View Full Version : NewB 1st post: serving woes

06-02-2005, 08:34 PM
Hi all, this is my first post. I'm about a 3.5 player, but rusty as hell after moving to the east coast from San Diego several years ago.

Anyway, I just got back into the game, and I've decided that I really need to improve my serve, first and foremost. I had a very good instructor in San Diego, but only for a short while, and that was just long enough to make me realize how bad my serve was at the time.

He did, however, teach me to work on a good kicker serve as a foundation point for my mechanics. Unfortunately, I'm still, years later, struggling to get this down. I have realized that my major problem is one of several things, in this order of priority:

1. My toss. It's awful, always has been. It's erratic and too high and totally inconsistent. On top of that, I think that it's kind of jumpy, almost a throw upwards. Anybody offer any advice on smoothing this out and improving the consistency and placement? I know the standard drill of trying to get it to land in a circle in front of my feet and all that, but I'm looking for more rhythm, I guess. If anyone could help a longtime sufferer, I'd appreciate it.

2. My elbow. I drop it too much, and I know this. On good days, I keep it above my shoulder, and my serve does remarkable better. But even on these days, the elbow drops as I tire. Anyone help me with this? I'm a pretty skinny guy, and I use a Wilson PS 6.0 85, so I do have to be consistent.

3. My legs. I don't bend them enough. Trouble is, whenever I work on bending them, my toss gets even worse. Should I widen my stance? Make it smaller?

Thanks for the input in advance,


Kana Himezaki
06-03-2005, 06:14 AM
It sounds like you already KNOW all your problems, and what to do. While an instructor would definitely help, I'd just focus on playing or practicing with other people and doing the aforementioned things you said.

HOWEVER, it might be that you're trying to fix everything all at once. I wouldn't try to incorporate much of a knee bend until your toss and elbow are fine.

For tossing, and your erratic throw, are you using your wrist in the toss? Don't. For consistent tossing, your forearm and wrist shouldn't be doing anything. Well, you should pushing the forearm upward, but the wrist should be out of the picture generally. You'll also lose a little bit of the height that you say you get too much of, but can easily regain that height if you want.

You can actually practice tossing on your own, so if you have time, I'd recommend just trying that.

06-03-2005, 06:26 AM

Yes, I guess I know what the problems are, but fixing them has been a problem. I'm kind of looking for some sort of visualization techniques, or maybe just some repetitive drills that I could use to isolate these issues. Thanks for the info on the toss. I don't LIKE the height, it's just become an ingrained bad habit.

LA dude
06-03-2005, 06:44 AM
one way to do is to model your serve based on a pro to begin with and customize it later on for your height, athletic ability and strength. Check out some demos at tennisplayer.net. Serving is first about a fluid motion, rthym and feel more than anything else. Knee bend comes after the toss. Keep it short until you get the timing. Focus on the ball to hit, keep it there and nothing else. Good luck.

06-03-2005, 06:45 AM
The toss, knee bend, and initial racquet take back should all be pretty much simultaneous, so it doesn't do a whole lot of good to practice them in isolation. By the time you get "just the toss" where you want it, you'll be going out on the court and trying to do that while incorporating the knee-bend, only to find that this knee-bending business is screwing up your grooved tossing motion.

Practice your FULL tossing motion. From starting position till "trophy pose." You'll look like a goofball, but that's okay. When you practice serving, you hit, retrieve, etc., and it cuts into the time you can spend honing that toss. When you practice just the toss and takeback, you only need one ball, and you can do like a million per hour. Work on it for a few days. Get out there when nobody else is using the courts. (The crack of dawn is good for this.) And toss/kneebend/takeback till you're sick of it -- then spend about another hour doing it. Then come back and do it again the next day. And the next. You'll want to scream, but after a few days, your toss will be more or less grooved forever.

THEN start actually serving again. At THAT point, worry about your elbow, swing, etc.

Kana Himezaki
06-03-2005, 06:46 AM
Ah, as for correcting the elbow, try this. DON'T go through the whole motion -simply start with your elbow and racket behind your head. Then focus with leading your elbow forward and upward. Don't worry too much about the racquet and results.

Isolate the motion or process as you said, and simply focus on only that. For example, when trying to improve your toss, simply bring your racquet back while tossing at the same time. Do it over and over. Incorporate the knee bend here AFTER you feel comfortable with everything else.

Then do what I said first, and just keep repeating the elbow motion. It may seem kind of stupid, but your body memory doesn't think it is. When trying to do it or doing normal serves later, you'll find your body has automatically made some corrections.

Hope it helps. The toss changes will hopefully fix the height as well.

edit:: Yes, the takeback, kneebend, and toss should all occur pretty much simultaneously. But if you can't work out everything else, the knee bend and adjustments with it will simply agitate you further.

06-03-2005, 12:55 PM
Look at golf as a prime example. How many tour players have a perfect swing? Very few. In fact there are some very strange swings, look at Chichi or Daily and you wonder how they have made millions playing golf. Practice, practice, practice.... Get a basket and fifty or more balls and serve every chance you get. When you have hit a few thousand serves the toss will be automatic and you will change your position at will to spin or aim your serve. I can ace most instructors I've had and yet they all want to change my serve in some small way. Some advise I try and others I ignore. You have a natural swing but you will never find it until you hit enough balls to get a groove or automatic feeling when you serve. If my serve starts to go astray the next chance I get I hit a few hundred serves and get right back in the groove. Best of luck and keep hitting!!

06-03-2005, 04:54 PM
I don't want to open up a can of worms here but suggesting to many, especially those that might not have been playing long/regular basis or not properly conditioned, to get the elbow "above" the shoulder on the serve might be inviting diaster.

06-03-2005, 08:35 PM

Thanks for the concern. Actually, I have a chronically bad elbow because growing up, I broke my bone at the joint and it's slightly weak. I actually used to serve and throw without lifting my elbow high enough, and as a result, I would get terrible tendonitis/tennis elbow--really painful. It's only been in the last few years that my should 'learned' the motion of throwing over the top, but since then, I've suffered NO elbow pain. It's considered the 'proper' form for a reason; maybe if I could serve with a sidearm swing, that would be the best, but at 5'9, I don't think I'm going to clear the net much with that. Don't worry, I can do the motion properly, it's just a matter of the body synchronization. I don't overdo it, though, because I know that my shoulder can get strained from this motion: baseball pitchers are trained through years and years of practice to throw overhand and reduce strain on their elbows, and even the ones that do often end up with serious shoulder surgery down the road. I'm not trying to get a power serve right now, just a consistent and reliable one. Especially the second.

One point I'd like to make about my question: I have practiced my serve quite a bit over the years; yes, it's been a while recently, but at one time I'd go out on the court for hours every day. I'm coming to this forum because I'm looking for some better visualization cues or mental techniques to take out to the practice court. I managed to improve both my backhand and forehand remarkably over the course of a few short months when I had an instructor, mainly, I think, because I can do a pretty good job of visualizing and adjusting to teaching suggestions. But with the serve, no matter how much I would practice, I found myself not only slipping into old bad habits, but even if I managed to correct them a bit, I would find some new one to overdo.

So far, however, it seems that the general consensus is that I just need to go out and keep practicing and hitting balls, which I'll do. Think I'm really just going to work on the ball toss for a couple of weeks, then maybe move on if I feel I've made some progress. Additionally, from reading the thread about hanging one's hand off the butt of the handle, I realized that I have probably been gripping the handle too tight as I swing, and I think that contributes to my arm tiring more than anything else, as well as causing me to have a stilted motion. I went through some practice swings, sans ball, using mainly my first three fingers and thumb to grip the racquet, and this really seems to make the whole motion a lot more fluid. So far, after only a few days, I'm giving this site and its users a big thumbs-up :).

Thanks to all!