What is an Ace in Tennis? A Beginner’s Guide to the Ace Serve

If you’ve watched professional tennis, chances are you’ve heard the term ‘ace.’ They occur many times throughout a match, and all players work hard in practice to get better at earning them, as they’re nearly free points. So, what is an ace in tennis?

A tennis ace refers to a legal serve that the returning player doesn’t touch. If the server hits the ball in the opponent’s service box and it flies past the defending player, this is an ace. However, if the defending racquet makes contact, it’s not an ace, even if the ball goes out of play.

I’ll cover more of the details around serving an ace below. By the end, you’ll know everything there is to know about aces in tennis.

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How To Serve an Ace in Tennis

Hitting a serve past an opponent probably seems simple enough. You smash the ball hard enough in bounds, and the opponent won’t be able to react in time, right?

Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, especially when the returning player is agile enough to cover different parts of the court. Because of that, top servers need to be strong in many skills. I’ll go over these skills next.

Serve Power

Hitting the ball hard is the most obvious thing to master. It’s easier than it sounds since the ball must eventually land in bounds, but it’s something that the best servers can do. Strike hard enough, and the opposing player won’t be able to react in time.

Serve Placement

While power is the first ingredient in hitting an ace, placement is every bit as important. Boiled down, to score an ace, you must aim for the outer parts of the service box. Sending the serve down the middle, or ‘up the T,’ is the most common placement for aces, but kicking it out wide can be just as effective. 

In either case, the returning player is forced to stretch out far to get a racquet on the ball.

Mind Games

One of the more underappreciated tools in the service kit is the mind game. You serve according to a pattern for a long period, and right when your opponent starts to get used to it, you change it up. Some servers will start a match by sending the ball up the middle on all serves, then send it out wide to keep opponents on their toes. If done effectively, it can lead to easy aces.

Can a Second Serve Be an Ace?

A second-serve can be an ace, although it’s much less common than first-serve aces. Since most players are worried about double-faulting, they tend to be more conservative on their second serves. This usually means less power and sending the serve to safer parts of the service box.

For example, Novak Djokovic hit 58 aces in 2019 off his second serve. That year, he played 65 matches, so this equals a little less than one-second serve ace per match.

Related: Do you know how many let serves you get in tennis? The answer will surprise you!

How Common Is an Ace in Tennis?

Now, compare that to 315 first-serve aces, or almost 5 per match, and you start to understand how rare second-serve aces are. Oh, and Djokovic gets more second-serve aces than most players on the professional tour.

Tennis Aces are very common. A professional player skilled at serving may hit more than 30 in a single match, while others commonly hit anywhere from 10-20. Even players who are considered incredible serve returners get aced a few times in almost every match.

To better understand exactly how common aces are, see the tables below.

Men’s Serving Aces

This table includes several professional men’s players, including Reilly Opelka, the player with the highest ace average since 1991. I’ve included the player’s averages and how many aces that would translate to over ten service games – a low average number, even for 3-set tennis matches:

Player NameAces Per Service GameAces In 10 Service Games
Reilly Opelka1.5015
Roger Federer0.636.3
Novak Djokovic0.454.5
Rafael Nadal0.282.8

Even someone not famous for aces, like Rafael Nadal, averages a few every match.

Women’s Serving Aces

Aces are a little less common in the women’s game, but they still happen frequently. This table includes Elena Rybakina, the top ace server in 2022 as of May. It also includes the top 3 ranked players. Stats on aces per service game are more difficult to come by, so this table includes aces per match instead:

Player NameOverall Number Of AcesAces Per Match
Elena Rybakina1455.8
Iga Swiatek782
Barbora Krejcikova513.9
Maria Sakkari1053.75

As you can see, aces don’t happen quite as often in the women’s game, but they’re not at all rare.

The Speed of an Ace in Tennis

It’s hard to hit an ace without speed, so most of the players with high ace counts tend to also have a high speed on their serves.

John Isner, number three in average aces per service game since 1991, holds the record for fastest serve at 157.2 miles per hour (253 kilometers per hour).

Average first serve speeds are well under this, but they’re still very fast. At the 2022 Australian Open, the men’s average speed was around 117 mph (188 kph). In the women’s game, the average is about 99 mph (160 kph).

Second serves are much slower by comparison, which is why it’s so much rarer to hit aces with them. The average second serve speed in men’s tennis is about 96 mph (154 kph). In the women’s game, it’s 84 mph (136 kph).

What Is An Ace in Tennis – Final Thoughts

Tennis players are trying to hit an ace every time they step up to the line for a first serve. There are different ways to hit them, but if the opponent can’t touch the ball, the result is the same.

It’s worth working on the power and placement of your serve because if you get good enough, you could get free points in your next tennis match.

Other Ace-Related FAQs

What is the record for the most aces in tennis?

The record for most aces in a tennis match is held by Ivo Karlovic, who hit a total of 113 aces in a single match at a tournament. This extraordinary achievement showcases Karlovic’s powerful serve and ability to consistently hit a high number of aces in a single match.

How fast is the fastest ace ever recorded in tennis?

The fastest ace ever recorded in professional tennis was served at a speed of miles per hour. This incredible feat demonstrates the exceptional power and precision that some players possess in their serves.

What is the definition of an ace in tennis?

A tennis ace is when a player hits a serve that the opponent is unable to touch, giving the serving player an immediate point in the championship or tennis match. It is often called an ace because it represents a highly successful and unreturnable serve.

What is a flat serve in tennis terms?

In tennis terminology, a flat serve refers to a serve that has very little or no spin, resulting in a trajectory that is relatively straight and fast. This type of serve is often used to hit aces flat over the net.

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