The ultimate guide to a big serve
By: Doug Browne
Just how important is a big serve? Look no further than American tennis player Andy Roddick, who has hit hundreds of serves at speeds higher than 140 miles per hour. Can you imagine driving an automobile over one hundred miles per hour?
How is it possible for a player, who is facing major pressure, to hit a serve so darn hard? It is truly remarkable for a player to own such an effective weapon and to have the skill to hit aces when he faces break points.
Here are a couple of essential tools one must grasp to become a good server: placement of toss, reach, rhythm, and a good relaxed arm. Let's examine what we need to do to become a winning server. Sometimes it is just as helpful to study a server who does everything wrong. Have you ever seen the new, poorly coordinated tennis player who moves his arms too fast from beginning to end?
This player offers no rhythm, and with the upper body moving too fast, is unable to have a good toss. The solution is to start the motion slowly in order to better grasp the all-important toss and then begin to build racket head speed. As we examine the serve more closely (right-handers), we will try to place the ball on the toss at 'one o'clock', with the left arm fully extended. The ball will be only two to three feet in height from the extended left arm. Poor servers often toss the ball too low (no higher than their eyes) or too high (three or four feet above the left-arm extension) and in either case, the timing or rhythm is off.
We need to keep the motion as simple as possible, and a good toss is the first great step in achieving that goal. Another salient point is that the player must have a relaxed hand and arm to add power to the serve. Too many inexperienced tennis players squeeze their grips extra hard, the 'death grip', and then slug away.
If players want to perform under pressure, their serving hands and grips must be relaxed, not tight. Have you ever observed a great free-throw shooter in basketball? The sharp shooting basketball player, someone like Boston great Larry Bird, has a great ritual. When he goes up to the line, he bounces the ball a few times, breathes and then fires away.
Great servers like Sampras, Roddick, McEnroe and others did the same thing. When servers perform their rituals, they are breathing and planning their strategy. In other words, the server is creating the perfect atmosphere, like bouncing the ball a few times and then plotting the next service placement. Remember, once the point ends, not only is the player not ready physically but also not ready mentally. Incredible servers utilize their time between points like an artist, so they can continually win their serves and place all of the pressure on their foes.
In conclusion, if you want to have a big serve you must begin with a good, consistent toss. Secondly, you must reach up and hit up and then snap for power. Make sure to have a relaxed arm and body and you will be able to create speed.
And, by the way, it doesn't hurt to stand over six feet tall!
(Doug Browne is the Hideaway Beach Director of Tennis and the Community Tennis Association President. Doug and his wife Leslie have enjoyed teaching players of all abilities at Hideaway Beach for over a decade. He can be reached by e-mail at DBrowne912@aol.com
©Naples Sun Times 2006