When doing a private lesson, I usually have my student begin with a slight footwork drill for warm-up, consistency, and confidence. After a couple minutes, I’ll usually have him start with serve or serve return for the remainder of the drill. Many of my students are “bummed” when we start the drill with the serve because it “messes up” the drill. Before reading the rest of this article, I want you to watch a very short video of me doing a drill without the serve then doing the drill combining it with a tournament serve.
From 0-1:45, I did the drill without the serve
From 1:45-3:23 I did the drill with the serve
Which part looked more impressive?
Which part was physically more challenging?
Which part looked like a drill?
Which part looked like a game?
There is nothing right or wrong about starting your drills just like warmup or starting your drills with a tournament serve. It all depend on the goals. Before each drill, you should set the goal. This is the same thing that I do for my student each session. I sent a goal (and often verbalize it to them) as to what the particular drill or session should accomplish. There are many different goals, I’m just going to name a few.
If fitness is your goal, then you should not start the drill with a tournament serve. You should start the drill with a simple warmup serve and involve as much movement as possible (even playing more forehand than you might normally play in a game).
If you want to work on your basic topspin stroke, then begin the drill with a warmup serve and don’t get tangled up with short sidespin serves. If you want to work on your basic flip, then have your practice partner start short no-spin, work on the basic flip, then continue the drill.
When playing tournament matches, you will start every point with a detailed serve or serve return. In order to best prepare for a match, I recommend starting with an actual tournament serve. As you saw in the second half of the video, it looked like an actual game. Robert served a 2700-level tournament serve, I flipped or looped, then rallied like a game.
So which type will help you improve the most? This will depend on WHAT you want to improve. Set goals then formulate your practices session. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.