The serve is a unique shot in tennis because its the only "closed skill" shot we hit, meaning we control all the elements from start to finish. All other shots are "open skilled" which means we must react and adapt to what our opponent sends our way.
I believe a big part of serving well is the attitude you bring to serving. If you feel the serve is merely a way to start points then your serve will never be a true weapon. I believe that the serve is your premier weapon and the best opportunity to win points quickly and consistently. You should maintain an aggressive and confident mindset regarding the serve.
Having a more positive, aggressive mindset over time also creates "instinct" that helps you maintain control of your service games, maintain momentum with your service games and the ability to get yourself out of those tricky break point situations that come along sometimes.
In order to create instinctive service shot selection when a player doesn't have it a coach can introduce key components of service shot selection and the required service mindset by giving the player "tasks" to perform during service games in a match.
These tasks should be introduced during real competition matches to be most effective but can be practiced before tournaments on the practice court also.
I like to give players five tasks, one for each service game. The player focuses on his/her task for one complete service game. The player completes each of the five tasks in rotation, returning to task #1 after they complete task #5. I make sure that each service task, if done well, will almost certainly set-up a strong service game that should win that game.
Here are 5 examples of service game tasks:
- Attempt 2 service aces in this game
- Win the 1st and 3rd points of this game
- Win 75% of your service points in this game
- Win the 1st and 2nd points of this game
- Don't commit two consecutive errors in this game
The coach should monitor the players performance during the match and do a post match review of the tasks. Soon the player will begin to think instinctively, adopting the aggressive, confident and smarter persona you were looking to develop.