In Modern Tennis Methodology, we teach the most important thing in any shot in tennis is to "find' the ball. You find the ball with your hand, the racquet simply being an extension of the hand. Given the facts you stated, I would recommend you start from scratch. I do it all the time with experienced players who can't execute the correct data because they have so much incorrect data. The fact you lose your form with the ball in the hand means your attention is dispersed elsewhere when the only thing that matters is your "finding" the ball with your hand. You are so worried about your mechanics you can't even get your hand (strings) to "find" the ball. If you find the ball per instructions below, your backswing and footwork will fall into place. You can't put the cart before the horse. Try forgetting everything you've learned. It didn’t work, correct? So either the data was incorrect or you misunderstood how to apply it. Simply start over and place the ball in your left hand and lift it high, ready to toss. With a continental grip, simply point the butt of the racquet in your right hand directly at the ball from below. This will force a loose grip, essential to playing your best tennis. In your case, it might be best to start over from an "arm-already-cocked position." Agassi did it awhile when he had an injury. and he still beat top-ranked players. Roddick has the hardest serve in tennis yet the shortest backswing, so don't believe all that mumbo jumbo about needing a windup and such. Simplification is the key. With the left arm held straight up and the hands fairly close together while the butt points at the ball, visualize hitting the ball up, feeling the strings brush up and the edge of the racquet moving up and to the right. The weight of the racquet will guide the ball, and experiment letting the head hit up and then descend downward and watch the ball propelled over the net. The most important arm muscle is the triceps, which propels the ball up and forward. Do that a few times slowly until you feel control and contraction of the triceps. Then start moving your hands apart. The back scratch by the racquet is a myth. As you move your hands further apart, the key is to point the butt at the ball before serving and hit up and to the right, as if you were literally extending your hand upward and through the ball. Start right here, and I suspect you will be more than satisfied with your feel and control, and then slowly start speeding up your acceleration of the racquet after contact, always moving the racquet slow to the ball, then fast after contact. Feel the strings brush across the ball to the right. You can add a backswing later, but shorten and simplify everything for now.