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A Different Type of Percentage Play
I’m constantly amazed when I see a player win the pre-match spin and almost reflexively elect to serve. When I ask these players why they make this choice, they think for a moment and then say, "it’s an advantage to serve first……………..isn’t it?"
The pros almost always elect to serve first. The serve is the most important shot in the game and most professionals have a good one, so for them the decision is usually a no-brainer. However, if you're like me, you're not receiving a check for your match results on the tennis court so the subject requires a bit more thought.
If you're like most, your serve doesn't vaguely resemble that of Pete Sampras or anyone you might see on TV, so why opt to serve first?
Serving first is the right choice because serving is an advantage, isn't it? Well, theoretically, yes. But realistically is it the correct decision? At he club level, most of the time, probably not!
Serving at the recreational level is often a disadvantage for the simple fact that many recreational players do not have particularly good serves. To anyone insulted by that statement, I apologize but, hey, we’re talking competitive tennis here and, more often than not, serving first does not provide an advantage.
The pros tend to hold serve (win their service games) about 85% of the time. At the recreational levels I estimate the percentages are approximately as follows:
- 1.0-2.0: 20%
- 2.0-3.0: 30%
- 3.0-4.0: 40%
- 4.0-4.5: 50%
- 4.5-5.5: 60%
As you can see, until you reach the 4.5-5.0 level serving tends to be a risky affair at best. That is why I suggest you choose to receive serve if you win the opening spin of the racquet. Here are a few reasons why:
1. You'll catch your opponent cold. Like most recreational players, they've probably hit three or four serves and then boldly proclaim they're ready to go. Believe me, they're not! They'll undoubtedly still be a bit stiff as well as suffering from opening game jitters.
Plus, at the recreational levels, there's often the old "first ball in" (FBI) rule in effect (especially among women) meaning that on the first point the server gets to keep hitting serves until one goes in. This concept was invented for one reason: so that the players don't have to waste valuable court time on something as insignificant as warming up their serves.
Take a lesson from Andre Agassi, after winning the toss, he often chose to receive.
So what happens? The player serving first takes no warm-up serves, says "FBI" and away they go. Many times in "FBI" games the first ball actually does go in and then the server's really in trouble. The server now have to serve the rest of the game with what amounts to only one warm-up serve.
A quick point here: if you do get caught in one of those "first ball in games" be certain to intentionally miss your first 10-15 serves so that you can loosen your arm up. By doing so, you'll not only warm your arm up, you'll most probably annoy your opponents to the point where they'll agree to a proper service warm-up before beginning the match.
2. You'll have more time to warm-up, relax and get into the match. In addition, you'll be looser when it's your turn to serve.
3. Again, most players below the 5.0 level simply don't have very good serves. Sorry, but it's true. Many players at the club level find practicing their serve boring so they let it slide. As a result, they adopt the old "boom" and "plop" strategy that is so prevalent today.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule. If you have confidence in your serve, and I don't mean the "I have a great serve when it goes in" type of confidence, then you should serve first. Also, if your opponent truly has a great serve you may want to serve first. However, keep in mind that even a great server is a bit stiff and jittery serving for the first time, so it may be a good time to go for an early service break.
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Back-to-Front Footwork Pattern
The high backhand may be the most troublesome stroke in tennis, at both the club level and on the pro tour — even for a player as great as Roger Federer. So, what's the best way to deal with this difficult shot. In this video, former touring pro, Jeff Salzenstein, shows two-handers the back-to-front footwork pattern needed to hit this shot. Be aware, this is a very advanced move and should be practiced over and over until it feels comfortable. But for those who master this, it could make a big difference in your confidence and your game.
We all know her story, the shoulder injury, the surgery, the time away from the game, the long recovery, and the barrage of double faults, yet Maria Sharapova continues to win matches. If the serve is the most important shot in tennis, how then has Sharapova managed to claw her way back to number two in the world? So, what's Maria doing right when things are going wrong, and how can we do it too? Marcus Cootsona may have some answers.
ProStrokes 2.0 — Alisa Kleybanova, Serve
This Jovial and talented Russian girl first joined the tour at 2003 at the age of fourteen, and won the first ITF tournament she entered. But it was in 2010 that she really began to have an impact, reaching her highest WTA world ranking at No. 20 in February of 2011. Alisa has won two WTA tournaments and eleven on the ITF tour. However, on July 14, 2011 it was revealed that Alisa had been diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma. After undergoing treatment for almost eight months, Alisa announced that she has successfully completed her treatment and has started training in Florida. She will launch her comeback at the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open in Miami as a wildcard into the main draw. New this issue, Kleybanova's serve.
TennisOne Writers Store
One of your many new benefits as a TennisOne membership is your ability to purchase selected instructional DVDs at 20% off ($7.50 off each) in our new TennisOne Writers Store (login in first to access members links):
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