Monday, March 25, 2013

Second Serve Topspin

Getting good topspin on your serve is key to having a second serve that you can trust. If you have a "feel" for hitting your serve with topspin, you will trust that you can get it in with enough pace and spin to be effective.

I had to work many years to develop a second serve that I could trust. I used several visualizations to get there. One of the more powerful ones is to imagine my racquet face being horizontal to the ball at the point of contact rather than up and down. Normally, we imagine the racquet standing straight up and down (vertical) as we hit serves and overheads. In the case of hitting a topspin serve, we can imagine the racquet in a horizontal position (like for a groundstroke) that brushes up on the ball, to give it topspin. Below is a video that takes this visual to the extreme and even has some drills to practice the motion.

Tom Avery Topspin Serve

I am careful to call this a visualization. If you watch second serves in slow motion, the racquet is not in a horizontal position when it contacts the ball, but it is close.

With this in mind, watch this video that shows modern players hitting topspin serves:

Lloyd Second Serve Lesson

You can also compare this to Bill Tilden and his pupil back in the days when the American Twist was being invented. I'm especially impressed with his student's racquet motion.

Bill Tilden

To get your racquet in the proper position to where it will snap from a horizontal position that contacts the ball in a way to impart topspin is the key. It will take practice and visualizations. What seems like a big change to you is probably a little change to your swing in reality.

Note that Bill Tilden says that your arm needs to finish out to the right instead of coming across the body to the left.

If you want to examine a topspin serve in slow motion, here are some good videos.

Slow Motion Topspin Serve
Notice where the arm ends for the server in the slow motion video.

A pro who coached Andy Roddick a little when he was young once told me that at 9 he could hit a kick serve that would bounce over your head. Let's look at his second serve in slow motion.

Andy Roddick Topspin Serve

Just like Big Bill says, on an American twist serve the arm ends on the right side of the body. To achieve this will require pronation. Pronating your wrist allows the ball to go toward the target but your arm ends off to the right. After I watched the Nick Bollettieri video below and practiced it, I started hitting big kicking American twist serves!

Nick Bollettieri Pronation Practice

Now that you know what to look for, watch all of these videos again. Then practice. Then watch the videos again. Then practice some more. You get the idea. Here's a checklist for hitting a kick serve.
  • Pronate your wrist (Bollettieri).
  • Brush up on the ball with the racquet more horizontal (Avery).
  • Focus on your arm finishing off to the right. (Tilden)
  • Toss the ball over your head (Avery, Lloyd, Tilden).
  • Arch your back (Roddick).
  • Bend your knees and explode up and into the court (Roddick).
Put the toss in the proper location (above your head instead of out to your right), and then work on your motion to incorporate a fast wrist snap and arm path that brushes up on the ball and finishes to the right. Remember that your wrist snap should pronate horizontally. Then, don't forget about your legs and torso. We want legs pushing us up and into the court for free and easy racquet acceleration. Our torso faces up to the sky initially so we can brush up on the ball over our head.

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Sonic Serve" Revolutionized My Serve

A couple years ago, I found an old VHS tape by Nick Bollettieri called Sonic Serve and watched it. The major difference between my existing service motion and the Sonic Serve was the angle of my shoulders. My existing serve had my shoulders fairly level, and the Sonic Serve calls for the line of the shoulders to be in a 7-o-clock position (close to vertical). It took a couple weeks of really focusing on trying to get my shoulders in that position, but the results were dramatic. I found that my first serve became a lot more consistent because I was snapping down more and keeping it from going long. I also found that I could ditch my old second serve motion which was drastically different from my first serve motion, and use my new first serve motion with more spin (grip and wrist action change) for a second serve.

Below is portion of the full "Sonic Serve" video that goes over the fundamentals. The full video gets overly repetitive:

Drills to Practice Sonic Serve:
  • Throwing Form: Practice the elements of throwing with power including getting a full stretch of the chest and using the left (off) arm to pull to accelerate.
  • Throwing Up: Practice the serve without a racquet by throwing a tennis ball straight up into the air. Stand at the service line and try to throw the ball up so that it will come down on the same side of the net.
  • Set To Launch: You should be able to balance in the set to launch position. Practice the service motion with the racquet and tossing the ball in the air, but freezing in the set to launch position (hip out, knees bent, arm up) and letting the ball drop.