First serve problems

WinterCO

New User
I’m a self taught high school player going into his sophomore year who started playing tennis about a little less than 2 years ago. For some background information I’m about 5 feet 11 inches (180 cm), I’m also a self rated 4-5 in utr (probably even lower than that!). I would say I have many issues in my game like consistency for starters, however one of the biggest outliers that I have is in my first serve. It’s just so unreliable, on some days it can be a weapon even against great players. On the other days it’s just so inconsistent and I end up missing it long or hitting the net. I would love to keep playing tennis in the future, so I need to keep improving. So if guys don’t mind, can you guys tell me when I’m doing in my technique or whatever my problem is thank you :) (note that in the video I was starting to warm up so I was kinda just throwing some 70% pace serves at general areas I wanted it to land)
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Not bad. Doesn't appear to be very lacking in luster. Your leg drive might be a tad late. Max knee flex for your trophy phase seems ok. But the leg extension should start as soon as you start to drop the racket from your trophy (position).

Legs (knees) should be fully extended at the bottom of your racquet drop and you should start to leave the ground at that point. I think you might still have some knee flexion when they should be fully extended. And your leg drive appears to pull you off the ground just a tad late.
 
I’m a self taught high school player going into his sophomore year who started playing tennis about a little less than 2 years ago. For some background information I’m about 5 feet 11 inches (180 cm), I’m also a self rated 4-5 in utr (probably even lower than that!). I would say I have many issues in my game like consistency for starters, however one of the biggest outliers that I have is in my first serve. It’s just so unreliable, on some days it can be a weapon even against great players. On the other days it’s just so inconsistent and I end up missing it long or hitting the net. I would love to keep playing tennis in the future, so I need to keep improving. So if guys don’t mind, can you guys tell me when I’m doing in my technique or whatever my problem is thank you :) (note that in the video I was starting to warm up so I was kinda just throwing some 70% pace serves at general areas I wanted it to land)
My first thought: you have a fairly high toss. Could some of your consistency issues stem from that high toss? When the stakes are high, when it's crunch time...how reliable is that toss?

Beyond your contact point [plus some margin], there isn't much to be gained by a higher toss but there's potentially a lot to lose in terms of accuracy.

Also, a higher toss forces you to pause in your motion [look at Berdych vs Federer]. Not saying that's bad but it's something to consider.

Do you have a TS serve? If all you have is the flat serve, that's going to give you a lot more variable results like you describe. If you have a TS serve where you can create a lot of margin by clearing the net by a lot, that will greatly increase your consistency.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
A couple of other observations. You are landing with your left foot pointed straight ahead to the Deuce court. And then you fall off a bit to the left on your follow-thru. Try to land with the left foot pointing to the Ad court (more less in the direction of your serve).

The right leg should kick back in the opposite direction (toward the camera more or less). It can come forward later if needed. You want to be driving Up and forward into the ball, not Up and to be he left.

The other thing I saw might be relatively minor. You have a bit of an aberration on your initial drop of the racket (prior to your power position and trophy phase). You drop it back a fair amount and then it comes forward again before it comes up to your power position. Looks like an unnecessary pendulum motion.

Not certain if this pendulum action is affecting your power or your timing. But it might. Try not pulling it back quite that far on your initial drop and keep the right elbow bent. From that position, it will be primarily external shoulder rotation (ESR) to get the racket to your power position, your trophy position and your 2nd drop (behind the back).

Even tho the pendulum action is a bit unusual, it may not be a real problem
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Agree that you should play around a bit with more topspin to achieve more clearance over the net. The TS will also assist gravity in bringing the ball down into the box.
 

WinterCO

New User
Thank you guys this has been pretty helpful. I never realized some of the things you guys mentioned so I will definitely work on it. Of course if there is any thing else that you would like to add feel free to comment!
 

Mountain Ghost

Professional
I'm hating the pause/hitch at the bottom/back of the backswing. It makes you have to rush the stroke once you getting going on the way up to trophy ... which you pretty much just "race" by on the way down to racquet drop.

I'd have you smooth out the whole flow with a more continuous motion ... working on consistency first ... power later.

Your toss is a bit high and uncontrolled. I'd advise having your tossing arm come up slower (on the duece side = toward the right net post) ... as it seems like your "rush" up is a source of inconsistency.

Finally ... I think your left shoulder comes down too early ... and you open up too soon ... preventing you from being able to really hit up.

All in all ... temporarily drop the quest for power ... until you get your form more under control.

~ MG
 
As mentioned your toss is way too high--it's called a "launch". Spend some money and take some lessons from a coach who is known for teaching the serve. And learn how to hit a real 2nd. serve--the saying is "You're only as good as your 2nd. serve." Get a coach--you can't learn how to play tennis from a book or a computer. Maybe 3-6 lessons on the serve from someone who knows how to teach it should get your serve going onto the right track.

When teaching beginners to serve many coaches start them with the racket in the back-scratch position--this might help you to get the right rhythm to place the ball in front of the racket.

Don't move your feet--not moving your feet will force you to "place" the ball where it needs to be, in front of the racket. If the serve hits the net the toss is usually too far in front--it the serve goes long the toss is usually too far back.
 
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Dragy

Hall of Fame
Hey @WinterCO this isn't looking bad - you are coordinated and balaced, and you follow technical checkpoints - positions, motion - with good accuracy. It's very possible you could improve significantly with repetition alone.

Howerver, to make things smoother and improve with more efficiency you can tweak some elements. I agree with suggestion to get rid of high toss and hitch in your windup. I'd also suggest to practice, as a drill, more abbreviated sequence:
- Some serves with trophy pose preset before toss;
- Copying current Djokovic serve motion (very straight windup without a hitch with racquet hanging somewhere down):
You then will settle with some "your" serve, but that practice will get it more assebled and connected.

- Second suggested drill - some stepping serving, like Federer warmups. When you don't stick yourself to a place, but toss some balls quite casually and smoothly swing at them:
Or this drill:
You need to build in some general fluidity and feel comfortable starting up your serve rather than tensing up or feeling like a powerlifter.

- Last but not least. Keep in mind that hitting power serves you don's need to hit them square flat. Yes, flat contact will produce faster ball all other things being equal. But focusing too much on achieving exact orientation leads to tensing up, which hinders RHS. Get comfortable with putting some spin on all your serves - you will be able to apply most efficient across swing and to use spin in your favor (more side or more top depending on toss location and swingpath), yet produce big pace for your first serves.

I also vote against focusing on small things at this stage other than as markers. You notice them, you interpret them, but you don't try to fix them directly. Work on basics, fundamentals, get repetition in, make it smooth and comfortable to repeat with confidence.
 

Dansan

Rookie
I am about your height, and I use to struggle with serve consistency (and sometimes still do). For me, I've had to work on driving "up" at the ball instead of "forward and down" to bring the ball up and over the net with clearance. The pause in your back swing is something I see some good players doing, and it looks like you have the timing to work with it, but may just need to develop how you are hitting at the ball and the contact angle to create net clearance and topspin/kick. Otherwise, for me I have found a much more fluid motion getting into a relaxed trophy position (coiled with lower body ready to drive up) will encourage a natural racquet drop and acceleration UP at the ball instead of forward and down.

Honestly, I'm looking at your vid and for the most part you have the basics and the fundamentals going for you. You are clearly athletic enough to tweak some things and make this work. I think it would be a matter of adjusting how you are hitting at the ball and creating shape with angle of strings at ball contact and perhaps modifying the toss to get you in the right position
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Hey @WinterCO this isn't looking bad..

I also vote against focusing on small things at this stage other than as markers. You notice them, you interpret them, but you don't try to fix them directly. Work on basics, fundamentals, get repetition in, make it smooth and comfortable to repeat with confidence.
Great feedback for the most part. However, it is my experience that sometimes changing small, easy-to-fix things will often (or occasionally) result in improving or fixing larger, seemingly more difficult, issues.

Learned this long ago as a hardware (electronic) troubleshooter. Sometimes going after the simpler symptom would payoff by fixing what appeared to be a larger or more conplex issue.

Sometimes simple or small changes in tennis mechanics may change other aspects enough to fix what seems like more serious issues.
 

Dragy

Hall of Fame
Great feedback for the most part. However, it is my experience that sometimes changing small, easy-to-fix things will often (or occasionally) result in improving or fixing larger, seemingly more difficult, issues.

Learned this long ago as a hardware (electronic) troubleshooter. Sometimes going after the simpler symptom would payoff by fixing what appeared to be a larger or more conplex issue.

Sometimes simple or small changes in tennis mechanics may change other aspects enough to fix what seems like more serious issues.
Agree that’s possible. I was responding to particular person though. Apart from high toss/hitched windup I cannot see exact elements which undoubtedly should be addressed directly. As a disclaimer, the contact phase is cut in the vid.
For the particular guy I’d say drilling with varied focus points and some degree of reshuffle shall be most positive. Would be great to look at @WinterCO in 2-3 weeks and see how it’s going on and if anything else/small/particular can be fixed for good.
 

Jake Speeed

Rookie
I read none of the replies above so I may repeat something already said?

I would like to see your service motion in slow motion. Just make a video and do the motion slowly without hitting a ball. Many times.

You "are" working a bit hard for practice. I can't help you unless I see Slow Motion.
 

Nellie

Hall of Fame
Your contact point is inconsistent. Personally, I would focus on keeping your head up longer and making contact higher. I have a goal of never hitting into the net because I can see whether the serve ends long/wide and adjust my aim for my second serve.

As a more long term solution, I would suggest working on a second serve (easiest to learn is likely a slice by tossing more to the FH side) and use it for both first and second serves, with the second serve being aimed closer to the middle of the service box.
 

fuzz nation

G.O.A.T.
Thank you guys this has been pretty helpful. I never realized some of the things you guys mentioned so I will definitely work on it. Of course if there is any thing else that you would like to add feel free to comment!
For a self-taught server, you look like you've got some stronger-than-average aptitude working for you (y)

A lot of consistency with the serve is about having a toss that behaves itself. If it's not as accurate or as predictable as you want it to be, that needs some of its own tweaking and practice. You can experiment with different ways to hold the ball and also try this and that in terms of how you lift your tossing arm.

I couldn't get a consistent toss happening for me until I started my toss with a bent elbow and then straighten my arm as I lifted it. That lets me raise the ball through more of as straight vertical path instead of through an arc that is more typical when lifting the ball with a straight elbow. Not for everyone, but it turned out to be essential for me.

I'm not a huge fan of dropping the racquet down below the waist while also tossing the ball. When the racquet (and racquet arm) drops down there, it's got a long way to go to get up through contact with a proper swing path. To avoid rushing the racquet to the ball, you need enough hang time to complete that longer windup. So if you try to work on a serve with a toss that isn't so high, you're also going to have to alter your windup or else a lower toss is only going to force you to rush the racquet to the ball even more.

I like to take a long windup - I start it well before I toss the ball so that the racquet arrives above my back shoulder in that trophy position before I even toss the ball. That's one way to avoid that dreaded rush, but another way to get that windup more complete before the toss goes up in the air is to take the racquet directly to that "set" (trophy) position instead of letting it initially drop below your waist.

Andy Roddick used a super compact sort of set-and-fire move for his serve. Not something to necessarily try to emulate because he was blessed with a super flexible rotator cuff, but his move will give you a look at a great example of a serve that takes the racquet directly to "set". Because it's so quick, his toss only needs to be about as high as his optimum contact point and not much higher.

It takes some deliberate work to rearrange all of these components of the windup and toss. Expect it to feel horrible when you first start to tweak this and that. But if you can get to where you're generating your swing with a smooth tempo and not a rush, you'll be onto something.
 
Fundamentally learning to serve is juggling--up together/down together is BS. The racket arm has to go through several motions while the "toss" arm only one. All the great servers have the same fundamentals, low ball toss--they place the ball in front of the racket. Short of working with a pro on your serve who knows how to teach it, pick any great server and study their motion in videos about 100 views--I like Sampras'. Every element you add will build on improving the rhythm of your serve. One I like is RFed's toss-arm beginning down low with a straight arm between his legs centering himself and buying time for his racket arm to go through it's continuous motion from backscratch without any hitches--hitches rob the serve of it's power.
 

WinterCO

New User
Hey guys! Sorry I haven’t been responding since I thought that it would be more efficient to address it all at once since I’m getting some similar feedback! For starters one of the things that I’ve also noticed in my serve is the toss, yes you guys are correct about my serve toss height being too high. I believe one comment also said something g about pressure situation and how inconsistent it could be, which does happen to me a lot. If I were to lower it how would I approach in doing so (I’ve tried to before however it always made my height more inconsistent so I would love some feedback). Also another important thing that I’m seeing is my hitch before I get into the trophy position. Is there any pro’s whose serve looks similar in form factor that I should try to study? Thanks! :)
 

Jake Speeed

Rookie
People that give out advice as "why don't you just hit your forehand like Federer" really need to learn to STFU.
There's an old saying, no it's not mine. It goes like this, "What one man can do, another can do." Not bad, but I add to it by saying,

"But possibly not as well." "What one man can do, another can do," was actually used in a movie. I can't remember the movie? Possibly "The Edge," I'm not sure. You could also say, "And possibly better."
 

Jake Speeed

Rookie
what does "stfu" mean switchitter? did u get that from a fortuen cookie? i take it u don't thing rfed has a very good swerve? (btw--your an azz) --the race is on to see who reports who first--ready set--go!

I come from an "old school." We never told on anyone for anything. There's no reason to complain about someone's words.

Conversations without arguing is great. "Feelings?" Put them aside.

We are all here for the same reason, we love Tennis!
 
I come from an "old school." We never told on anyone for anything. There's no reason to complain about someone's words.

Conversations without arguing is great. "Feelings?" Put them aside.

We are all here for the same reason, we love Tennis!
I didn't start it!--switchitter did--I've got several positive posts to the OP in this thread--if it gets deleted it's on switchitter--he's a troll who adds nothing to the conversation--he's the reason message boards go bad--it's on him!
 

LeeD

Bionic Poster
Try going from prep position directly to trophy.
Don't drop that racket hand. Too much unneeded movement throwing tour balance off.
 
I’m a self taught high school player going into his sophomore year who started playing tennis about a little less than 2 years ago. For some background information I’m about 5 feet 11 inches (180 cm), I’m also a self rated 4-5 in utr (probably even lower than that!). I would say I have many issues in my game like consistency for starters, however one of the biggest outliers that I have is in my first serve. It’s just so unreliable, on some days it can be a weapon even against great players. On the other days it’s just so inconsistent and I end up missing it long or hitting the net. I would love to keep playing tennis in the future, so I need to keep improving. So if guys don’t mind, can you guys tell me when I’m doing in my technique or whatever my problem is thank you :) (note that in the video I was starting to warm up so I was kinda just throwing some 70% pace serves at general areas I wanted it to land)
Lest I forget: self-taught playing for 2 years with this good of a serve is quite an accomplishment. There are rec players who labor for years and never get close to this kind of motion. With some good coaching and practice, the sky's the limit [just don't toss that high].
 

golden chicken

Hall of Fame
A couple of things that I did to help my toss:

Stick a ball in the fence at contact height. You might need to bring a stepstool, or kneel on the court. Do some slow swings and just touch the ball in the fence with the racket face to confirm it's in the right place. Then perform a tossing motion without a ball, but don't swing the racket at the ball, just do your normal windup until you let go of the imaginary ball and stop. Look up at the ball in the fence and try to engrain the exact height and relative position in your mind. Some players use their tossing arm as an aiming tool. Once you feel good with that, toss another ball, aiming for the ball in the fence. Don't swing, just do the same windup and stop once you've let go of the ball. Try to toss so it apexes at the ball in the fence, or slightly above. Get the feel for the rhythm and effort needed to put the ball in the same place every time.

Once I built a mental model of where the toss should be out on the court, I practiced at home by kneeling on the floor and tossing towards the ceiling. The ceiling gives you feedback if your toss is too high. I try to toss so that the ball just touches the ceiling but doesn't bounce off it, and I aim for the same spot on the ceiling every time.
 

Jake Speeed

Rookie
A couple of things that I did to help my toss:

Stick a ball in the fence at contact height. You might need to bring a stepstool, or kneel on the court. Do some slow swings and just touch the ball in the fence with the racket face to confirm it's in the right place. Then perform a tossing motion without a ball, but don't swing the racket at the ball, just do your normal windup until you let go of the imaginary ball and stop. Look up at the ball in the fence and try to engrain the exact height and relative position in your mind. Some players use their tossing arm as an aiming tool. Once you feel good with that, toss another ball, aiming for the ball in the fence. Don't swing, just do the same windup and stop once you've let go of the ball. Try to toss so it apexes at the ball in the fence, or slightly above. Get the feel for the rhythm and effort needed to put the ball in the same place every time.

Once I built a mental model of where the toss should be out on the court, I practiced at home by kneeling on the floor and tossing towards the ceiling. The ceiling gives you feedback if your toss is too high. I try to toss so that the ball just touches the ceiling but doesn't bounce off it, and I aim for the same spot on the ceiling every time.
Really good advice but I'll add to it.

The point of the "over toss," that is, tossing the ball higher than necessary, IS to allow for the ball "drop." In this short period of time and distance you can adjust as to when you're going to hit it, or not hit it.

I'm going out on a limb by saying this because I don't follow ATP tennis like some of you do.

All ATP players "over toss" and hit the ball when it's on the way down. One may not? :)

Nothing wrong or bad in doing this. That "pause" a player "may" make before he decides to hit, or your "trophy position" was once called a "hitch." I've never seen it be a bad or good thing.

The moon ball, after it bounces, is a great way to practice part of the service motion and pronation. ISR as you call it.

The reason is you plenty of time to decide when to hit the ball. If you serve with a hitch, it can be easily eliminated over time and practice. However, you should never have to rush the serve because of your short toss.

Toss control is important because on windy days you will be forced to toss lower than your normal.

93 million miles away, and this guy, the sun, can also cause serving issues.
 

golden chicken

Hall of Fame
Really good advice but I'll add to it.

The point of the "over toss," that is, tossing the ball higher than necessary, IS to allow for the ball "drop." In this short period of time and distance you can adjust as to when you're going to hit it, or not hit it.

I'm going out on a limb by saying this because I don't follow ATP tennis like some of you do.

All ATP players "over toss" and hit the ball when it's on the way down. One may not? :)
You're correct, but one should not confuse a slight over toss of 1-2ft with something like Sharapova or Graf's very high toss.
 
All ATP players "over toss" and hit the ball when it's on the way down. One may not? :)
Exceptions I can think of: Dolgopolov, Groth, both Bryans.

In the "toss high enough to menace commercial aviation" category would be Berdych.

I personally could never get the timing right with the on-the-rise serve.
 
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Nothing terrible going on, save for one thing. You have received some good advice, but a lot of it requires major change. If you want to keep your current motion, and it is mostly fine (high toss, delayed arm are ok), you can and also have good results. What looks to be a problem is how violently you push the limit on range of motion of your right shoulder as you drop the racquet. It almost bounces back to another resting spot before you head up to hit the ball. It is possibly affecting your toss as it jerks your body at about the time you release the ball toss. Someone said something about Djoker’s serve. That limp wrist and elbow bend he utilizes would help you absorb some shock when initially dropping racquet. It doesn’t need to be pulled so far back, as you are doing now. And, lastly, RELAXED LIMBS!
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
A couple of things that I did to help my toss:

Stick a ball in the fence at contact height...
Have done this a lot with young students. Easy to jam an orange or green dot training ball into the fence. Sometimes will set one at contact height and another at 2' or so higher ( 0.5 to 1 m).

If I can't reach high enuff for the higher ball, we will often use the top of the fence for a reference height.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru



Hey guys! Sorry I haven’t been responding since I thought that it would be more efficient to address it all at once since I’m getting some similar feedback! For starters one of the things that I’ve also noticed in my serve is the toss, yes you guys are correct about my serve toss height being too high. I believe one comment also said something g about pressure situation and how inconsistent it could be, which does happen to me a lot. If I were to lower it how would I approach in doing so (I’ve tried to before however it always made my height more inconsistent so I would love some feedback). Also another important thing that I’m seeing is my hitch before I get into the trophy position. Is there any pro’s whose serve looks similar in form factor that I should try to study? Thanks! :)
You give any further thought to the leg drive timing issue I mentioned? You're a bit late with yours. Take a gander at the images above. At the bottom of the racket drop, the legs are already fully extended and the players are leaving the ground.

At this point, you still appear to have your knees partially bent and you don't appear to leave the ground until a tad later... almost as if your upward swing is pulling you off the ground. Instead, you want the feeling that the legs fire first (and fully extend) and then your upward swing of the racquet fires immediately after that. More images to provide enhance the mental image for you:


 

WinterCO

New User
Oh sorry I haven’t been looking at this thread so I forgot to respond about the leg drive. When I watch my serve frame by frame I can see what your point is with my leg drive. The problem I’m having is that it’s muscle memory now and I can’t find any other threads with my problem. I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to fix this. Is it a just through practice, or is there some secret that I’m not aware of? You kind of went over it however I’m still kind of confused on how I would fix it. I would love to hear more about it :)
 

Dragy

Hall of Fame
Oh sorry I haven’t been looking at this thread so I forgot to respond about the leg drive. When I watch my serve frame by frame I can see what your point is with my leg drive. The problem I’m having is that it’s muscle memory now and I can’t find any other threads with my problem. I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to fix this. Is it a just through practice, or is there some secret that I’m not aware of? You kind of went over it however I’m still kind of confused on how I would fix it. I would love to hear more about it :)
Look at your motion frame by frame. You are going through trophy by putting your arm behind yourself deliberately. Your shoulder stays in place until racquet already dips down.
Now what you are supposed to do is get to trophy (racquet tip up, slightly tilted forward, towards the right side fence) and make your shoulder start moving around and then up, “taking ground off” your arm. Arm will lag behind that uncoil passively.
That shoulder move is based on the start of leg action. And hence you no more drop your arm deliberately it will get in sync with leg drive.
I suggested a drill earlier - serving from preset trophy - which will help with this particular issue. Just remember not to send your arm behind, but to take your shoulder around and up as first move.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
@WinterCO

As I mentioned in post #2, you have a bit of a (pendulum) hitch in your drop prior to your trophy phase. It may or may not be a significant issue.

You appeared to be using a staggered rhythm, much as Sampras did. That is, the arms do not rise together. This is a common rhythm for modern servers.

Note also that Pete employed a moderately high toss. It was not as high as Graf or Sharapova but it was a bit higher than most. This higher toss promotes greater topspin. It was one of the reasons that Sampras often had more than 3000 rpm on 1st serves & sometimes exceeded 5000 rpm on 2nd serves. Many players are lucky if they get 3000 rpm on their 2nd serve much less than on a 120 mph 1st serve.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Note that because he had a higher toss than most, Pete did not bend his knees until after his ball release as can be seen in the GIF above. Players with lower tosses need to start their bend prior to releasing the ball.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Oh sorry I haven’t been looking at this thread so I forgot to respond about the leg drive. When I watch my serve frame by frame I can see what your point is with my leg drive. The problem I’m having is that it’s muscle memory now and I can’t find any other threads with my problem. I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to fix this. Is it a just through practice, or is there some secret that I’m not aware of? You kind of went over it however I’m still kind of confused on how I would fix it. I would love to hear more about it :)
Try dozens, or even hundreds, of shadow swings for your serve motion. Initially, without the ball -- this should make it easier to reset your muscle memory.

With these shadow swings, you should find it easier to adjust your leg drive timing. You should also be able to adjust your landing as I suggested -- left foot landing so that it points in the direction of your serve. This should minimize the falling to the left and promote driving Up and Forward (rather than up & to the left).

After you perform a lot of these shadow swings without a ball, try it with a ball. But do not try to make contact with the ball. If you attempt to make contact, it could pull focus away from the things you are trying to work on.
 
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