What Is a First and Second Serve In Tennis?

To start any point in tennis, a serve must be hit. Players work on all shots when they are out casually hitting, but serves often get overlooked.

Servers get two tries to get a ball in to start the point. Knowing the specifics of the first and second serve helps players evolve.

First and Second Serve In Tennis

Every point in tennis starts with a serve. The two sides alternate games serving, and it equals out to pretty much the same amount of games for both.

For novice players, getting a serve into the service box can be easier than done. The good news is that a player has two chances to get the serve in, and that’s known as the first and second serve.

A player only gets a second serve if they fail to get the first one in. If the second serve misses the service box, the point goes to the receiver.

First Serve

Tennis players are hoping to hit their first serve in at a fairly high percentage overall. A first serve generally has quite a bit more pace on the ball than a second serve. Players know that they can take more chances and go for the shot they want on the first serve to catch the receiver off guard.

A lot of tennis players have been able to make a very successful career for themselves thanks to having such a dominant first serve. Pace matters, but so does location. If a player can find that their opposition has a weak spot, they can start to exploit it by hitting serves there consistently.

Second Serve

The saying goes that a tennis player is only good as their second serve. It’s true that to survive at any level, a person needs to have an effective and consistent second serve to start a point.

The majority of players hitting their second serve are not looking to hit an ace and win the point right away. Instead, it’s more about adding spin and focusing on placement to keep the returner off-balance.

There have been players in the past who hit their second serve extremely hard. Pete Sampras is a perfect example of a professional who would still go for a big serve with their second serve.

Since he hit with so much accuracy, he was fine with a few additional double-faults if it meant winning free points along the way.

What Is a Good First Serve Percentage?

A high first-serve percentage isn’t always a good thing. Even the best players in the world don’t hit more than 60-70% first serves.

  • 70+% – Incredible or Bad (is the player not going for his serves?)
  • 60-70% – Good
  • 50-60% – OK
  • 40-50% – Bad
  • 0-40% – Terrible

Getting the first serve in at least half of the time for the average player is considered pretty solid. Professionals try to aim for around 60 to 70% in most cases. If the percentage is too high, it most likely means the player is not going far enough on their first serve and needs to do something differently.

For a second serve, players should be aiming for as high as a 90% success rate. Having a double fault once in a while isn’t the end of the world, as it shows that a player is willing to take some risks out there on the court.

Just laying it in there as a second serve allows the opposition to take some pretty healthy cuts if they want.

Examples of Pro players’ First Serve Percentage:

  • Rafael Nadal: 68.10%
  • Novak Djokovic: 64.89%
  • Roger Federer: 62.13%
  • Stefanos Tsitsipas: 61.90%
  • Alexander Zverev: 65.05%

What Is a Let In Tennis?

Let is called if a server hits a ball into the service box, but it touches the net cord first. The majority of lets are fairly obvious, but there can be some small ticks against the net that are hard to distinguish when somebody serving hard is up there.

At the professional level, they have technology to detect those challenging lets.

At the college level, they do not make let calls. If a serve hits the net and goes in, it’s live. It creates a little bit of chaos that can be polarizing for players and fans of the game.

Fault Calls on Serves

Players get two chances to hit the ball in the service box when serving, but there are times when players might still lose the point. An example is if a fault gets called on a serve.

A fault can happen for a variety of reasons, but most of them are called because a server crosses the service line before making contact, or they use an illegal motion.

Most players don’t realize when they make a foot fault. It can be tough to pay attention to exactly where the feet are when serving a ball that’s tossed over the head. Professional players will even have foot faults on occasion, and they don’t believe it until they see video replay.

A fault called on an illegal service motion is usually much more noticeable. As an example, players can’t run or walk up to the service line and then make a serve like they are hitting a volleyball. There is an official list of rules servers must abide by, and at the professional level, umpires are always looking out.

Which Pro Players Have the Best Serves?

Certain tennis players in the history of the sport have been well known for their serves. Taller players, especially on the ATP Tour, have a distinct advantage of hitting the ball hard and at an angle to make it very difficult for opponents.

Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, and Reilly Opelka are just a few examples. At his peak, Karlovic would win 84% of points when he landed his first serve, and 93% of his service games overall.

All-around greats like Pete Sampras, Serena Williams, and Roger Federer backed up their outstanding serves with great shots to make it nearly impossible to break.

Most players need to have a solid first and second serve to be amongst the best of the best. Taking chances once in a while when up in a service game might help out, but most will want to dial it down a little.

I listed the greatest servers of all time in this post.

The Importance of the First and Second Serve in Tennis

Whether it’s understanding how serves work or getting them in consistently, tennis serves play a vital role in the sport. They can be tedious at times to practice, but the best players usually have a serve that they can turn to when they need it most.

Having a dominant serve helps win a lot of games, but players need to be more complete than ever as well. With modern racquet technology, even hard serves are easier to get back and put some pace on it. Of course, the point never gets there unless the serve is good in the first place.

Fred Simonsson

I'm Fred, the guy behind TennisPredict. Apart from writing here, I play tennis on a semi-professional level and coach upcoming talents.

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