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Join Date: Feb 2007
A Summer Tune-Up For Your Game - Part 1
Yes, it is late summer, a great time to tune up your game for fall tennis...unless, of course, you're perfectly thrilled and delighted with what you're doing on the court, in which case you can stop reading right now.
For everyone else, who either wants to clean up some problem areas and/or move up to the next level, continue to follow the bouncing ball, where we're going to start with my favorite shot, the serve.
In this and the following threads, I'm going to suggest some broad brush strokes think pieces toward your game, some details as necessary, but mostly a larger view of what the shot or play is and what you want to do with it. You can get a ton of detail via books, video, tennis sites like Fuzzy Yellow Balls, or, of course, Joe the Pro.
So some serve basics and must-dos:
- Continental grip, always. I can walk through the mechanics of why that's true in detail, but suffice it to say that you'll never have the pace, direction, or spin you deserve on your serve using, for example, a SW forehand grip, which I see a surprising amount of.
- Compact toss, release the ball late. It's not really a toss, it's a placement. Someone once compared a good toss to laying something delicate...gently...on a mantle piece. The idea of releasing the toss late is that you get most of your wind up done, then place the toss where you want it for the windup you just did. If you release the toss early, it's just a guessing game.
- Nick Bolletieri, I think in tennis, recommended that players looking to improve the serve should watch a lot of good serves, because there are considerable variations. Very true. But the caveat is, before you pick out your favorite ATP or WTA pro as a model, make sure you're physically up to the challenge. Roger Federer has a great, classic service motion, and in a recent match, Brad Gilbert was talking about Fed's serve success coming largely from his ability to get "vertical" (use the legs and torso to drive up through the serve) and the tremendous forearm snap he creates. If you can do those two things, by all means, copy the Fed. If not, look for someone who's moves you can legitimately imitate. It's not a bad idea to look at some of the past champions, not all of whom were Isner-sized. Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver weren't exactly imposing physical specimens, but they had very good serves because they had well-balanced, compact, economical stroke production that allowed them to get the most out of what they had.
- I'm big on sports metaphors, if you will, as a macro way to improve what you're doing on a tennis court. To me, track and field athletes put on some of the most incredible performances on the planet, and we can all learn from them. Want to improve your serve? Go to a track meet and watch the javelin throwers...that's what you should be trying to do on the serve.
- Finally, it's not enough to just have a smoking serve, you have to do something with it. Service aces and winners are nice, but most of the time, they happen because you fire an exceptionally good missle and your opponent gets caught leaning the other way. Okay...if your serve is so good, compared to the competition, that all you have to do is whale away and four points later, you've held your serve, then knock yourself out...and you might think about quitting your day job, too.
For the rest of us, aces and winners are kind of a gift which we get from serving with a purpose, where the overall purpose is to get your opponent to give you a return that puts you in control of the point. At the higher NTRP levels, say 4.5 and above, that tends to require not just pace, but variety of spin and placement...on the first serve, all backed up by a solid second serve that at least puts you on an even footing with the returner.
Even if you're, say, a 3.0 through 4.0, you might be surprised to find out that the same-old same-old serve you have causes problems for your opponents. If you have, for example, a steady, dependable kick serve that lands deep in the box...but not much else...maybe that's all you need. Notice how different opponents respond to your serve, and adjust and take advantage accordingly. A lot of returners hate that high kicker, and will give you a short return that you can surf and turf your way to a winning point. Other players may do well with a high kicker that's in their wheelhouse, but may not do so well if you use the kicker as a body serve...which is a greatly underused serve, IMHO. So that's the sermon for today: Always have an objective on your serve. And that includes the second serve, too. It's much better to think "I'm just going to thump this thing down the middle of the box, and let him/her come up with a better answer", than to think "Please, I promise I'll never watch another episode of Dancing with the Stars ...just make this second serve go in"...which is almost always a self-fulfilling prophecy in the wrong direction...
Watch the ball, hit it hard, and don't think...