I highly discourage everyone to think of the serve separately from the first volley – in platform tennis it is all about serve and volley without separating the two. If we really have to approach the serve on its own however, we really need to look at the thought process behind this crucial shot.
On the serve, not unlike in tennis, it is all about variation while still making 90% of the serves. A big mistake many players make is looking for the perfect serve that nobody can return consistently! There is no such thing as an un-returnable serve! That so called un-returnable serve will eventually become predictable and there will always be someone who will be able to take advantage of that. My advice is this: before you start tampering with your technique go stand on the deuce side and look at the service box in this fashion:
If I am standing close to the T I have the best angle to serve to the T or to the middle of the service box. In that case, I will put three markers/targets in the service box:
A) one deep on the T
B) one short on the T
C) one wide to the forehand side of a right hander
This target variation allows me to have three different serves from the same position. I will be able to serve with more pace to A, with less pace and shorter to B. When i serve wide to C, I will need to serve softer as I do not have so much angle to work with ( common sense, right!?).
Next time you watch a match, try to notice how many people stand close to the “hash mark” on the baseline (in front of the T) when serving and serve hard to the forehand and miss. They miss because it just is a low percentage shot and a mental mistake. I always compare this to a cross court angle passing shot in tennis: you have to take pace off the shot in order to make that shot or you will never get the ball over the net and into the court. By trying to aim for these three spots I also widen the area that the opponent has to cover in order to hit the return of serve as the soft serve normally gets more angle and moves away from the returner. If your opponent gets used to that particular serve, then move further away from the “hash mark” (T) towards the singles sideline. By doing this, you will once again have three different spots to aim for:
1) one wide deep
2) one wide short
3) one on the T
Once again, try to serve harder wide/deep and softer wide/short as you angle has decreased. This will be the same on the add side. By keeping your same serving mechanics, you will have a multitude of serves just by changing positions and playing the odds. I guarantee you that you will have the opponent guessing and you will get weaker replies leading to easier first volleys.
Do not try it all at once as you do not want to be faulting all over the place but work on a serve I call your STOCK serve that you will hit 75% of the time. Once you have that in place, then you can start adding the softer ones to the different spots.
A good drill to do if you have a little spin on your serve is to alternate between hitting two type of serves: try and hit one with more pace and one with less pace while keeping the same racquet head speed! In other words, one with more spin and one with less spin. It just takes practice. Remember to follow your serve in to the service line every time as it is serve and volley even if nobody is returning. This will improve your movement to the net a great deal.