Increasing Serve Effectiveness
If there ever was a shot in tennis that could define the quality of a player, it is the serve. The serve is often viewed as a player’s weapon, or liability.
While the serve is only one of many shots that make up a player’s overall game, the serve can be compared to the drive in golf as defining a player’s general confidence and potency. In golf, while hitting accurate irons, chipping, and putting are considered the keys to lower golf scores, the drive is often the showpiece of a player’s game. “Drive for show, putt for dough” is the catchy phrase that epitomizes this concept.
In tennis, a player’s ability to hit a potent, aggressive serve can do far more for a player’s confidence than any other shot. In theory at least, a great serve can almost guarantee a player winning at least half of the games of any given set!
When combined with a repeatable swing path, a great serve combines speed, spin, and placement.
The serve is the one shot that should be every player’s weapon. No other shot is within the full control of the player; the server dictates when and where the ball will be struck. It is the one shot within any game that is not determined by an opponent’s previous shot and it is the only shot you get two chances to get right. In addition, the serve is one shot that can be practiced without the need of another player.
However, the serve is often considered one of the more complex strokes in tennis. The overhead motion is not as familiar to many players, especially those who had not played any overhead-throwing sports such as football, baseball, or softball. In addition, the element of holding an implement to hit another object adds to the difficulty of timing and spatial relationships as they apply to hitting a moving object.
Yet, the ability to serve well can be achieved by most anyone!
Great Serve Components
Note the distance that Andy Roddick’s racquet travels from backswing to contact.
If we break down the serve, there are two components that must be achieved for a serve to be both effective and consistent; “Spin” and “Racquet Head Speed.” While both of these aspects must be accomplished within the framework of a repeatable, reliable swing pattern, these two elements are what separate a good serve from a great serve.
I mentioned spin first because the ability to create the right kind of spin will improve a player’s ability to hit an effective and consistent second serve. It has often been said that a player is only as good as his second serve. Without spin, a player can only rely on gravity, trajectory, and a relative amount of speed to get the serve to drop in. Unless a player stands over eight feet tall, without spin, no matter what trajectory, a ball hit too hard can’t possibly clear the net and land in. Even pros who serve at high speeds generate a great deal of spin.
But, one must understand that it isn’t just spin, it is the right kind of spin that must be applied. And this is where the average club player usually falls short. With the right kind of spin, a serve can be aimed very high above the net and still arc down to land easily into the service box, even with a high velocity.
Pete Sampras combined excellent body lean with good rotational thrust.
For our TennisOne members, there are several articles that discuss the types of spin, (from slice to hybrid, from topspin to kick), in our TennisOne Lesson Library. It would be impossible to discuss every spin aspect within this short newsletter. However, the aspect of learning and acquiring spin is the suggestion I offer here.
The second point of a great serve is Racquet Head Speed. It is not uncommon to find players swinging so hard on first serves only to exponentially decelerate their swing speed for second serves.
I always ask my students, “should you swing harder or softer on your second serve for consistency?” This is a trick question, since most recreational players have served softer on second serves for decades. Many answer that swinging softer allows for consistency. After I remind them that the right kind of spin allows a player to aim higher over the net and still get the ball in, I ask them a second question, “Will more of this correct spin allow me to aim even higher over the net?” Of course, they answer. Thus, my final question, “How do we create more of this desired spin: swinging slower or swinging faster?”
This is usually when the light bulb goes on.
How Do We Swing Faster?
Obviously, swinging faster decreases both the ability to hit the ball in the sweet-spot and the ability to direct the ball. However, if we employ proper swing techniques and balance, and create a repeatable swing pattern, there is no reason why a person can’t develop an incredible second serve.
James Blake puts all the elements together: Racquet acceleration, use of body coil and forward thrust, and leverage.
Swinging faster within these controlling constraints can be discussed within the realm of physics. The speed of any serve is dictated by a couple mathematical equations: The equation for acceleration is Velocity divided by Time = Acceleration. Thus if we increase the velocity of the racquet or decrease the time in which we move the racquet, we increase acceleration of the racquet.
Too many players shorten their swing in order to feel like they are controlling the shot. While this is true within the simplistic concept of bunting a tennis ball, it severely limits a player’s ability to improve the serve.
We can increase velocity through body rotation as well. The more we coil our body, the further we can uncoil and the more our racquet can accelerate. Combined with the correct racquet swing path, we can gain tremendous acceleration through these aspects.
Another equation is that which describes momentum: Mass X Velocity = Momentum of a moving object. (M = mv) Momentum can best be described by comparing the swinging of a badminton racquet at a tennis ball to that of a regular tennis racquet. A light-weight badminton racquet will not apply much mass when swung at a tennis ball. The result; a tennis ball that does not go very far or very fast. If we increase the mass that is moving towards the tennis ball, we will pass the energy of momentum to the ball. How do we increase the mass? Gain weight? Nah…this will just make you slower on the court!
We increase the mass by moving our body into the serve. Leaning forward at the right time and thrusting our legs up and into the serve can greatly add momentum. Just watch any pro serve and you can see this for yourself.
Adding weight to a racquet can also add mass. However, if additional weight prevents us from generating maximum racquet head speed, then the weight can diminish our overall swing speed. There is one more equation related to momentum and acceleration: Acceleration is equal to the force applied divided by the mass of the object being moved. (A = F/M) Thus, as we add weight to our racquet, we will lose some acceleration according to this equation.
Finally, we can use leverage to create more speed. Most recreational players swing too much with the arm and don’t create or maximize the leverage by using the sequential action of the body, arm, and forearm to gain maximum racquet head speed.
Using TennisOne as a Resource
TennisOne has an incredible resource of articles and video clips designed to provide you with a “blueprint” for developing your serve as well as every aspect of your game. If you seek to improve your serve—or your forehand, backhand, volley, overhead, dropshot, approach shot, strategy, or any other element of your tennis game, you are missing the greatest tool available in our generation if you are not utilizing these articles and video clips.
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's Book Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
Training an 8-Year Old - Groundstroke Progressions
In this fourth segment Dave Smith describes the early progressions he used over the past six months in training his 8-year old daughter, Kyla's groundstroke game. Here Dave lays the foundation of Kyla's game that will provide her with the opportunity (depending on her talent and desire) to play tennis at levels that could include everything from playing on a high school varsity team, reaching a junior ranking in a USTA or ITF division, playing college tennis, or reaching the ultimate level, playing professionally.
Defeating the Undefeated
For the second week running, Roger Federer, the undisputed world number one has been beaten by Guillermo Canas, a player ranked outside the top 50. Both matches were fascinating in that Federer did not play badly but was simply outplayed, outfoxed, outrun, and, outthought by Canas on both occasions. So what does this mean for the weekend warrior? Here, Philippe Azar examines the Canas-Federer matches and what the club player can learn from the Canas feat.
Taking the Right Approach
The most common and costly tactical mistake in pro tennis today is hitting approach shots crosscourt or diagonally, rather than down the line. Andy Roddick is often guilty of this malpractice and it often costs him dearly. Paul Fein offers six reasons why you should approach net down the line and not crosscourt along with three exceptions to the rule when crosscourt approach shots do succeed. In an era when serve-and-volleyers are almost extinct, you can still “groundstroke and volley” effectively if you make the right choice.
Crosscourt - US Davis Cup
Tennis pundits Matt Cronin and Joel Drucker, discuss February's Davis Cup win over the Czech Republic, the first time the United States has won a world group main draw tie away on clay since 1997. The team has not one the title since 1995, their longest draught ever. Matt and Joel assess their chances against Spain next week and how America's top players might fare the rest of the year.
ProStrokes Gallery: Elena Dementieva's Serve
Elena Dementieva has amassed impressive career statistics with over $7 million dollars in prize money and six WTA singles titles. She has been a finalist at both the French Open and US Open, and holds wins over nearly all the top players. Elena has a tricky sidespin serve which sometimes gets her in trouble, but sometimes the skidding low, wide bounce in the deuce court gives the girls fits. A solid baseliner with excellent hitting and moving skills, Elena is looking to move up and there is every reason to believe she can do just that. New the issue, Dementieva's serve.
The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
If you wish to be removed from our newsletter list, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and leave the subject line blank. A confirmation email will be sent to you, and you will be removed from our newsletter list once you reply to that confirmation.
Copyright Notice: The contents of the TennisONE web site and contents forwarded to you by TennisONE are intended for your personal, noncommercial use. Republishing of TennisONE content in any way, including framing or posting of these materials on other Web sites, is strictly prohibited. See our full copyright statement