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View Full Version : How much does a serve potentially change your NTRP Rating?


taylor15
05-28-2009, 04:15 PM
I regularly practice with a player who is a solid 4.5 player, while I am a 3.5. Hitting rallies, I can hang with him all day, but what really separates us is his ability to hit a great first and second serve, where I have a descent first serve and a terrible second serve. Should I just start working on my serve more, and lay off my groundies and volleys as much when practicing?

subaru3169
05-28-2009, 04:29 PM
why not keep working on your groundstrokes/volleys, but spend more time on your serves??

tennisdad65
05-28-2009, 04:35 PM
there is this old saying:
you are only as good as your second serve

work on your topspin second serve till you can get it in >90% with some decent pace, spin, and directional control. topspin serve is a lot easier to master than the twist.

taylor15
05-28-2009, 05:12 PM
I have been working on a kick serve for my second, maybe I will just resort to topspin. My first serve has a descent amount of topspin already but not a great amount so I could work on getting more and take off some pace for my second.

Cindysphinx
05-28-2009, 05:23 PM
I think this is an interesting question. I suppose the answer depends on gender and NTRP level.

At my level (3.5), serves don't matter much, IMHO. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that having variety will take you far, but having a weak serve is no big deal.

There are a lot of 3.5 women who just push their serves, or have only one serve (usually a serve that just goes straight into the box). Even if they can hit this serve hard, it is not difficult to return -- just stand back some.

Still, I know very successful players with poor serves (especially second serves) who do well because few opponents can punish the serve. Plus, the player with the poor serve has learned how to deal with whatever screamer the opponent might try to hit.

Making matters worse is that the women I see with formidable serves rarely S&V. If they did, they might shoot up in level quickly.

If I am having a really, really good serving day, I can hit topspin and slice that will give some (but not all!) opponents some trouble. On those rare days, I can S&V in doubles pretty easily. Still, I lose quite a lot, and the higher I go the less freaked out the women are by a little bit of spin. I don't think my serve has done anything at all for my NTRP rating, sadly.

brosamj
05-28-2009, 05:30 PM
I regularly practice with a player who is a solid 4.5 player, while I am a 3.5. Hitting rallies, I can hang with him all day, but what really separates us is his ability to hit a great first and second serve, where I have a descent first serve and a terrible second serve. Should I just start working on my serve more, and lay off my groundies and volleys as much when practicing?

A serve makes a big difference. A big serve will ensure he wins almost all of his service games while your serve sets you up to be broken.

On another note, rallying with him all day long in practice is one thing...match play is entirely different. If you are 3.5 and he is 4.5, most likely he can place the ball better in groundstrokes so when a match happens, you will have some nice rallys but his placement would probably kill you over the course of a competitive match. I am a 4.5 and I can hit groundstrokes all day long in a practice with a 5.5 player and look really good while doing it--you put me in a match with him and his all around game will get me every time even if we have some nice rallys.

raiden031
05-28-2009, 05:35 PM
I have doubts that your rating will go from 3.5 to 4.5 if you improve your serve. There is a huge difference between being able to rally with a 4.5 in practice, and being able to win rallies against them during a match. I think the serve helps to give you an advantage to start the point, but if you can't back it up with good groundstrokes, then you lose that advantage very quickly. I think it is more important to develop solid, consistent groundstrokes, while working on your serve to help provide that extra needed advantage. By no means should you ignore your groundstrokes and volleys in favor of your serve.

skiracer55
05-28-2009, 09:24 PM
...however, consider the following:

- The two most important strokes in tennis are, in this order, the serve and the return. Why is this? I wouldn't disagree with people who say that they don't matter a whole lot at the 3.0 -3.5 level. In one sense, very true, especially since a lot of people at that level pretty much have the same serve...okay first serve, helium balloon for a second serve...and the same return...okay return once in a while, decent percentages, but no real sting or direction.

As you move (or try to move) to 4.0 and above, typically, the whole character of the game changes. At 3.5 and below, the standard opening gambit is...just get the damned thing in...serve or return...a good one if possible, but just get the damned thing in...and then we'll start a groundstroke rally, and after a while either (a) somebody will shank one into the fence or the net or (b) somebody will see a chance for a winner, go for it, and maybe it will go in, maybe it won't. So essentially, you are starting off the point defensive or neutral position, and seeing what happens from there...if things go well, maybe you'll go on the offense, if not...well, probably the other person will take gas before you do.

At 4.0 and above, the accent switches, to trying to take control of the point...that is, being on the offensive...from the get-go...without, of course, making stupid errors. It doesn't matter if you have a 120mph first serve if it only goes in once a month and your second serve is a helium balloon, and it doesn't matter if you can hit a return like Agassi...some of the time, if your opponent hands you a helium ball. To take control of the point from the get-go, you need either a forcing serve or a forcing return, preferably both, and you need to do it lots of the time.

- Think about, as I have often posed, the concept of a 3.5 who suddenly develops a 5.0 serve. Sounds ridiculous and unlikely, I know, but humor me because it could happen...and I've seen it happen. If you truly want to distance yourself from the competition...at any level...beef up your serve and return. Or, as my former coach, Dave Hodge, now one of the national team coaches for Tennis Australia once told me, "Richard, your whole game has improved two levels, but most of all, your serve...and if there is any one stroke that any player should focus on improving, it is the serve."

Wilson6-1
05-28-2009, 10:19 PM
As someone that has always been very good at serving, I say stick to improving your ground game. Serving is overrated in my opinion, even at the 4.5 level. First, they will return your serves, then what? If your ground game is average, it will be a long day. Second, even if you have a great serve, it only takes one break to lose the set.

Your serve will come with practice and it will make you more competitive, but I can assure you that you won't make it to 4.5 without a very good ground game (regardless of serve).

jwr1972
05-29-2009, 12:41 PM
^^
Serving isn't as overrated as you might think. Sure a lot of times it is a "somewhat" neutral shot but as another poster mentioned, you are only as good as your second serve. To take it a step further, your second serve's consistency or lack thereof will dictate indirectly how confident you are on your first serve. I can say this as I am transitioning from 3.5 to 4.0 right now.

Overall, to move up from 3.5, your serve(first or second) needs placement to go along with speed. It won't take a 4.0 or 4.5 long to pick up on someone who constantly does the same serve over and over. Variety is the spice of life.

Nanshiki
05-29-2009, 12:48 PM
If you have an accurate 120+ first and 90+ second that's reliable (meaning a few DF's a set or less), but the rest of your game is 3.5, you could easily compete at a level probably a whole point or more above you... ie, 4.5 or higher. But that's not very likely to happen. Similarly a 4.0 (with an even better serve) could probably handle 5.0. I doubt they could win a tournament though... but they could probably win any given match if they play well enough.

SlapShot
05-29-2009, 01:50 PM
As someone that has always been very good at serving, I say stick to improving your ground game. Serving is overrated in my opinion, even at the 4.5 level. First, they will return your serves, then what? If your ground game is average, it will be a long day. Second, even if you have a great serve, it only takes one break to lose the set.

Your serve will come with practice and it will make you more competitive, but I can assure you that you won't make it to 4.5 without a very good ground game (regardless of serve).

Absolutely not true. I play 4.0, and have what most consider a very strong serve at that level - my volleys are my worst stroke, and yet I have started 3-0 at #1 doubles so far. Why? I've been broken once this season. The ability to vary location, spin, and pace has gotten me out of easily a dozen break points.

The serve and return are critical. Not that groundies aren't important, but if you can't start the point off at least at neutral, the best groundies don't matter.

Wilson6-1
05-29-2009, 04:52 PM
^^
Serving isn't as overrated as you might think. Sure a lot of times it is a "somewhat" neutral shot but as another poster mentioned, you are only as good as your second serve. To take it a step further, your second serve's consistency or lack thereof will dictate indirectly how confident you are on your first serve. I can say this as I am transitioning from 3.5 to 4.0 right now.

Overall, to move up from 3.5, your serve(first or second) needs placement to go along with speed. It won't take a 4.0 or 4.5 long to pick up on someone who constantly does the same serve over and over. Variety is the spice of life.

Understand your point, but if a player can't consistently hit their second serve, they are most likely not 3.5, certainly won't be any higher.

My comment assumes that they can actually serve consistently. However, after that, if the argument is improve the ground game or service game, the service game alone will not take a player from 3.5 to 4.5. IMO, a strong ground game with an average (assuming consistent) serve can take a player to 4.5.

Wilson6-1
05-29-2009, 04:59 PM
If you have an accurate 120+ first and 90+ second that's reliable (meaning a few DF's a set or less), but the rest of your game is 3.5, you could easily compete at a level probably a whole point or more above you... ie, 4.5 or higher. But that's not very likely to happen. Similarly a 4.0 (with an even better serve) could probably handle 5.0. I doubt they could win a tournament though... but they could probably win any given match if they play well enough.

I don't want to turn this thread into an "I serve at 120 mph" thread because 99% of the people at 4.5 do not, not to mention a 3.5 player. I understand that a great serve will improve a player, when I first started, I could easily compete at a 3.0 level simply on my serve. My ground game sucked and was wildly inaccurate, but as a player develops, starting at 3.5-/3.5 or similar rating (depending on your league), players can start returning difficult serves and then the ground game is exposed.

At 4.5, if your ground game is 3.5 but you are serving at a 5.0 level, you will lose on a consistent basis.

Wilson6-1
05-29-2009, 05:17 PM
Absolutely not true. I play 4.0, and have what most consider a very strong serve at that level - my volleys are my worst stroke, and yet I have started 3-0 at #1 doubles so far. Why? I've been broken once this season. The ability to vary location, spin, and pace has gotten me out of easily a dozen break points.

The serve and return are critical. Not that groundies aren't important, but if you can't start the point off at least at neutral, the best groundies don't matter.

First, I should have quoted these 3 replies together, sorry.

In regards to your post, unless you play doubles, it is not shocking that a 4.0 singles player does not have strong volleys. It is unusual but not crazy.

Now, how can you claim that a "return" is not part of the ground game? I consider the return to be part of the ground game. If you have a great return game, I find it hard to believe your ground strokes are weak?

Lastly, understand that serving big can be a huge advantage. I consistently serve greater than 100 mph on my first serve and around 90 mph on my second. I can place the 1st or 2nd serve and vary pace, depth and spin for effect. However, it doesn't win me matches at the 4.0/4.5 level. Sure, it wins me sets and can occasionally, if I am really on, a match, but I wouldn't win without a consistent ground game. I am the opposite of you in that my volley is very strong, and with my serve, it can bail me out when I lose my forehand (which happens more than I like), I don't win consistently.

EDIT: Just noticed that you said you do play doubles, yet you are not strong at volleys? Doesn't make a lot sense. I think you have a very good partner. You aren't winning solely on your serve, you don't serve that much in doubles to have it be a competitive advantage. And if you are not good at net, your ground game must be very good. Otherwise, you would be picked on at 4.0 and exposed. Just my opinion.

volleyman
05-29-2009, 05:17 PM
Everything else being equal, improving your serve and your return of serve could move you up a half point (3.5 to 4.0, for example), I guess.

These really are important strokes, because they set the stage for the rest of the point. Here's an example:

There's a woman I play against. When we play groundstroke games to 11 (start with groundstrokes, can't lose the point until the third hit), we pretty much split, and the games are always close.

When we play actual sets, I generally win convincingly. The difference is the serve and return. My serve is good enough to put her on the defensive, and my returns do the same. I get to start almost every point at the advantage, and the final game score reflects it.

skiracer55
05-29-2009, 06:45 PM
Everything else being equal, improving your serve and your return of serve could move you up a half point (3.5 to 4.0, for example), I guess.

These really are important strokes, because they set the stage for the rest of the point. Here's an example:

There's a woman I play against. When we play groundstroke games to 11 (start with groundstrokes, can't lose the point until the third hit), we pretty much split, and the games are always close.

When we play actual sets, I generally win convincingly. The difference is the serve and return. My serve is good enough to put her on the defensive, and my returns do the same. I get to start almost every point at the advantage, and the final game score reflects it.

...I think the point I would make at this juncture is to say that you have to have a balanced game, sure. But a big improvement in serve and return can lead to big improvements in your game...which will translate, eventually, into higher NTRP ratings or whatever. Per what volleyman says, I see players who work endlessly on their groundstrokes, can rally people into the ground, or hit winners, or create unforced errors...in drills that start with a courtesy stroke. Then they get into a match and get shelled and can't figure out why. If your first serve isn't forcing, your opponent probably isn't going to do you the favor of hitting back a courtesy stroke for a return, so you'll likely be chasing balls and trying to play defense as opposed to controlling the play with your groundstrokes. Same is true of the return. If your opponent has a great serve, then, yeah, he's going to get some winners and aces and you will likely start the point on the defensive. But if you get a look at a weak serve and just rally it back, then you just gave up your opportunity to control the point from the outset.

The subject we're discussing...Does serve improvement make a difference in NTRP level? is one of those discussions where the only reasonable answer is "It should, on paper, but once you get on the court, it depends..." What I'd urge everybody at a sub 4.0 level (or any level, for that matter) to do is invest some time in improving your serve and return and see what it buys you. If you take a look at the NTRP level descriptions:

http://www.olypen.com/peninsulatennisclub/NTRP.htm

They don't really talk specifically about the serve until post 4.0, and sort of imply one or two things, or both: (1) You don't have to worry about a better, more powerful serve until you get to 4.5, (2) A better, more powerful serve just sort of automagically happens, just appears, as long as you work on the other parts of your game and get match tough on your path to 4.5.

I look at it the other way, which is if you want to either compete better at the 3.0/3.5 level and/or you aspire to 4.0 and above, you need to start thinking about better serves and better returns while you're a 3.0/3.5. If this sounds unrealistic, I don't think it is at all. It depends on your approach. What I would generally do as a coach, at any level, but particularly at the 3.0/3.5 level, is, yeah, let's work on groundstrokes a bunch, because you have to be solid enough to rally. But once I'm convinced that you can move well enough and hit consistently enough to stay in an 8 ball baseline rally, we're going to take a side detour and work on what I consider to be the two cornerstone shots in tennis, which are, the overhead and the volley, specifically the backhand volley.

A lot of players can hit an overhead, but they can't hit it cleanly, and they definitely can't hit it cleanly unless somebody lofts the ball right into their hitting zone. So we do overhead drills, until you have that down, and I mean clean stroke mechanics, hitting with power, and making 90% of the balls I throw up at you. Then, figuring out a serve is easy, because you're tossing the ball, instead of me.

The volley has gone into grave disuse, IMHO, in today's tennis, and I think it is largely because there is a whole segment of the pro game, and I'm thinking mostly of the men, but not exclusively, where the whole idea is "Big first serve, big forehand, that is all you need to know." Yeah, I know it works, sort of, but the guys who distance themselves, and win the majors have what we used to refer to as "an all court game."

I just watched some of the NCAA 2009 tournament, and I was appalled at how limited the game was for players of this level. In the commentary, the strength of almost every single men's player was "forehand", and the doubles was pure one up/one back groundstrokes only...basically, junior high school tennis. Yep, they were NCAA champions, but IMHO, that's all they're ever gonna be.

Enter the backhand volley. Once you get that one down, and a decent forehand volley to go with it, you have a lot of stuff that the heavy topspin only crowd doesn't have. As in, a slice backhand, which is a great, underused weapon. It's all Ken Rosewall ever had on that side, and he did okay, from what I remember. You also have a great short backswing feel that you can translate to groundstrokes, as in when you're rushed or have to return a monster serve.

So there it is. If you're wondering if a bigger serve...and return...can up your NTRP number, I know it can...but you have to prove that to yourself. Why not give it a try?

serve and Justin
05-30-2009, 01:46 AM
I really can't play without my serve...

I can only hit groundstrokes when they are hit at me with good pace...loopy moonballs kill my game...

if not for my serve where I can at least usually put the point away I would be horrid.

Cindysphinx
05-30-2009, 05:04 AM
As someone that has always been very good at serving, I say stick to improving your ground game. Serving is overrated in my opinion, even at the 4.5 level. First, they will return your serves, then what?

I guess it's impossible to know if this is good advice without knowing how good or bad the other elements of someone's game are.

I have a 3.5 friend. She has a "good" serve. By that I mean it has pace and topspin. Alas, she cannot hit any serve other than that one serve. Her second serve is a slower version of that serve, and it is easy for opponents to groove this one serve. Her BH is erratic and her volleys are embryonic. She cannot lob or drop shot.

She has mentioned many times that she wants to improve her serve, presumably because she's not winning as many points with it as when she was 3.0. She spends lesson and practice time on this.

Me, I think she should fix those volleys first. I've seen her play singles, and she either doesn't come in or loses the point when she does. And being her doubles partner is a tough assignment because opponents can see in the warm-up that her volleys are suspect. And then she should work on that BH; when I play her I send every ball to her BH and wait for the error.

Only then should she improve her serve, IMHO. She isn't losing matches because of her serve, so why make it a priority to improve it?

Also, as you move up to 3.5 and 4.0, your opponents have played 7.0 and 8.0 mixed. There is no chance she will tweak her serve to the point that these opponents can't return it. So why not work on some strokes that *will* win you some points?

WBF
05-30-2009, 05:36 AM
You can hang with a 4.5 when hitting groundstrokes? How about during points where something is on the line? My guess is that you would get dominated. Or, your friend is nowhere near a 4.5.

A serve is clearly important, but so is every other aspect of the game a full level out!

Wilson6-1
05-30-2009, 07:13 AM
I guess it's impossible to know if this is good advice without knowing how good or bad the other elements of someone's game are.

I have a 3.5 friend. She has a "good" serve. By that I mean it has pace and topspin. Alas, she cannot hit any serve other than that one serve. Her second serve is a slower version of that serve, and it is easy for opponents to groove this one serve. Her BH is erratic and her volleys are embryonic. She cannot lob or drop shot.

She has mentioned many times that she wants to improve her serve, presumably because she's not winning as many points with it as when she was 3.0. She spends lesson and practice time on this.

Me, I think she should fix those volleys first. I've seen her play singles, and she either doesn't come in or loses the point when she does. And being her doubles partner is a tough assignment because opponents can see in the warm-up that her volleys are suspect. And then she should work on that BH; when I play her I send every ball to her BH and wait for the error.

Only then should she improve her serve, IMHO. She isn't losing matches because of her serve, so why make it a priority to improve it?

Also, as you move up to 3.5 and 4.0, your opponents have played 7.0 and 8.0 mixed. There is no chance she will tweak her serve to the point that these opponents can't return it. So why not work on some strokes that *will* win you some points?

This is exactly my point. Funny that I have had similar teammates that talk a lot about improving their serve, when the rest of their game requires as much or more attention. And, it is even more important in doubles, IMO.

In fairness, the serve can be so dominating early on (2.5 to 3.0) that it is easy to get swept up with improving that area.

My brother started playing team tennis years before me and we would play every so often just for fun. I know it would kill him that I could still win although I had never taken a lesson, played in any club or team play, and really didn't even know there were different grips in hitting forehands. I held everything continental grip and just worked my way around my serve. It is then that I developed a very strong slice backhand (which I wish I hadn't because to this day when points are tight, I go back to the slice too much), anyway, I joined a team a couple of years later and thought my serve would help. It didn't. Although I went to clinic every week, I didn't win a match my first season and a half.

Today, it's funny, in warm ups, I look great, I can hit all the shots and I am very good at volleys. Then I practice my serves and I can tell the other team is usually wondering if I am sandbagging, but then we actually play. If my forehand (which is still too erratic for my liking) holds or they don't pick on it, it usually is a quick win. And, I have had players come up with that look in their eye, you know the look, the "why are you playing at this level" look and we shake hands. What they don't realize is that I just played a team the week before that were probably not as good as the team I just played, but they figured out that my forehand was the weak part of my game and we ended up losing the match. So who knows.

Maybe my advice is a little too personalized based on my experience. But I can tell you, early on, there is nothing more frustrating than winning the first set on my serve (usually because the team was trying to do something off of my serve) just to collapse in sets 2 and 3 because they realized that they just need to get the return back in play.