Tennis serve motion is a topic that is often debated by players seeking to improve the tennis serve. At the pro level, we see players with a vast difference in tennis serve motion, but the key characteristics of a world class serve is rarely recognized.
The Tennis Serve Motion is a matter of technique, style, preference and physical ability.
When we watch pro tennis, the tennis serve is often the biggest strength of any top player on tour. Professional tennis serve motion is characterized by its elegance, beauty and seamless fluidity. The tennis serve motion seems to flow from one part to the next like waves on the shore on a hot summer day. This seamless transition from preparation to wind-up to contact is why top players can maximize the power on their tennis serve like a driver would shift to final gear.
What are the keys of tennis serve motion?
One of the aspects of tennis serve motion is the ability to generate extensive racket head speed at contact. The tennis serve is an explosive move that can only be made possible with the correct technique.
Watching professional tennis on television, makes it extremely obvious how players are able to generate a massive amount of racket speed on their serve, while remaining completely relaxed.
Different tennis serve motion on tour
The fact is that a solid foundation is key to generate a world class tennis serve. The fundamentals of the tennis serve must be firmly in place before a player can deviate towards more advanced tennis serve concepts.
At the pro level, the tennis serve motion of players vary from one player to the next. Not one professional player serves exactly the same way, but yet they all achieve maximum racket speed on impact. One of the things that makes this happen is the gracefulness of a world class serve motion.
I have researched tennis serve motion for years in attempts to discover the secrets of the serve. I studied slow motion tennis serve videos for hours on end, going frame by frame and pausing through key positions.
What I discovered was that there was no exact “right” or “wrong” when it came to the tennis serve. Rather, I soon saw that players had many different types of wind-ups for the serve that seemed to work for them. But what distinguished them from the club level players were the small commonalities in technique that separated them from the amateurs.
Fundamental Keys of Every World Class Tennis Serve Motion
When I studied the high speed video of the best tennis serves in the world, it wasn’t initially clear to me why the pros were able to serve with much more power and accuracy than club players. I thought, perhaps it’s a developmental process that requires “practice.”
At the same time, I was told that height and physical strength were solely responsible for why pros could hit their tennis serves that much harder. This popular notion of height and pure strength equating to a world class serve is prominent among the uninformed.
Even though I was told that height and natural born talent was the primary part of the equation, I did not take that for an answer. If that were the case, then very few individuals in the entire world would have a chance to develop a powerful serve. And if it that were the case, I might as well have hung my racket on the wall, since I did not have the towering height nor any exceptional strength.
As I continued to research footage of various different professional tennis serve motion on tour, I soon found out that not only were there distinct commonalities in technique, but they seemed to meet unique “phases” or “key positions” during the overall tennis serve wind-up up to contact. These unique phases were present in every top professional server in the world.
Fluidity and Rhythm a key part of any great tennis serve motion
What I observed was that even though the stances, timing, and racket and arm positions during the wind-up differed somewhat amongst professional players, they all achieved a remarkably fluid rhythm on their tennis serve motion.
The backswing and wind-up style among 90% of the top pro tennis serve motions I observed had a very relaxed, and flowing rhythm that traced some form of a semi-circle. The semi-circle pattern varied in different degrees, but their hitting arm seemed to shape some form of a “C” motion.
Take a look at this short clip of the tennis serve motion of Roger Federer and Ivan Ljubicic for example. Ivan Ljubicic brings his feet up together in a pinpoint stance with a quicker backswing timing. Roger Federer’s serve on the other hand, seems to have a slower and more pronounced circular rhythm. He uses a “both feet back” stance and takes a larger wind-up than Ivan Ljubicic. Clearly, these two players have different looking serves and timing. But watch how seamless both players transition from the start of the serve, into the wind-up and forward into the court after contact.
If you watch carefully, both players trace a semi-circular motion, but Ivan Ljubicic traces more of an abbreviated “C” or semi circle. The end result is both players achieve a world class serve, which was a product of their smooth delivery.
Abbreviated Tennis Serve Motion
In today’s modern tennis, the abbreviated tennis serve is increasing in popularity due to servers like Andy Roddick, Gael Monfils and Rafael Nadal. These players have arrived on tour with a new breed of players that use a more abbreviated tennis serve motion. Rather than create a smooth rhytym, these players skip the majority of the wind-up phase and instead immediately gravitate toward the trophy pose. In this serve, the loading phase happens much quicker, since the racket has a smaller path during the wind-up. The abbreviated tennis serve requires good timing, and in my opinion it is a difficult tennis serve motion to emulate without first learning a more classical wind-up a la Roger Federer and Pete Sampras.
The reason why the abbreviated tennis serve is increasing in popularity in the eyes of the recreational and club players is due to the explosiveness generated by the abbreviated tennis serve motion. We have all seen Andy Roddick’s infamous tennis serve, how he starts and immediately powers up a 140 MPH serve ace almost instantaneously.
The problem with the abbreviated tennis serve motion is that it requires not only solid fundamentals, but a keen understanding of the mechanics behind the serve as well as the flawless timing. Not only that, but it requires that the player have a deep competency in throwing mechanics.
Recreational and club players that attempt to model the Andy Roddick or Rafael Nadal Tennis serve motion usually end in ruins, as they discover months later that replicating the abbreviated tennis serve is not as simple as watching a few slow motion videos and then copying that into their own tennis serve motion.
From what I’ve found, the abbreviated tennis serve motion is a demanding stroke that is usually only mastered by years of coaching and competitive playing experience under a high performance tennis training environment. This is among the reasons why the odds are stacked for recreational tennis players attempting to model this type of tennis serve motion.
Finding your Own Tennis Serve Motion
As we saw from the previous example, the tennis serve motion on tour can vary from player to player. This makes it difficult for recreational players to find an ideal model for their own tennis serve motion development.
One of the keys to find a good tennis serve motion to follow is to seek a player with a simple backswing with the least moving parts. The more efficient the overall tennis serve motion, the less wasted energy there will be and the result will be a more powerful, effective and accurate tennis serve.
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