Analysis of the Ivo Karlovic Serve Technique

The Ivo Karlovic serve is a world class tennis serve motion that has stunned the world of professional tennis. Learning from the Karlovic serve begins with understanding the technique behind his tennis serve.

Ivo Karlovic of Croatia celebrates win over Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador during their Davis Cup match in Croatia's northern town of VarazdinAs you probably know, Ivo Karlovic boomed the fastest serve ever recorded during the March 5, 2011 Davis Cup match between Croatia and Germany.

The rocket off his racquet was measured at 156 mph, just a bit faster than your best! It came during a doubles match that he and his partner, Ivan Dodig, eventually lost, but it will live in immortality until someone else comes along and can top it.

Rather than simply admire that number, we all need to figure out what we can learn from the record-breaking Ivo Karlovic serve. Here’s a brief look at the technique that has broken all records.

Winner of four ATP singles titles, the Croatian sensation is the tallest man ever to play on the men’s tour. He tops out at 6’10″—it’s no wonder that he lists basketball as his favorite hobby. While it is true that men and women of average height will never match the leverage of Karlovic on his serve, it’s not true that his serve is not worth breaking down bit by bit. Karlovic does not serve aces by simply casually throwing the ball in the air and smacking it.

How Does One Produce a Ivo Karlovic Serve?

Ivo Karlovic’s serve is made up of a very refined technique that obviously is a product of hours and hours of hard work. It’s that technique that will be discussed here. Will you reach 156 mph if you imitate it? No. But you might add a few precious mph to your serve and improve its consistency by learning from the Ivo Karlovic serve. Let’s progress movement by movement through Karlovic’s serve:

Karlovic’s serve motion begins in a fairly conventional stance. His left hand holds the ball underneath the racquet at his waist. The ball is actually touching the racquet at this point. Many players like to have a few element of their serve repeated every time, especially at the starting point. Karlovic obviously likes to feel the ball on racquet as a starting point.

If you do not have a consistent starting point, a check point when you can say, “Now, I’m ready to start,” this might be a good one: hands together. Karlovic also has another very important characteristic to his ready position: his left foot rests on its heel, the toes in the air.

Weight Transfer and Ball Toss In the Karlovic Serve

ivo-karlovic-serve-heightKarlovic is ready to transfer all of his body weight from back to front to generate maximum power. The Ivo Karlovic serve is not based solely on arms and shoulders. His entire body is involved and that primed left foot gives a hint at what is to come.

As Karlovic tosses the ball quite high (he has to toss it high at 6’10″!), he gets all body parts engaged and moving in the same direction. After a brief movement back with his torso arched, he has placed the toes of his left foot down now, drawing the rest of his body forward. The movements of any great serve are apparent: the bent back, the flexed legs, the entire body moving strongly forward.

And don’t forget this point— Karlovic’s eyes are squarely on the ball, even after thousands of hours of practice. He is keeping his head up and on the ball, not on the opponent or the spectators or anyone or anything else. Another fine point that stands out with the Ivo Karlovic serve: after the toss, his hand is extremely loose and pointed palm up towards the sky, revealing that Karlovic’s toss was executed with all muscles relaxed.

Looseness and Relaxation – Another Key of the Ivo Karlovic Serve

ivo-karlovic-serveWhat’s even more interesting is that the fingers on Karlovic’s racquet hand are also extremely loose, with several flaring off as the ball is tossed, further proving the extreme relaxation of both arms as the serve is begun. This is the opposite of how many club players serve, with everything in the body tense as you hope beyond hope that your first serve will be powerful and land in.

Once you’ve practiced your serve to a point where muscle memory has been achieved, you can relax both hands and arms and save your power for contact. In addition, Karlovc’s arm is cocked in a classic reverse “L” position, at about a 90-degreee angle.

Using Groundforce Reaction to Push Off the Ground – Present in Karlovic’s serve.

Karlovic is ready to make contact with the ball now. In his effort to reach the ball, he actually leaves both feet. He has created so much momentum in moving forward that a jump is almost inevitable. The high toss and his desire to hit the ball at his maximum out-stretch has forced him to leave his feet. Let’s consider just how high of a point the ball is coming from as we think about being on the receiving end of this missile.

How High He Get Off the Ground in the Karlovic Serve?

ivo-karlovic-serve-heightAdd Karlovic’s nearly 7-foot frame to his nearly 3-foot arms and add a jump of several inches.

It is safe to say that the ball is being struck at least 10 feet from the ground, a trajectory that tour players rarely see.

This is part of the key of the Ivo Karlovic serve that you cannot duplicate, unless you are near his height. The rest is certainly up for imitation: left toes up, rock back, rock forward, high toss, eye on the ball, small jump, contact at ball’s highest point possible.

Pronation is Another Part of the Ivo Karlovic Serve

A careful look at Ivo Karlovic’s serve motion also reveals that he has used pronation, the turning down of his palm to hit the ball. Karlovic has used an Eastern grip and turned his wrist counter-clockwise to hit the ball flatly with some momentum. Thus, Karlovic is generating energy even with his wrist, as if his 6’10″ frame were not enough.

Watch Slow Motion Videos of the Karlovic Serve

If you look at a video of the Ivo Karlovic serve, you will see his follow-through revealing a definite use of pronation as his racquet face is turned away from his body after hitting the ball. Pronation is used by almost all top professional and amateur players. You will need many hours of practice to master this technique.

Karlovic lands well into the court after his little leap. How much forward momentum was created by his movements? Enough to propel him nearly a yard into the playing area. That bodes well for a serve-and-volleyer like Karlovic. You don’t have to follow your serve to the net, but if you generate as much forward momentum as Karlovic does, it’s worth a try now and then because you will feel like you’re halfway there anyway.

Karlovic’s Serve – Keeping the Head Still

Karlovic’s head is still following the ball. All of the height in the world is useless if the eyes stray. Karlovic knows exactly where his serve is headed because he is carefully tracking it. As he finishes his follow through, his eyes are looking straight ahead to see where the serve lands and what his opponent will do.

As he takes that first giant step towards the net, Karlovic’s body is flexed and focused. His right foot hits the ground and his left leg is well up in the air, ready to take another large step towards the net. His racquet is at waist height and his left hand is even with it as he readies himself for a volley. Where is your racquet after the serve? Down? Up? In ready position?

Getting Ready For the Next Shot

karlovic-serve-followthroughKarlovic does not assume for an instant that his opponent will miss the serve. He is ready for a rocket return and is already in volley position as he advances towards the net. Don’t think he didn’t practice this movement for hours, either.

He did. He knows that the quicker he gets into ready position, the fewer movements he has to make as he moves toward the net. He can simply stay in the same position with each step and he will be perfectly ready to pick off an easy volley.

Ivo Karlovic has a nice frame from which to launch a powerful serve, but his technique is also impeccable.

If you want a serve near the level of the Ivo Karlovic serve, you, too, will need to master the fundamentals as he has.

The distinct features of the Karlovic serve, apart from its point of contact 10 feet from the ground, are: his extreme relaxation, little leap and use of pronation.

He also finishes very well, moving toward the net in a ready position. All of those features were added through many hours on the practice court. That’s where you’ll need to go, too, to imitate the Ivo Karlovic serve, famous the world over.


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