WATCH: Get to know the 2022 WTA Newcomer of the Year on TenniStory: Zheng Qinwen.


Holding serve is just about the most important thing a tennis player can do to remain present in matches. Chinese powerhouse Zheng Qinwen is making her mark on the WTA by doing just that.

According to the official WTA Tour player stats, the 20-year-old wins about three quarters of her first serve points, adding up to 75.7% of service games won.

She just took home her first title in Palermo, outlasting home favorite Jamine Paolini in a three-set final, and she's looking to carry this momentum and sense of accomplishment into her next tournament—and hopefully back into the Top 20 rankings.

As of now, her serving game strategy is working more than hurting her game, and it’s crucial to understand exactly what is happening on her side of the court that makes holding serve easier than it looks.

The Shot

Standing tall at 5’10", Zheng has a height advantage on the women’s tour, but she needs more than just a tall stature and an effective service motion to hold games. The key is that Zheng not only employs an aggressive serve, but follows it up with an aggressive first shot.

This is the “Serve Plus One” mentality, where the player is not only hoping the serve throws their opponent into defense but knows how to counter-punch any return to maintain the offensive position.


Zheng has 215 aces under her belt on the WTA.

Zheng has 215 aces under her belt on the WTA. 

Developing the first shot after the serve is a necessary skill to maintain control of the point after the serve. As this skill improves, it doesn’t matter if it’s a first or second serve that’s being returned, the server is prepared to place the ball confidently and consistently following the return.

The Strategy

A strong server knows prepares not only which serve they want to hit and where, but also what kind of return they’re expecting the opponent to hit. They use the 25 seconds in between points wisely to not only recover but to also visualize the next point.

Obviously, no two points are exactly the same, so they can only visualize so far ahead, which means they’re focusing on what they can control at the start of the point: where they’re serving and where they want to hit the first ball that comes back at them.

WTA's 2022 Newcomer of the Year is working her way back into the Top 20.

WTA's 2022 Newcomer of the Year is working her way back into the Top 20.


Depending on the opponent’s strengths, the Serve Plus One could look different each match. However, looking carefully at the serving points, the underlying strategy remains the same: redirect the return in a challenging way to maintain control of the point.

The Lesson

The most effective way to build the Serve Plus One mentality is to practice it. Even when practicing serves out of the basket, think about not only what kind of serve you’re hitting, but what kind of return you’re getting back. Take it a step further and get yourself into ready position after every serve that you hit.

When playing practice matches or even just having someone returning while you serve, take the opportunity to not only visualize the serve but prepare yourself for what kind of return they might hit.

Are they more likely to hit their forehand crosscourt or down the line off a fast serve? Does the backhand return land short? Where can you hit that first ball based off the return patterns that you see?

The average rally lengths in tennis is between 0-4 shots, meaning the Serve Plus One determines the outcome of most points. This is a game-changing mentality to master in tennis. The earlier you can take control of the point, the better.