Mastering racquetball serves is one of most important aspects of this game, since a great serve allows the server to set the offensive tone for the rest of the rally and dominate the central court, while leaving the opponent scrambling for weak returns. Not to mention the potential to score points with the serve itself.
Typically, the serves in racquetball fall into one of two categories, drive serves and lob serves. Drive serves are hit hard and low and these serves are usually chosen for the first serve. Lob serves are hit weak and high and are very often chosen for the second serve, when you fault on the first one. This makes sense since it is much harder to hit a drive serve properly and the chance of faulting is much higher. So if you already faulted on your first serve, the risk of faulting on the second one by going for a drive serve again might not be worth it. By putting the ball in play with a lob serve you still have the potential to win a rally and score a point. For this reason, some people tend to think of drive serves being offensive and lob serves being defensive, which might not be a helpful mindset.
The most important thing when it comes to serves is variety. You have to mix it up to always keep your opponent guessing. Also, by varying your serves, you can much easier discover your opponent’s weaknesses – the kind of positions they struggle with the most and tend to produce very weak returns. But, once again, take care with not sticking with the same serve, even after you do discover a particular weakness in your opponents. By hitting the same serves you will allow your opponent to constantly work on their weakness and eventually they will develop sufficient muscle memory to return your serves better. However, by varying your serves often, you will keep your opponent constantly guessing and make it much harder to adapt to your particular style. So a well executed lob serve will guarantee a weak return which can set you up for a kill shot, so there is nothing wrong with choosing a lob serve for your first serve. Now that you understand a bit about the strategic thinking behind serves, let’s take a look at the actual physical mechanics.
The main idea behind all drive serves is to hit the ball very hard and as low to the floor as possible, taking care to hit it beyond the serve line so as not to fault, of course. Here’s a video that explains the basics of a drive serve:
By varying your court position, serve height, speed, and the angle of your serve, you can create a lot of variation on this basic idea to keep your opponent guessing. Some of these variations have been given specific names. Here are some examples:
- Straight Drive Serve – standing in the center court and hitting the ball directly in front of you, so that it passes within inches of you on the way back. Can be effective because you are blocking the view of the ball for your opponent until passes past you thus leaving little time to move the body in such a way as to allow a proper return (but you need to take care that the ball doesn’t pass too close to you, which is a screen violation).
- Pass Court Drive Serve – hitting the ball in such a way so that it passes in front of you and flies toward the right corner (if you are a righty). If your opponent is also a righty, that means they can use the forehand stroke to return the server, which is typically much stronger than the backhand stroke for most people. Therefore, this serve is not as effective as Cross Court Drive Serve.
- Cross Court Drive – same idea as the Pass Court Drive Serve, except the ball needs to go behind you and fly toward the opposite corner. The opponent is forced to return the server with the backhand stroke, resulting in a much weaker return, thus giving you advantage.
- Z-ball Drive Serve – hitting the ball in such a way that after it hits the front wall, it also hits the side wall and bounces once on the floor, flying toward the opposite corner. The action of hitting two walls sometimes generates a very strong spin, so when the ball hits the floor, the direction of the bounce becomes very unpredictable. This is an extremely effective serve, but also very hard to execute properly.
- Crack Drive Serve – extremely hard to execute this drive intentionally and it mostly happens by chance, but it results when the ball strikes anywhere between the side of the wall and the floor and just rolls off.
The basic idea behind lob serves is to apply very little force to your strike and hit the ball much higher than you would for a drive serve. The intention is to have the ball bounce fairly high and fly towards one of the corners. There’s a lot less chance of faulting on a lob serve, compared to the drive serve; however, the poor execution of the lob serve can enable your opponent to do a very strong return, thus putting you on defensive and losing any advantage you initially had as the server. Here is a video demonstrating the basics of the lob serve:
Just like with the drive serve, there are a few variations on this simple concept:
- High Lob Serve – typical lob serve as demonstrated in the video above. The idea is to have the ball bounce very close after the fault line and create a high arc flying into the corner.
- Half Lob Serve – somewhere in between a lob serve and a drive serve. The idea is to hit the ball in such a way that the first bounce happens as close to the corner as possible.
- High Lob Nick Serve – similar in the idea to the z-ball drive serve, where the ball hits the sidewall close to a corner before bouncing on the floor.
Now that you are armed with a variety of racquetball serves, start putting them to work by mixing them up and keeping your opponent guessing.