Why is the serve so hard?

user92626

Legend
After the 4th picture (right most), does Federer's racket go down or go up a little more? Or, even horizontally for a few inches?

 
What makes the serve so hard for you to learn?
- Lots of different bio-mechanics involved [toss, core rotation, racquet drop, shoulder tilt, pronation, knee bend, leg drive, etc]
- Extra pressure because it seems easy [you get to toss to yourself]
- Coaches who try to teach everything at once

Is it because we don't know how to throw? Too complicated to swing at something way above the head?
Plenty of people that can throw well can't serve worth a darn. Good throwing mechanics certainly raises the odds of success, though.

Swinging at something above the head is I suppose more complicated than if the object was lower but I don't think that's a major factor unless the person has serious problems tracking a ball.

Is the serve a very advanced skill?
An excellent serve is an advanced skill but couldn't you say the same thing about every stroke? Plenty of people have less-than-ideal technique and still manage to be effective.

What mental image do you use to help you?
I've been studying Bautista Agut lately. Seems like an uncomplicated example to follow.

(I'm asking for a friend)
I'm answering for a friend.
 

user92626

Legend
- Lots of different bio-mechanics involved [toss, core rotation, racquet drop, shoulder tilt, pronation, knee bend, leg drive, etc]
- Extra pressure because it seems easy [you get to toss to yourself]
- Coaches who try to teach everything at once



Plenty of people that can throw well can't serve worth a darn. Good throwing mechanics certainly raises the odds of success, though.

Swinging at something above the head is I suppose more complicated than if the object was lower but I don't think that's a major factor unless the person has serious problems tracking a ball.



An excellent serve is an advanced skill but couldn't you say the same thing about every stroke? Plenty of people have less-than-ideal technique and still manage to be effective.



I've been studying Bautista Agut lately. Seems like an uncomplicated example to follow.



I'm answering for a friend.
I'm gonna look at Agut's serve per your recommendation.

Re complicated, the serve seems to stand out way more than other strokes. For instance, alot of rec players can volley very well. When they succeed, the volley shot practically looks like pro's, right?

But nobody serves close to pro forms. The serve is probably the weakest part of most rec players!


"lots of different bio-mechanics involved "

About this, can you really break it down to individual parts and master them one at a time?

How about do the whole thing slowly and at 50% form (eg, not full racket drop, not highest toss)
 

Chadalina

Legend
What makes the serve so hard for you to learn?

Is it because we don't know how to throw? Too complicated to swing at something way above the head?

Is the serve a very advanced skill?

What mental image do you use to help you?

(I'm asking for a friend)
The serve is the easiest and hardest shot because we control every aspect. Also why we get more nervous on them, non reactive.

Getting it in the box is tough at first, having to find that angle with optimal power. Its a balancing act.

Knowing how to throw really helps, the motions are the same. Extension for distance, snap for drop, just like throwing a baseball.
 

Wise one

Hall of Fame
The serve is the easiest and hardest shot because we control every aspect. Also why we get more nervous on them, non reactive.

Getting it in the box is tough at first, having to find that angle with optimal power. Its a balancing act.

Knowing how to throw really helps, the motions are the same. Extension for distance, snap for drop, just like throwing a baseball.
I think throwing a football is closest to the service motion.
 
About this, can you really break it down to individual parts and master them one at a time?
You're correct that I think it would be counter-productive to literally work on one skill at a time.

How about do the whole thing slowly and at 50% form (eg, not full racket drop, not highest toss)
But the reason this fails is because the coach will tell you to correct one thing and when you do, it will throw something else out of whack. Then you fix that thing and it wrecks a 3rd. You fix the 3rd and you're back to doing the 1st thing wrong.

One of the ways many can improve is by working on the toss. This you can isolate mostly from the other elements. Sure, certain serve techniques might call for a higher toss or one that's further this way or that but the general motion is the same.

I've never tried teaching someone the serve from the very beginning. If I do give advice, it's on refining something existing. But there may be multiple somethings that need addressing; this is certainly the case for my serve: not enough shoulder tilt, not enough core rotation, dropping the tossing arm too soon, etc. If I try to fix everything simultaneously, I end up frustrated and without progress. If I can at least do one thing better without screwing everything else up, that's worth pursuing.
 

Keendog

Semi-Pro
I think you'll find that if you shadow swing without a ball in your hand you will probably have a perfect service motion. The issue comes when the ball is introduced. It's like a mental block in your head tells you to "hit" the ball so intead of "throwing" the racquet you are trying to hit it like a hammer.

The best tip I've heard is instead of throwing the ball up and trying to hit the ball with the racquet, think about it as swinging the racquet and just tossing the ball into it's path.
 

Curious

Legend
instead of throwing the ball up and trying to hit the ball with the racquet, think about it as swinging the racquet and just tossing the ball into it's path.
Just the opposite for me. Toss the ball up THEN swing the racket at it. That tiny bit of delay works great. I’m not that crazy to try to throw a ball aiming at a swinging racket!
 
I think you'll find that if you shadow swing without a ball in your hand you will probably have a perfect service motion.
There are many who have poor service motions even without the ball. Those people probably don't do much shadow serving practice anyway.

Having a smooth shadow serve is a start but certainly not the end.

"I'd have such a great serve if it wasn't for that pesky ball thingy."
 

zaph

Semi-Pro
It is a complex shot, you are trying to get your arms to do two different actions at the same time. There is also a speed issue, the toss is to suppose to be slow and the serve explosive. Not to mention you toss with your non-dominant hand.

Us men also make it extra hard on ourselves, there is an obsession with having a fast powerful serve, breaking the 100mph barrier. In reality many of us don't have the physical ability to hit that kind of pace and would be better off hitting with more varieties of spin and learning to place the ball better.
 

FiReFTW

Legend
Good question.

All coaches or even high level juniors who coach on the side have told me that the serve is by far the hardest shot to teach to adult tennis players.
They all struggle immensely, with all sort of drills and progressions and most people just don't quite get it, ever.

But I did notice that people from the united states seem to get it more (on average), more rec players seem to have solid serves than european ones, maybe it has something to do with playing baseball/american football.
 

Kevo

Legend
About this, can you really break it down to individual parts and master them one at a time?

How about do the whole thing slowly and at 50% form (eg, not full racket drop, not highest toss)
Yes and yes. I like to start people with very few moving parts and I give them ways to practice certain movements on their own. Toss and arm rotation are the main things that I think people should practice a lot on their own.

Now I've seen maybe close to a hundred people that were able to get somewhat close to mastery of those first two elements only to have things fall apart horribly the moment they thought to themselves, "I just nailed this serve thing".

As soon as they shift from I'm very carefully learning these skills to now I can hit some serves it all goes south. It takes time to really get comfortable with something and most people will simply not wait for full comfort before they move on to the next thing. We want things too fast and we don't want to put in the time.

I used to spend 1 to 2 hours 3-4 times a week when I first figured out that "pronation" was the key concept of a good serve. I would spend 15-20 minutes just slamming balls down into the court trying to get it down perfect. I would try it overhead and realize how bad it was then go back to slamming balls in the ground again. I would serve whole baskets slowly and deliberately trying to gauge my toss and my contact and figure out the racquet angle and stuff. I can only think of one or two students I've had that would go to the court and spend their own time to work on these things. One of those kids has a pretty good kick serve at the age of 11.

I think if you have some athletic talent and are willing to actually put in the time working on it a really good serve is within anyone's reach. The biggest roadblock is people thinking that they will find some element that they just didn't know and that will do the trick. It won't. You actually have to put the time in to train your body to do all the things it needs to do.
 

RyanRF

Professional
This video has the best explanation about why the serve is so difficult:


TLDR: Correct serve technique using continental grip forces the player to orient the body away from the target (sideways) and swing away from the target (upwards). This is not intuitive.
 

5263

G.O.A.T.
What makes the serve so hard for you to learn?

Is it because we don't know how to throw? Too complicated to swing at something way above the head?

Is the serve a very advanced skill?

What mental image do you use to help you?

(I'm asking for a friend)
Its very challenging because you must know where to toss, and consistently toss there with your off hand that you likely can't do much of anything great with without tons of practice. Even if your off hand is working fine, you likely don't know precisely where to toss.

Without a well placed toss, then all the technique is mired in compensations to try and adjust for the poor toss position. This is easy to do, but hard to do with power and accuracy. Once the toss is well placed on a regular basis, more than half the work is done because even with avg technique, you can hit harder and more accurate in general.
 

RajS

Semi-Pro
For me, one thing that made the serve very hard was that I never understood until recently how much you have to relax and let go to get racket speed. Once when I returned from a lengthy trip to India (a few years ago), no exercise for weeks, not even stretching, and feeling weak after being sick with stomach flu, I decided to restart tennis after a week of procrastinating. My goal was just to get back the feel of the racket. I started hitting against the wall with no power, totally relaxed. I then decided to serve a few in the same way. Guess what, the ball was hitting the back fence comfortably in once bounce, when I expected it to take at least two bounces. I wouldn't have minded serving like that in a match! Since then, I have learned to reproduce that feeling of total relaxation (sometimes it takes a while), for the wrist in particular, which should literally be limp like a noodle and swing through the full range of motion.

One side effect of being so relaxed is that the arm/shoulder goes through a greater range of motion and can experience pain from being pinched (especially the shoulder). This is when you'll have to follow the principles of proper shoulder alignment that people talk about here, and of course you will forget (for a while at least) about being relaxed! Nothing comes for free...
 

r2473

G.O.A.T.
Here is the best example of the service motion I could find

Am I the only one that thinks the service motion is exactly like a vertical version of the Braves chop? I’m being serious. Just make sure you “drop” on the take back. And be sure your chop isn’t from the arm, but from the shoulder.

Then it’s just swing path.
 

Curious

Legend
Am I the only one that thinks the service motion is exactly like a vertical version of the Braves chop? I’m being serious. Just make sure you “drop” on the take back. And be sure your chop isn’t from the arm, but from the shoulder.

Then it’s just swing path.
But they’re all tricepsing it!!
 

user92626

Legend
Am I the only one that thinks the service motion is exactly like a vertical version of the Braves chop? I’m being serious. Just make sure you “drop” on the take back. And be sure your chop isn’t from the arm, but from the shoulder.

Then it’s just swing path.
I think so but you need to chop in front of you and your body rotates some degrees and simultaneously falls on the side.
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
I've played an hour or so with wood racquets. No real downside to them in terms of power. I didn't even have to change my technique. It's like using a PS90 but flexier.

Hated the feel on the wood racquets though (strung with natural gut). I found out that you can have too much flex in a frame.
 

Wise one

Hall of Fame
I've played an hour or so with wood racquets. No real downside to them in terms of power. I didn't even have to change my technique. It's like using a PS90 but flexier.

Hated the feel on the wood racquets though (strung with natural gut). I found out that you can have too much flex in a frame.

Which frame? Some of them are quite stiff!
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
Which frame? Some of them are quite stiff!
I dunno the exact model, my friend who gave them to me to try has a truckload of wood frames that he bought for his inner collector.

He did also let me try a few Donnays to hit with a bit, provided that I didn't so much as shank a ball with the frame and get scratches on it.
 

user92626

Legend
Can someone tell me...

Considering the horizontal blue line as where Fed's racket tip touches as he contacts the ball, after contacting the ball, does Fed's racket tip immediately drops below or rises above the blue line?




 

Kevo

Legend
Can someone tell me...

Considering the horizontal blue line as where Fed's racket tip touches as he contacts the ball, after contacting the ball, does Fed's racket tip immediately drops below or rises above the blue line?




I'd guess it might depend on the serve, but in most cases I'd think it will rise a bit after contact.
 
After the 4th picture (right most), does Federer's racket go down or go up a little more? Or, even horizontally for a few inches?

If he goes for a flat serve, it goes down and forward. If he goes for topspin, then up. If he goes for the kick, then up and to the right. If for the slice, then horisontally to the right. On this pic, it looks like either a kick serve or a slice, but i might be wrong, i don't think it matters though, to discuss
 

hurworld

Hall of Fame
For me, one thing that made the serve very hard was that I never understood until recently how much you have to relax and let go to get racket speed. Once when I returned from a lengthy trip to India (a few years ago), no exercise for weeks, not even stretching, and feeling weak after being sick with stomach flu, I decided to restart tennis after a week of procrastinating. My goal was just to get back the feel of the racket. I started hitting against the wall with no power, totally relaxed. I then decided to serve a few in the same way. Guess what, the ball was hitting the back fence comfortably in once bounce, when I expected it to take at least two bounces. I wouldn't have minded serving like that in a match! Since then, I have learned to reproduce that feeling of total relaxation (sometimes it takes a while), for the wrist in particular, which should literally be limp like a noodle and swing through the full range of motion.

One side effect of being so relaxed is that the arm/shoulder goes through a greater range of motion and can experience pain from being pinched (especially the shoulder). This is when you'll have to follow the principles of proper shoulder alignment that people talk about here, and of course you will forget (for a while at least) about being relaxed! Nothing comes for free...
I find I can reproduce that relaxed arm feeling by feeling the weight of the racket, and the easiest way to do that (for me) is actually to choke down and with pinky off the grip.
 

TennisDawg

Professional
The serve is not hard for pros or elite players. The difficulty comes when Rec players (most of us) try and emulate the elite players. I enjoy serving much more when I just focus on being relaxed and not trying to do what Federer does. Just “toss and hit” don’t overthink it. I also play better as a Rec. Player not an elite player. One final comment I think trying to focus on more than thing on the serve will stress you out. Your brain can’t process all that information in such a minute period of time, that’s why Rec players tense up. Spoken as a Rec player.
 

TennisDawg

Professional
If he goes for a flat serve, it goes down and forward. If he goes for topspin, then up. If he goes for the kick, then up and to the right. If for the slice, then horisontally to the right. On this pic, it looks like either a kick serve or a slice, but i might be wrong, i don't think it matters though, to discuss
Why is Federer a lefty in this picture?
 

kramer woodie

Professional
Wow, I am overwhelmed, can't possibly understand what the problem is. The serve is the easiest stroke in tennis. Of course I must admit that my only tennis lesson in life was back in the early 60s. The coach had me throw 150 to 200 beat up wooden racquets over the net without a ball, but using a service full windup and motion, I found it simply simple getting the racquet into the service court over the net.

When the ball was introduce, it was also easy because of good hand to eye coordination to hit the ball at 1:30...12 o'clock...or 11:30 to change the ball's direction. It was easy to hit American Twist, which meant hitting a kicker latter in life was also easy. I managed to have a 110 to 120mph first almost flat serve, but hitting the ball at 1:00 t0 1:30 caused the ball to not only have some topspin, but also some sidespin. Hitting the ball at 11:30 into the ad court caused the ball to kick out to my opponents left. I am right handed.

I think you people think too too MUCH and that is what makes the serve difficult!!!!!

Now I must admit, I don't jump. I learned to serve with the front foot remaining in contact with the court. That was a rule at the time I learned serving. Also, I have to admit, I played baseball from the age of 7 until I was 14, Little League and Pony League, as a pitcher...first baseman...and
shortstop. So throwing sidearm as a shortstop was natural for me. Pitching, I learned to throw a 2 seam fastball, 4 seam fastball, a curve, a really
wicked slider ( threw the ball at the batters head, it broke...curved down from head height to waist height...and curve sideways across the middle of the plate). In fact in pony league, I had 4-5 batters duck forward at the waist and get hit in the head. They went to the hospital because they got their bell rung. A smart batter backs out of the batters box, he does not duck forward over the plater. A close to 13 year old little league pitcher taught me that pitch. I collapsed into the dirt thinking I was going to get hit with the ball, batting against him, hearing the umpire call strike 3 times in a row. My father said afterwards, "you can't hit the ball, if your lying in the dirt". Lesson learned!!! I also learned and used a straight drop, a screwball and a knuckleball.

So, I can say serving came easy to me. Just windup and throw the racquet at the ball, where ever the ball might be, until you can control the toss to go were you want it to go. Relax!!!! Don't think so much!!! Just let it happen!!! Your body is smarter than your brain, it learns quicker!!! The brain comes into play once the service motion become natural and fluid.

Good luck finding your natural fluid motion, then expand on it.

Shalom
 
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