What's the difference in the serve from 4.5 up different levels?

EddieBrock

Professional
Once you're at 4.5 most players seem to have a reliable 1st and 2nd serve and don't have major flaws in their technique. What makes a pro serve so much better than a top college player or college players better than a lot of teaching pros or 4.5 players? I understand with the overall game there are numerous other factors that separate different levels like anticipation, hitting on the run, handing different shots, strategy, etc.

With the serve you're in complete control so if you have proper form, are injury free, and practice for years what keeps most people's serve back? These high level servers often look effortless and yet completely blow away the serves from lower levels.
 
Once you're at 4.5 most players seem to have a reliable 1st and 2nd serve and don't have major flaws in their technique. What makes a pro serve so much better than a top college player or college players better than a lot of teaching pros or 4.5 players? I understand with the overall game there are numerous other factors that separate different levels like anticipation, hitting on the run, handing different shots, strategy, etc.

With the serve you're in complete control so if you have proper form, are injury free, and practice for years what keeps most people's serve back? These high level servers often look effortless and yet completely blow away the serves from lower levels.
Look at a wide range of 4.5s serving and you will see a wide range of technique and probably some major flaws also.

Once [if] you get past that, there's consistency, placement, spin, and power. I don't think there's some magical dividing line; it all just blends into a continuum.
 
Maybe it is the great serve that got them to where they are instead of “I’m a professional tennis player, now I’m going to develop a serve to freak EddieBrock out.”
 
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Rosstour

Hall of Fame
Consistency and able to hit spots, with solid pace and repeatability.
Yes, but a good number of college players have that also. Especially top ones. So really the further up you get, the smaller the difference in skill IMO. So maybe it isn't just one thing but rather a game of inches and marginal increases in percentages.
 

badmice2

Semi-Pro
Placement, pace, spin action - in any and all combination. Mind you were not just talking about first serves, but able to tactically execute them on 2nd serves.
 

GuyClinch

Legend
In slow motion many 4.5s have some technical flaws. Granted they are good enough so you can't see it with the naked eye..
But pro men just put more energy into the ball and can hit with more precision. So they can serve not just big flat serves - but fast slice serves and hard kick serves but with good placement.

It's like a college pitcher who can throw in the 80s vs. a pro who can throw in the high 90s. The pro often has more variety and better control as well.
 

socallefty

Hall of Fame
There are many juniors who go through thousands of hours of coaching and practice sessions under the same coaches and only a few become good enough to be professional players in any sport. Usually in almost all cases, the talent difference between them and others is obvious at an early age and the gap just becomes wider once their technique keeps getting refined.

I think it has to do with those who are born with better athletic ability becoming pros including skills such as better visuo-spatial ability, better hand-eye coordination, better reflexes, better peripheral vision, better depth perception, better body control etc. in addition to being able to run faster, jump higher, having more balance, having more flexibility etc. These physical and mental differences just make it easier for some people to generate more racquet head speed precisely to contact the ball harder and more consistently when following the same technique that others are hitting.
 

FiReFTW

Legend
There are many juniors who go through thousands of hours of coaching and practice sessions under the same coaches and only a few become good enough to be professional players in any sport. Usually in almost all cases, the talent difference between them and others is obvious at an early age and the gap just becomes wider once their technique keeps getting refined.

I think it has to do with those who are born with better athletic ability becoming pros including skills such as better visuo-spatial ability, better hand-eye coordination, better reflexes, better peripheral vision, better depth perception, better body control etc. in addition to being able to run faster, jump higher, having more balance, having more flexibility etc. These physical and mental differences just make it easier for some people to generate more racquet head speed precisely to contact the ball harder and more consistently when following the same technique that others are hitting.
Good post
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Yes, but a good number of college players have that also. Especially top ones. So really the further up you get, the smaller the difference in skill IMO. So maybe it isn't just one thing but rather a game of inches and marginal increases in percentages.
Not always. Jeff Salzenstein played #1 for Stanford for 3 of the 4 years he was there. Made All-American for 2 of those years.

By his own admission, his serve was not all that great at that time. Apparently it wasn't much better when he first joined the ATP tour. He indicates that he improved it quite a bit in the latter part of his ATP career.
 

18x20 ftw

Rookie
^ I heard the same from Mackie McDonald a year or two ago after he had turned professional and was obviously a great server before going pro. He said the guy he was working with (can’t remember who) was teaching him all kinds of things about the serve making his serve more of a weapon.
 

AnyPUG

Semi-Pro
There are many juniors who go through thousands of hours of coaching and practice sessions under the same coaches and only a few become good enough to be professional players in any sport. Usually in almost all cases, the talent difference between them and others is obvious at an early age and the gap just becomes wider once their technique keeps getting refined.

I think it has to do with those who are born with better athletic ability becoming pros including skills such as better visuo-spatial ability, better hand-eye coordination, better reflexes, better peripheral vision, better depth perception, better body control etc. in addition to being able to run faster, jump higher, having more balance, having more flexibility etc. These physical and mental differences just make it easier for some people to generate more racquet head speed precisely to contact the ball harder and more consistently when following the same technique that others are hitting.
Very well said. If I could add one more attribute - superior judgement skills- ability to make quick decisions on what type of serve to hit based on what's working for the server and what the opponent is struggling within the time window of critical points.
 

EddieBrock

Professional
From what I'm hearing here there is a technique component that generates the pace, spin, consistency as well as the mental decision making about what serve to hit and when.

It seems like teaching pros or people at higher levels would all have the proper technique (ex weight transfer, pronation, contact point, shoulder turn) down, yet some seem to hit effortless serve with huge pace/spin whereas others aren't that much better than mine as far as pace/spin. I've played in pro-ams and with good college players/former low ranked ATP players and it seems like they're doing something better than the rest of us mere mortals and even most teaching pros, but I can't figure out what.
 

LeeD

Bionic Poster
Do you think you can be a major league pitcher?
Do you think you can be a defensive back in football?
Do you think you can drive good enough to win F-1 races?
 

AnyPUG

Semi-Pro
I've played in pro-ams and with good college players/former low ranked ATP players and it seems like they're doing something better than the rest of us mere mortals and even most teaching pros, but I can't figure out what.
It's difficult to reconcile these two phrases - "played with low ranked ATP players" and "I can't figure out". tbh, If anyone has the ability/skill to hit with ATP players(or even 5.0 players) they would not be asking the kind of question you are asking.
You could be one in a billion outlier. sorry to be brutally honest.
 

Dartagnan64

G.O.A.T.
I would say consistency and disguise are the biggest advances pros make over college players. And second serve pace. Not too many 5.0's with 110 mph second serves.
 

travlerajm

G.O.A.T.
Not always. Jeff Salzenstein played #1 for Stanford for 3 of the 4 years he was there. Made All-American for 2 of those years.

By his own admission, his serve was not all that great at that time. Apparently it wasn't much better when he first joined the ATP tour. He indicates that he improved it quite a bit in the latter part of his ATP career.
I watched a lot of his college matches. My memory was that he would have matches where he won the first set, but ended up losing in 3 sets. He would serve-and-volley behind his lefty serve. His serve would always be more effective in the first set than later in the match when his opponent started to groove on his lefty topspin slice.
 

Happi

Semi-Pro
Do you think you can be a major league pitcher?
Do you think you can be a defensive back in football?
Do you think you can drive good enough to win F-1 races?
F1 drivers are the elite of the elite, so much easier with the two other choices.
 

EddieBrock

Professional
It's difficult to reconcile these two phrases - "played with low ranked ATP players" and "I can't figure out". tbh, If anyone has the ability/skill to hit with ATP players(or even 5.0 players) they would not be asking the kind of question you are asking.
You could be one in a billion outlier. sorry to be brutally honest.
I didn't say I was the same level as them! Did you not read the earlier part about it being a pro-am. I'm on the am side, not the pro
 

EddieBrock

Professional
I would say consistency and disguise are the biggest advances pros make over college players. And second serve pace. Not too many 5.0's with 110 mph second serves.
That makes sense. What about players like Ian with Essential Tennis that has had a bunch of matches posted here or the guys from play our court. Ian's serve was nowhere near as strong as Mark and Scott and those guys are rated 4.5. Do Ian, Mark, and Scott all of technical problems with their serve that could be corrected with technique changes? From what I recall the fastest 1st serves in the match with Mark vs Scott was like 115, which is very fast for an amateur player.


How are ATP pros serving in the 130s now? If you look at videos of the ATP pros what are they doing differently to generate that kind of pace?
 

Dragy

Hall of Fame
I believe it’s as simple as:
- better athletic ability;
- good techniques;
- lots of practice behind and currently to maintain.

Some rec players would miss here and there. One may have decent techniques, but be short and have less fast-twitch fibers. Another one is able to serve really huge, but the quality tends to leak away during a match - due to lack of solidifying practice volumes. Someone is big and good athlete, but never truly has his techniques polished.
 

EP1998

Semi-Pro
There are many juniors who go through thousands of hours of coaching and practice sessions under the same coaches and only a few become good enough to be professional players in any sport. Usually in almost all cases, the talent difference between them and others is obvious at an early age and the gap just becomes wider once their technique keeps getting refined.

I think it has to do with those who are born with better athletic ability becoming pros including skills such as better visuo-spatial ability, better hand-eye coordination, better reflexes, better peripheral vision, better depth perception, better body control etc. in addition to being able to run faster, jump higher, having more balance, having more flexibility etc. These physical and mental differences just make it easier for some people to generate more racquet head speed precisely to contact the ball harder and more consistently when following the same technique that others are hitting.
Great post. I knew a 200-ish pro who had freakishly good eyesight.
 

Rosstour

Hall of Fame
Great post. I knew a 200-ish pro who had freakishly good eyesight.
Eyesight and read/recognize are a huge part of it.

My reflexes and hand-eye are stupid good. Always have been. I'm a natural at anything that involves throwing or striking or speed (cars, bikes, etc). I think that's the reason I was good at tennis, not the other way round.

But I'm terrible at certain other things (namely things that require fine motor skills...can barely even tie my shoes properly). Natural talents and weaknesses absolutely exist.
 

Dartagnan64

G.O.A.T.
That makes sense. What about players like Ian with Essential Tennis that has had a bunch of matches posted here or the guys from play our court. Ian's serve was nowhere near as strong as Mark and Scott and those guys are rated 4.5. Do Ian, Mark, and Scott all of technical problems with their serve that could be corrected with technique changes? From what I recall the fastest 1st serves in the match with Mark vs Scott was like 115, which is very fast for an amateur player.


How are ATP pros serving in the 130s now? If you look at videos of the ATP pros what are they doing differently to generate that kind of pace?
First off most of the big servers are 6'2"and taller. So leverage. And then perfect timing and kinetic chain vs a good kinetic chain.
 
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