Beginner Flat Serve Practice - Constructive Criticisms?

Niwrad0

New User
Posted the videos on YouTube, seems like easiest way to store videos for now, links below

Video 1 Video 2 Video 3 Video 4 Video 5 Video 6 Video 7 Video 8 Video 9 Video 10 Video 11 Video 12 Video 13 Video 14 Video 15 Video 16

Been watching YouTube videos and tried out various ways of serving, experimenting to see what works.

First time using a tripod setup, so also tips on recording if any and will try the fence attachment method with another goose-neck type tripod next time.

here are some swing vision videos as well


 
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Cashman

Hall of Fame
Best thing you can do at this point is work on getting a consistent toss. It’s really hard to work on anything else whilst you are chasing the ball all over the place.

I would even ditch the racquet and just toss the ball over and over - until you can easily put it at a consistent height, then come down and bounce on a consistent point.

Once you are putting the ball in the same spot every time, you can focus on grooving the rest of the stroke
 

Pumpkin

Semi-Pro
Not bad for a beginner. Keep practicing. You will master it. I would recommend trying some starting in the backscratch position. That elbow needs to come up.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Best part of this serve is you've got a great Boris Becker-style jump. Unfortunately, this is not the most important part of a decent serve. The toss & upward swing are much more important. After that, a good trophy phase & drop are next on the list.

Might be a good idea to stay grounded for a while -- forget the jump and work on the serious flaws in your serve. You might consider developing a good spin serve before trying to master a flat serve. That's the approach I've taken with all my students for the past 2+ decades

Try lifting the ball into the air rather than throwing or launching it. A medium speed lift should do the trick. Do not lift toward the target area. Instead, lift the ball at some angle to the baseline. Many elite servers will lift the ball nearly parallel to the baseline. But many players find it much easier to lift at a 30° to 45° angle wrt the baseline.

After opening up the fingers & releasing the ball, let the tossing hand continue upward so that you are left arm is nearly vertical. Keep it there, for the trophy phase -- until you are ready to drop and swing upward.

You have a very significant WTE = waiter's tray error, which means that your palm & racket face is opened up toward the sky. Let's get rid of that. Start with a continental grip. If that is too challenging, try an Aussie grip (semi-continental grip) for a while.

Try starting the arm & racket with a palm down "salute". From there, move thru the trophy phase "on edge" with a "comb the hair" action so that the palm & racket face does not open up.

For the start of the upward swing, the racket face should still be "on edge" as if you were throwing a tomahawk upward at a steep angle (60° or more). Or as if you were going to cut the ball with the edge of the racket.

On the later part of the upward swing, just prior to contact, the palm & racket face is turned a bit to present the strings to the ball. If you turn them moderately, you can brush up and across the ball for a spin serve. If you turn it more, just prior to contact, you can high five the ball for a flatter serve
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
@SystemicAnomaly that's too much information for a beginner.
Not really. Told them to simplify by forgetting the jump for now. They can take my advice one step at a time. A backscratch start is not a good start. This comes from more than 25 years of teaching tennis.

The two videos I provided in my follow-up post should make everything clear that I suggested.
 
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Pumpkin

Semi-Pro
Not really. Told her to simplify by forgetting the jump for now. She can take my advice one step at a time. A backscratch start is not a good start. This comes from more than 25 years of teaching tennis.

The two videos I provided in my follow-up post should make everything clear that I suggested.
It's a man not a woman.
 

Pumpkin

Semi-Pro
My apologies if that's the case. Only looked at two videos. On a small phone screen. Video shot in the shadows so it is not easily discernible
Hahaha. No worries mate. I agree with your advice but think it is too much to absorb. I learned by starting at where the edge of the racquet is aimed at the ball then tossing and snapping through but I didn't think he would understand what I was talking about so I recommended the backscratch position.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Hahaha. No worries mate. I agree with your advice but think it is too much to absorb. I learned by starting at where the edge of the racquet is aimed at the ball then tossing and snapping through but I didn't think he would understand what I was talking about so I recommended the backscratch position.
My advice to the OP, or any student for that matter, is to start a checklist or notebook of items / flaws to address. Then go out and work on just one or two of those things for a practice session. Once the student has a handle on one item, not necessarily fully mastered, they can start looking at the next one. Got this from a college team coach more than three decades ago. I found it to be very effective advice. I moved from a 3.5 level up to a scant 5.0 level in my 40s

Would hate to see the OP go out and keep practicing flawed technique to the point where it became ingrained. Once ingrained, bad habits can be extremely difficult to correct for many students of the game. With some bad habits it can take hundreds of hours or thousands of repetitions to unlearn & replace with a better habit
 

Pumpkin

Semi-Pro
My advice to the OP, or any student for that matter, is to start a checklist or notebook of items / flaws to address. Then go out and work on just one or two of those things for a practice session. Once the student has a handle on one item, not necessarily fully mastered, they can start looking at the next one. Got this from a college team coach more than three decades ago. I found it to be very effective advice. I moved from a 3.5 level up to a scant 5.0 level in my 40s

Would hate to see the OP go out and keep practicing flawed technique to the point where it became ingrained. Once ingrained, bad habits can be extremely difficult to correct for many students of the game. With some bad habits it can take hundreds of hours or thousands of repetitions to unlearn & replace with a better habit
Yes I understand. It can become a habit. It's a tough shot to master but I feel it is the most important shot. Especially the second serve, I feel it is the most important shot in the game.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
.... I learned by starting at where the edge of the racquet is aimed at the ball then tossing and snapping through but I didn't think he would understand what I was talking about so I recommended the backscratch position.
Alternative to backscratch:

This is something I sometimes do with in-person coaching but do not usually mention for it for online instruction cuz it is not the easiest thing to explain. But I'll attempt it here.

Start with the racket in a "salute" position with a 90° bend in the elbow. (Elbow should also be directly in line with the shoulder tilt line). From there, using only shoulder rotation (ESR), drop the racket head down with a "comb the hair" action. The elbow should still have a 90° bend. This will be a temporary starting position rather than a backscratch position. We do not stick with this static drop start for very long in developing the serve. (The next step would be starting from a salute or a half-serve position)

The static drop starting position of the racket & racket arm will look something somewhat like these images.




However, from a static start, we cannot get the racket to drop quite as much as we see in the 2 images here. It takes a good leg drive with a dynamic drop (already in motion) to achieve this much drop / ESR. From the drop position, the action would look something like this after the toss:

 
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SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Yes I understand. It can become a habit. It's a tough shot to master but I feel it is the most important shot. Especially the second serve, I feel it is the most important shot in the game.
Yes. That is why I suggested starting with a spin (2nd) serve rather than a flat (1st) serve. The more solid / reliable your second serve is, the more you can do with your flatter first serve

Players who are developing their serves are usually much better off, in a game, using a reliable second serve as their first serve rather than trying to get 2 low-percentage 1st serves into the box. (This is true for doubles even more so than singles).
 

Pumpkin

Semi-Pro
Wow. Unbelievable images. The OP can get there with practice and guidance. He is keen. He is out there practicing alone. Even Pete Sampras when he is a beginner can't master it. Must practice.
 

Pumpkin

Semi-Pro
Yes. That is why I suggested starting with a spin (2nd) serve rather than a flat (1st) serve. The more solid / reliable your second serve is, the more you can do with your flatter first serve

Players who are developing their serves are usually much better off, in a game, using a reliable second serve as their first serve rather than trying to get 2 low-percentage 1st serves into the box. (This is true for doubles even more so than singles).
The main problem I notices from the videos is the racquet isn't dropping behind the back resulting in the waiter tray position. That's why I advised starting in the backscratch position.
 
#1--In order to learn proper ball toss-placement : DON'T MOVE YOUR FEET!--u can pivot your right foot on your toes as u rotate your body into the hit--but keep your feet on the ground until you're ready for prime time.

You can't do all that razzle-dazzle jumping in the air stuff u see on TV, until u have to have a solid foundation literally on the ground, with a reliable ball toss/placement. U want to place the ball in front of the racket accurately and consistently. By not moving your feet you can learn to do this.

Because of all the jumping into the court u are doing, u are also developing the bad habit of foot-faulting. This will bite u someday if u want to play competitively with roving umpires calling foot faults at the most inopportune moments.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Wow. Unbelievable images. The OP can get there with practice and guidance. He is keen. He is out there practicing alone. Even Pete Sampras when he is a beginner can't master it. Must practice.
As I indicated, this is something that I suggest for in-person lessons, not normally for online instruction. Don't know if the OP can really get the intended drop start from that post & images.

The main problem I notices from the videos is the racquet isn't dropping behind the back resulting in the waiter tray position. That's why I advised starting in the backscratch position.
I would say it's more an incorrect grip and an improper drop -- rather than no drop. I don't believe the OP even realized they were supposed to drop the racket "on edge" (with something close to a continental grip).

I was taught the backscratch serve mechanics back in the 1970s. The BS approach was still commonly taught in the 1980s (& 90s). It took me years to unlearn the flawed mechanics learn from that BS serve instruction. Many of us employed excessive elbow flexion. And we rely too heavily on elbow extension and employed very little rotations of the shoulder (ESR & ISR) for power production. In addition to excessive flexion, many who implement a backscratch start, will lift the elbow too high


Elbow lower but excessive flexion

 

Niwrad0

New User
Good morning all,

Responding to each point brought up

#1a Ball Toss (effort)-

I’ve learned that actually, I can’t toss very hard. I’ve gotten the idea of “placement” but now I feel rushed trying to get to the ball before it drops down past my head. I’m actually using about 7/10 effort on the toss, which I realize when I see myself bending my knees slightly to get a little more height on the toss. I’ll practice keeping my placement consistent with a 10/10 effort toss.

#1b Ball Toss (angle) -

Will try the diagonal approach instead of straight towards net. Forgot about that while thinking about “placement”. Also didn’t even realize my arm is not fully vertical, related to previous point maybe need a higher toss, but was focused on “pointing to the ball” to keep left shoulder up.


#2 Grip -

I check my grip prior to every serve, and check my grip after each serve. What I noticed is - my index knuckle is definitely on bevel #2, but after my serve my index knuckle has slid over to the right side of bevel #2, sometimes fully over to bevel #3. I’m not sure why my grip slides over mid-service motion.

Should I be thinking to myself to “grip it a bit harder” ?

#3a Waiter’s Tray

I’m not sure why I do this, but the more I think about it, the more I literally chop the ball with the frame. If I stop thinking about the “on edge” approach the less often I chop the ball.

#3b Palm down/racquet drop/backscratch/salute/trophy

Trying this on occasion as well, what I think is the “Trophy Stance”. However I’ve been slicing every serve, and I’m not sure why. I’ve also tried tossing the ball more to the right, but I end up slicing it more as not only does the string spin sound get more obvious but the ball goes even more left.

#3c High five the ball/combing hair/acceleration

Actually completely forgot about this. Will try to visualize this next time. I stopped being aware of the swing once I see the tennis ball falling down towards me.

Also, should I try to ‘aim’ or ‘push’ the elbow higher? I’m a little bit tight in my lats from doing pull ups but I think I can get a bit more stretch if I tried when bringing into the racquet drop phase.


#4 Contact/Jump/Lean/Uncoiling

I’m not using my calf at all, I’m literally just leaning to the point of falling over and catching myself as opposed to jump. I can literally do this ‘jump’ pretty consistently and without much effort like taking a step. Though if I’m too focused on the ball I end up catching myself a little bit too late and nearly faceplate into the court.

#5 Kick Serve

I’ve been also practicing this a little bit. I think of a “left to right rainbow/brush” for the swing path. I somehow slice the ball or ONLY spin the ball with the ball traveling about 1 foot in front of me with a bunch of spin. Only been doing this for about an hour though, so in friendly games I just focus on the flat serve, which I’ve been getting in about 30-50% of the time.


#6 Stance (not directly addressed)

That day, in addition to the above, I really focused on stance. I’ve watched on YouTube, Nick from Intuitive Tennis mentioned this and I want to try putting my feet in various positions to see how they felt during a service motion. What really stuck out to me not only before but after was

-Reverse platform stance

When I add in -lean- into my service motion I land on my right foot, even though 99% of right handers land on their left foot. I tried putting my dominant foot about 1-3 inches ahead of my left foot and my serves somehow went to the general direction I was aiming - either ad or deuce side of the court as opposed to just going sort of all over the place. Dunno why but now I stopped using the standard or lateral platform stance.





-Pinpoint stance





My wife got really good after using pinpoint stance. I gave it a try but I guess I’m not really able to control my dominant leg that well? I literally somehow missed touching my other foot when doing this. She’s somehow really good at serving ad side as she hits with quite a large angle, nearly 45 degrees to the side service line, but hits with the same angle on the deuce side, so it ends up literally landing in the same service box as when serving from the ad side. I told her maybe she should turn her body slightly differently when standing, but we’ll see.
 

Dragy

Legend
Pushing motion is a result of the racquet not dropping. You can still crack a good serve with forehand grip.
I prefer to say it the other way around: racquet not dropping is a consequence of not applying throwing motion to accelerate the racquet. Even if the motion is a bit tight, and drop is shallow inititally, it can further be developed. Pushing the ball forward, whith drop, from "backscratch", or with no drop, will be of no good, imho.

For a beginner, I simplify serve into the following:
- stay sideways (don't think of hitting directly forward)
- (good toss!)
- accelerate racquet towards the ball (not "raise and push")
- guide it into contact

It's all about getting comfortable of hitting the ball with decent RHS, with good toss and clean contact. And only afterwards - about making the serve cross the net and land in.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
@Niwrad0

PP vs Platform is largely a matter of personal preference. Jeff Salzenstein is a huge fan of platform. I usually start students with a platform. But, if they gravitate PP, I'll teach them that.

I would not think "tighter" on the grip. Keep it fairly relaxed -- it should firm up on its own naturally. The grip shift may or may not be happening at contact. You might try a dime (or some thin coin / object) between the a racket handle & your palm (or lower part of your index finger). If you regrip, the coin will either shift or fall out. It might help to make you more aware of something going amiss with your grip
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
@Niwrad0

To help eliminate WTE, try starting from a "salute" position with the palm down. And then "comb the hair" with the racket face pointed toward your body rather than upward. On the upward swing, start with "throwing an ax" or "cutting an overhead branch". The following video should help you with this last part. Take a look at the Chopping Drill after the 4-min mark here:


You might also try throwing an old racket out in the park (on the grass). Throw and launch the racket, on the edge, like an ax. First at a 45° launch angle for distance. And then at a steeper 60° to 75° launch angle to more closely simulate the throwing action in a tennis serve. After a few of these ax throws, try some throws where you turn your hand right before you release the racket. This should help to simulate going up on edge and then rotating the racket face before contact (with pronation & ISR)

With this throwing drill, try different degrees of hand rotation and brushing direction to simulate different types of spin serves. You can also try a high five release to simulate a flatter serve
 
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Niwrad0

New User
Update - I realized that in fact, what I thought was the continental grip was the Eastern backhand grip. Was watching videos about ‘chopper grip’ and realized I wasn’t really in the chopper grip

Before I was just looking at the bevels directly to put my knuckle on it. Now I’m pretending to literally chop andmy hand feels more comfortable in a different grip
 
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SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Update - I realized that in fact, what I thought was the continental grip was the Eastern backhand grip. Was watching videos about ‘chopper grip’ and realized I wasn’t really in the chopper grip

Before I was just looking at the bevels directly to put my knuckle on it. Now I’m pretending to literally chop andmy hand feels more comfortable in a different grip
Are you certain about this? I cannot really see that detail on my tiny little screen. A full EBh grip or a modified EBh grip is used by many elite players, especially for a 2nd serve.

Such a grip should make it more difficult for you to hit with an open WTE racket face. I'm not sure that I am physically able to execute a WTE with an EBh grip -- it would be painful or at least extremely uncomfortable for me to accomplish this.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Full Eastern Bh grip (looking directly down on the top bevel, aka bevel #1). These grip designations are the same for tennis or for pickleball (which might be where these images were used)


 

Niwrad0

New User
Full Eastern Bh grip (looking directly down on the top bevel, aka bevel #1). These grip designations are the same for tennis or for pickleball (which might be where these images were used)


Yeah that’s what I was doing. I thought the index knuckle was the little bony part under the first finger hold. I tried the “chopping a log” motion and it felt very uncomfortable then I just jiggled my grip just a little bit and it immediately felt more comfortable to “chop a log”. Looking at my hand I’ll say it was probably like 1/2 or 1/4 inch over to the EBH side. I tried serving flat again and it felt much easier and got tons of power. It’s still really hard though to get into the box but now it goes with quite a lot more zip

Edit: Pictures of my grip before and after
Grip positioning
 
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WildVolley

Legend
I advise shooting some video from directly behind you. You don't need to show the full court or even where the ball lands as you're not at that stage yet. The video from the side you took was quite helpful.

Compare your contact point to that of a professional. You're pushing into a ball that's way too low using a waiter's tray motion. Look at the contact point of Milos Raonic, one of the biggest servers in the world.


You can hold the racquet up to a proper contact point like Milos in the video, just to get an idea of how your body should be positioned at contact.

I strongly second post #7 by @SystemicAnomaly . You should start trying to do a very simple motion from a salute position. Shortening the overall stroke will make timing contact easier, and you're going to need to experiment some to raise your contact point, which will require a rework of your timing. I suggest pantomiming the serve motion twice from the salute position without tossing the ball. On the third attempt, toss the ball and and try to contact it at an appropriate height. Most likely, you'll contact too low, as you were consistently doing in the videos.

By shortening the overall motion and tossing a little higher, you should be able to adjust to a better contact point which will allow you to work on a serve that uses internal rotation rather than your current push motion.
 

Niwrad0

New User
Thanks for the tips - I already tried the salute position for several hours in past attempts. The chopping video was the most helpful in the end, as I realized with a slight grip change it made everything click into place.

Though earlier tips such the windy swingy fluid motion of throwing the racquet up and over both shoulders was helpful in keeping a loose wrist and releasing tension while also practicing the strong grip to keep the racquet from flying out of the hand.

Also back to planting feet

Now I still need to work on the toss, still quite exhausting tossing the ball. I can get decent placement but only bringing the ball to about 8 feet off the ground. Once I launch it to around 10-12 feet it starts straying off in different directions. I've also read about a tip and now pinch the ball between my index and pinky finger to keep it from rolling around.

Edit 1: brief clips of new service motion with above changes made

Slow Mo Full Speed

Edit 2: First 90 minutes until phone battery died

Swingvision video
 
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SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
...
Pictures of my grip before and after
Grip positioning
As near as I can tell neither of these grips is an EBh grip. The top grip appears to be an extreme version of a continental -- a conti with a strong EBh flavor. Or, perhaps, a grip that is nearly halfway between a standard conti & an EBh

The 2nd grip appears to be close to semi-conti (Aussie) grip. Used by some pros for high volleys and for flat 1st serves.
 

WildVolley

Legend
If you look at your slow motion video, you'll see that your toss doesn't need to be any higher. You are pausing during the motion to allow the ball to drop too low, because you're not comfortable hitting it at the proper height.

Also, between 6-9 seconds in the slow motion video (as you set the racquet into the drop, something that isn't advised), you are switching your grip so that you can push into the ball.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Trying a few hits, thinking about trophy position as opposed to racquet drop.

Also trying to reach and hit higher

SwingVision
I would go with a pre-trophy "salute" position rather than a static trophy position. This way your trophy phase is dynamic rather than static. This should make for a better (deeper) drop and quicker upward swing.
 

Mungo

New User
I originally misunderstood the cont grip same as you….I thought knuckle of the index finger was somewhere else.
 
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