Serve Practice Video - 3.5

snahzje

New User
Hi Everyone,

Some new tennis courts were built just across the street from my company office so I took the chance to finally practice serves and record it during a ~45 minute break around lunch time.

Background on me: 4 years of high school tennis, 2 years of varsity. Took a long ~12 year break and finally back at it again for about 2 months now. I currently play in a 3.5 league here in the SF Bay Area and also participate in Meetups 2x a week (for 3x a week total of playing).

My opponents have said that my first serve is the best (hardest) in our league, however I struggle with consistency issues (most balls sailing long) and even recently had to scale back to serving only second serves in my most recent match after double faulting nearly twice a game in the first set (ended up winning in 3 sets after that adjustment). The video below is about 75% of my normal first serve speed, but the mechanics felt the same. Another issue that I have been having is that my tricep has been extremely sore after each outing and sometimes the tendon also flares up if I am using my RF97 (golf elbow I believe?). My groundstrokes don't cause me any discomfort so I'm obviously hoping to repair my serve mechanics so I come away from the court in good shape.

I've always had a bit of a "weird" serve that my high school coaches always tried to fix, but I always ended up back in my old ways of tossing over my head even on flat serves. I am ecstatic that technology has come a long way since my school playing days and I have been able to record myself with the Coach's Eye app to really break down my strokes.


Things I've been able to notice since I took this video:

1) I am tossing too low and over my head on a flat serve
2) My balance is moving sideways rather than forwards, thus the awkward balancing act on my left leg while my right leg kicks out
3) I've been getting better about following through on my serve, whereas before I had a problem where I would stop my racket before it got to my shin (probably a bad habit from my younger days when I used to bang my shin on the follow-through).

Any tips or technique breakdowns would be much appreciated! This is easily the least consistent part of my game and definitely want to move towards improving it if I am to advance to a 4.0 level.
 
This is a serving technique where the racket faces the sky like the very common Waiter's Tray technique, but it is not a WT. Correction - The server is using significant internal shoulder rotation (ISR) to develop most racket head speed. That is the only joint motion to move the bent arm and racket as shown. A close up high speed video of his upper arm (shoulder joint and elbow) should confirm this analysis by showing the upper arm rotate directly. The indicators are that the racket faces the sky or ball very early and the elbow is bent and remains bent to impact. I've seen several servers with this technique. Bigservesofthands develops high pace with it.

Because the racket head develops most speed by closing as it moves forward, this serving technique may have more difficulty controlling the elevation of the ball's trajectory, more high or low errors? The high level serve develops racket head speed near impact from both closing and rotating the string face to the side (resulting from ISR).

For throwing the elbow also has to be bent (angle changes rapidly) in order to develop hand speed from ISR. Does the OP have any throwing experience?

Study the high level serving technique based on a near straight arm that rotates at the shoulder joint around the upper arm's long axis using ISR.
 
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Raul_SJ

Legend
Things I've been able to notice since I took this video:

1) I am tossing too low and over my head on a flat serve
.
It is not the height of the toss per se. Many are able to serve with a low toss. But they make contact with full arm extension. In order to make contact with full extension you can speed up your motion to catch up with the toss before it drops too low. Or keep your current rhythm and toss higher.

 
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It is not the height of the toss per se. Many are able to serve with a low toss. But they make contact with full arm extension. In order to make contact with full extension you can speed up your motion to catch up with the toss before it drops too low. Or keep your current rhythm and toss higher.

Racket head speed from ISR come from rotation of the upper arm bone and the radius out from the upper arm axis and the racket head. [The 'long axis' of the upper arm is the line from the shoulder joint to the elbow.]

For the OP he develops racket head speed by ISR and the radius out from the elbow to the racket head. The elbow angle may not change much.

For the high level serve, Dogopolov develops the racket head speed from ISR by using the radius out from the axis of the upper arm created by the forearm-to-racket angle. The forearm-to-racket angle changes rapidly during ISR. Also, there are other 'swinging motions' causing the racket head to close as it moves forward. For example, shoulder extension - arm swinging forward - is one of the other swinging motions. See high speed videos.
 
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My opponents have said that my first serve is the best (hardest) in our league, however I struggle with consistency issues (most balls sailing long) and even recently had to scale back to serving only second serves in my most recent match after double faulting nearly twice a game in the first set (ended up winning in 3 sets after that adjustment). The video below is about 75% of my normal first serve speed, but the mechanics felt the same. Another issue that I have been having is that my tricep has been extremely sore after each outing and sometimes the tendon also flares up if I am using my RF97 (golf elbow I believe?). My groundstrokes don't cause me any discomfort so I'm obviously hoping to repair my serve mechanics so I come away from the court in good shape.
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Just read your OP.

"....and sometimes the tendon also flares up if I am using my RF97 (golf elbow I believe?). ..."

About 10 years ago I was experimenting with a volley technique that resembled your serving technique. I used as much force as I could on the first attempt. On the first or second attempt I gave myself what I came to believe was a painful Golfer's Elbow injury. I played again and gave myself another sharp pain during warm up. This is stressful because the largest muscle attached the arm, the lat, is strong and trying to rotate and accelerate the masses of both the forearm and racket. (in my opinion, the moment of inertia is too large and that stresses the elbow tendons or ligaments during strong accelerations.) For a high level serve, the forearm is nearly in line with the axis of rotation so that the moment of inertia is much smaller and less stressful.

I have since learned that there is also a common ligament injury for baseball pitchers that is located at about the same area of the elbow as Golfer's Elbow. I still believe my injury was GE but am no longer certain.

You should stop your serving technique immediately because tearing tendons and continuing to stress them leads to defective tendon tissue healing. Defective healing can start is a very short time - 2 weeks - and can lead to chronic Golfer's Elbow.

See TT thread Tendon Injury Nuthouse for publications on this issue.
https://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/tendon-injury-nuthouse.442912/

Start with the publications in posts #1 & #15. Understand Tendinitis (with inflammation) and Tendinosis (with defective healing).

 
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snahzje

New User
Thanks for the tips and resources! I haven't had any elbow problems since I stopped using the RF97A and took a week off to rest. After practicing a bit last night after some doubles matches I've been able to alter my toss to be higher and more in front which helps a ton with getting my arm extended up rather than bending my elbow and it's been helping with my serve consistency. My bicep muscle was sore after ~3 hours of playing yesterday but I feel pretty good today.
 

Raul_SJ

Legend
Racket head speed from ISR come from rotation of the upper arm bone and the radius out from the upper arm axis and the racket head. [The 'long axis' of the upper arm is the line from the shoulder joint to the elbow.]

For the OP he develops racket head speed by ISR and the radius out from the elbow to the racket head. The elbow angle may not change much.

For the high level serve, Dogopolov develops the racket head speed from ISR by using the radius out from the axis of the upper arm created by the forearm-to-racket angle. The forearm-to-racket angle changes rapidly during ISR. Also, there are other 'swinging motions' causing the racket head to close as it moves forward. For example, shoulder extension - arm swinging forward - is one of the other swinging motions. See high speed videos.
Apart from the obvious disadvantage of lower contact point, I was wondering whether this was a viable technique for a tall player. Maybe similar to straight arm vs bent arm forehand ...But then I realize that the serve is a throwing motion, and don't think anyone releases a throw with a bent elbow.

 
The serve is not a throwing motion, but it has biomechanical similarities to the throwing motion and uses the same large muscles for ISR. They are the largest muscles attached to the arm. Because the moment of inertia of the throw is smaller, rotation speeds can exceed 7000 deg/sec; where for a serve with the racket maybe the rotation speed limit is about half of that of the throw. The differences are clear in high speed videos.

For the ISR motion -

The only way to develop speed from ISR is to have a radius out from the rotation axis - for ISR that axis is through the upper arm bone (humerus). For the throw the radius depends on the angle of the elbow. For the high level serve, the radius depends on the angle of the forearm to racket and, when present, also on the elbow angle.

The radius at release or impact is not as important as the changing angle during the time which the hand or racket is accelerated up to speed. At the throw release, the elbow angle can be small, see videos like the Lincecum video and others for pitching. I don't know elbow angles at release for average pro pitchers or for strong non-pitcher throwers that might use a different throwing technique. At tennis ball impact the forearm-to-racket angle can be smaller but videos usually show a considerable angle at impact.

Don't rely on the above word descriptions of angles, look at high speed videos.
 
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