You work your way into a winning position in a service game, building points, targeting weaknesses, working your opponent ragged – only to chuck your advantage away without even making them play a shot.
As a coach one of the most common questions I was asked was ‘how do I avoid double faults?’ And the truth is there’s no one silver bullet. If there was, you wouldn’t see touring pros do it all the time.
But there are steps you can take to minimise your chances. And the first question to ask yourself is…
Why Do I Keep Double Faulting?
There are three main reasons why players double fault. Poor technique, mental fragility and trying to do too much with your second serve.
Let’s talk about each in turn and what steps you can take to fix them.
Fact is your serve is the most difficult shot to perfect and if your technique’s off by even an inch it may as well be a mile. So the first step to minimising double faults is to fix your technique.
Below are some things you can do RIGHT NOW to help.
Fix Your Ball Toss
The number one reason for missed serves is chasing a wayward toss.
The ball swings to the left or the right and instead of pausing and having another go you chase after it and make poor contact. If the toss is no good you should ALWAYS let the ball drop and try again.
Now, if your toss is off more than say 20% of the time of course you’re going to need to work on it.
The good news? It’s easy to improve. Just take a single ball, stand in your service stance and practice throwing it up and catching it again in your hand. Repeat as many times as you can.
Make sure to keep your wrist straight to help with consistency and don’t make the mistake of throwing the ball too high.
A high toss makes timing your shot so much harder as by the time it comes back down to hittable height it’s gathering speed.
Much easier to hit the ball when it’s at the peak of its arc.
Develop a Kick Serve
Hitting a flat serve is great for power but it leaves very little room for error due to the lack of clearance over the net.
Just like with a ground stroke, if you can get some topspin on your second serve you can loop the ball over the net making it easier to land it in, not to mention giving your opponent something to think about as it kicks off the surface.
If spin is something you struggle with you might also want to think about getting hold of a specialist racket to make it easier. Or maybe choosing a different string set up that allows for greater spin.
Don’t Slow Down
When you’ve missed a first serve it’s tempting to hit a very slow and tentative second serve as you try to wish it into the court. That’s almost always a mistake.
As soon as you slow down your racket speed you start prodding at the ball and your technique really suffers.
Aim to hit a second serve with some slice or side spin and make sure to keep the head speed up. You’ll actually stand a better chance of landing the shot.
More than any other sport, tennis is about mental toughness. And no shot turns a spotlight on your mental strength like a tense second serve at a key point in a match.
If you tend to get all in your head you’re so much more likely to dump one into the net.
But there’s plenty you can do to alleviate that problem.
As soon as you start thinking about double faults, guess what? You’re going to double fault.
Instead of inviting the negative outcome try visualising a successful shot. As you bounce the ball and prepare yourself, imagine the perfect version of the serve you’re planning to hit. Feel the contact with the sweet spot. See that ball land in the corner of the service box.
It’s a technique used by the very best in the sport and you’ll be surprised by how successful it can be.
Easier said than done, right? You can get so focussed on winning a point that your muscles tense right up and the sweat drips into your eyes and all of a sudden you’ve got a bad case of the yips.
First step, and it might seem obvious, BREATHE. As long as you’re focussed on that breath, the one thing you’re not focussing on is the perilous state of the match.
It’s a basic mindfulness technique that’s proving increasingly popular at the top end of the sport.
Doing Too Much With Your Second Serve
Some players like to be very aggressive on their second serve, hoping to catch an opponent on the hop. But it will lead to more double faults.
Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing and if you’ve got the temperament you may find that in the long run that approach can pay dividends. The occasional double fault is a price worth paying for playing on the front foot.
But if that’s not you then the solution is obvious. Worry about making the serve first and foremost. You still have a great chance of putting your opponent under pressure in the point.
Like most things, the best way to banish your double fault blues is to double down on your practice
Practice your ball toss, practice visualisation, practice mindfulness.
You’ll have a faultless service game in no time.