During the pioneer days of tennis, the serve was used primarily to introduce the ball into play. Today the serve is perhaps the most valuable offensive weapon in the game.

A major reason for this change is the development of different court surfaces. The modern-day cement court is a fast surface that invites a powerful player to serve hard and flat. Cannonball servers might alter their style on clay, where the surface slows the serve. The slick, unpredictable grass court accommodates both the very fast and average-speed serve; the ball skids and remains low to the turf.

The serve can be divided into four parts: grip, stance, motion and follow-through. Beginners should use the forehand grip. As you improve, move your hand toward the backhand part of the handle. I use this grip because it adds control and lets me vary the spin on my serve.

Stand in a comfortable position on the base line. Place your front foot a couple of inches behind the line at a 45-degree angle, about three feet from the center hash mark. The shoulders start almost parallel to the sideline. The nonhitting hand supports the racket in a ready position at hip level (see photo).

The serving motion is the most crucial part of the serve; it also seems to be the thing most beginners cannot coordinate. Move the serving arm in a downward direction while shifting your body weight from the front foot to the back foot.

At the same time, the tossing arm is moving upward. Rotate the serving arm in an upward direction and form a "V" with both arms. Toss the ball--about four feet--above or slightly in front of your head a split second before your racket head drops into a "back-scratching" position. Quickly move the racket head toward the ball, stretching the chest and snapping the wrist up into the ball.

Always finish the shot. Continue moving the racket across the body, keeping your head up, and follow through on the opposite side. Your weight should be moving forward, forcing the back foot to step into the court and putting you in position to return the next shot.