Why is the serve so hard?

badmice2

Rookie
Serve is the hardest shot because you there's no one to blame when you make miss :D

the misconception that the serve is a throw motion is partly wrong, especially since throwing motion is meant for you to follow through forward and down, whereas tennis serve follow through is typically up, foward, and then down.

If anything, throwing motion over a tall fence is a better mimic of the serve. A good thing to try is to use a baseball (hard ball) or a football, get relatively close to the fence at the tennis court, and from a serving stance throw the ball over the fence. Your arm's swing path should be up and out. Work on releasing the ball "side ways", creating spin or spiral on the ball like a football throw.

Another exercise you can do is to grab a tube sock, load it up with 2 or 3 tennis balls; grabbing the open end, from your serve position, throw the sock over over the net like a serve; swing path is up and out. If you throw it like a baseball pitcher, the sock will go straight to the ground.
 

user92626

Legend
Serve is the hardest shot because you there's no one to blame when you make miss :D

the misconception that the serve is a throw motion is partly wrong, especially since throwing motion is meant for you to follow through forward and down, whereas tennis serve follow through is typically up, foward, and then down.
It's interesting how you differentiate the serve from throwing by the upward motion.

Don't know if you can picture this, but this upward part can be achieved by sticking the racket head upward and the arm pronating. The arm is still going pretty much forward almost thru out the swing but by the way the racket aligns and pronated, the racket will be going up.




Observe Fed's arm swings forward and extends. From picture 2 to the rest which is still quite a way to go, his arm is virtually NOT going up anymore but the racket still is. Eh?

 

user92626

Legend
Personally the thing that caused me most confusion and years wasted was the concept of hitting up.

Look at this way, the serve is loaded and unloaded into the ball is much similar to the FH stroke, except the serve is done vertically which is a lot tougher. No?

With the FH, do you really intend to swing the racket toward the rightmost point (for righties)? No. You load and extend your arm, but intend to swing the racket forward (at the target). The racket tip will go around the body and extend to the farthest right point by the wrist and extension and, well, physics.

Likewise, the serve is also that you load and extend your arm/reach up, but you intend to swing forward more or less. The racket head goes to the highest point by the wrist and pronation action, like the FH.




 
One issue for the serve is that 99%+ of the videos are from ground level cameras or those slightly above. There are very few videos from the overhead camera view. All cameras take 2D images of 3D space. The components of object motion up or down in a frame or side to side in a frame are reasonably well shown. But the component of object motion toward or away from the camera is shrunken in the video. It is the same for our eye.

In the picture below, the camera is not above the server but it is high enough and shows the large angles that exist in a high level serve. These angles would show more accurately from the above camera view or from a camera on the ground looking up. Unfortunately, there are not many videos from cameras placed above or below high level servers.

There is a very strong and unfortunate tendency to describe tennis strokes in, say , three words that are easy to remember, for example, 'hit up and out' on the tennis serve. The definition of the word 'hit' is left to the reader. Does 'hit' apply to the racket head or the hand? Does 'hit' apply to the path of the hand or racket head? Does it apply only to the 4 milliseconds of impact or to the path of the hand or racket? Near impact or farther away? High speed videos show all this information but because of the 2D image vs 3D space issue, described above, it takes careful selection of camera angles and interpretation to see what is going on. Just forget about any accuracy using the three word descriptions of sub-motions of tennis strokes, like hit up and out. In the picture below, notice that the racket is moving in relative to the hand path, but still out relative to the ball's trajectory. What do readers understand from 3 words?

This picture, from an elevated camera viewing along the plane of the curved hand path, shows some very large angles. These angles are often completely left out of discussions that try to describe complex 3D motions in a few words. These easy-to-remember words act as traps, wrong turns in the road, that cause the serve to be misunderstood and many of its most important sub-motions to be hidden. I missed ISR for 35 years and the majority of active tennis players are missing it now. Tennis researchers missed it until 1995. The Tennis Serve Nuthouse.

In the picture below there are several angles:
1) ball trajectory, (I tend to think that this is the best reference direction for other angle measurements.)
2) the path of the hand is roughly circular and the plane containing that circle is at a significant angle to the ball's trajectory.
3) the path of the center of the racket head just before and after impact. ~45 d. to ball trajectory?
4) the path of the racket head overall cannot be described with any simple words because it includes significant rotation from internal shoulder rotation (ISR).
5) the angle on the face of the racket relative to the ball's trajectory at impact is another independent variable. It changes rapidly from ISR and will affect the side-to-side placement more than the simplified path of the racket head, 3) above.
6) the angle of the hand and wrist (extended for slice and flat, kick?) ) for impact for each grip variation. Relative to what? Forearm?
7) there are many other angles at instants during the service motion.

The short word descriptions can't describe sub-motions of the serve. A high speed video is the best description available short of motion capture systems.

Slice serve.


I believe that these angles and paths are developed by the server by practice and feel. But when these angles are not there in the high level technique and cannot be confirmed by videos, sometimes with checkpoints, this is one reason why the serve is so hard. Or rather, these features are rarely observed for feedback and the serve won't work without them.

The picture below shows all the angles present but from a side view camera. But this view camera make the serve look much more 2 dimensional with height and forward direction shown well but the direction away from the camera is shrunken.s


It looks like a simple forward swing. But there is always a clue, look at #2 and #3 carefully. The racket appears shorter in #3 than #2. Why? Because the dimension away from the camera is shrunken and the racket is angled away from the camera, so the racket appears shorter. Gussie Moran was using a high level technique in the 1950s for her ISR approach to the ball. The #2 vs #3 apparent racket lengths and the racket head orientations shown here, including racket edge on to the ball, is actually a swing path of the racket head very similar to the first picture.

If you have a different serving technique, you are completely on your own developing that serving technique and have basically no references or videos for how to do it. Most important today is the Waiter's Tray technique, that the majority of active tennis players are using. The Waiter's Tray serve leaves out internal shoulder rotation (ISR) and so the observed angles will be different. I have never seen a Waiter's Tray serve from the above camera view. I expect that the racket head shows little rotation approaching the ball and that the angle between the racket path and ball trajectory is smaller. There would be other differences.

When you look at high level serves from the same camera angles, while it is still difficult to measure angles, seeing differences is something that anyone can do.

Fuzzy Yellow Balls has videos from above for Frank Salazar's serves, for kick, flat and slice serves. ( Toly's great composite pictures of these serves may have their links recently stopped by Tinypics or Photobucket. ) ?
 
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time_fly

Hall of Fame
What makes the serve so hard for you to learn?
The serve is a complex motion using the whole body and it’s counter-intuitive. The intuitive serve which many self-taught players use is the frying-pan serve. A real serve is much more complex.

I think the serve is one of the biggest barriers to moving beyond recreational hitting and into playing real tennis. How much would the popularity of baseball drop with kids if each of the starting 9 players in a game was required to pitch an inning? At least once you get out to 60 feet, it’s clear that many otherwise very good players aren’t cut out to be pitchers. But in tennis, everyone is a server.
 

fuzz nation

G.O.A.T.
You're correct that I think it would be counter-productive to literally work on one skill at a time.



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.
When teaching this or that, something I've ripped off from reading Vic Braden is the idea of giving a student what he liked to call a "license to miss". When developing players are working on a new move or different technique, his pitch was that it's important for them to feel free to make a bit of a mess. When they understand that they pretty much have to spray some balls around to grow accustomed to using a different swing, new grip, etc., they're much less prone to frustration as they learn it.

Braden also wrote about managing our expectations. If a student expects an adjustment to yield an immediate improvement, they'll be disappointed too often when they see the opposite result, right? I usually try to coax those expectations into reasonable territory and point out how short-term setbacks are perfectly normal while learning the long-term improvements. Sometimes screwing things up is a good thing, but developing players might keep at it when they understand this.

When I sometimes work on a really basic serve with a beginner, the very first thing I like to try to dial in is a comfortable motion without even swinging at a ball. This means a comfortable tempo and no funky contortions. When that's sorted out, we start working on consistent contact using that comfortable motion, but directing the ball to a target is not an issue yet. All I want them to do initially is just hit it... with a decent move.

Too many compromises in the fundamental swing can happen when a beginner tries to steer the ball toward the box and they can't build a decent motion doing that. With the license to miss, they can give the ball a ride toward who-cares-where as they're learning the nuts 'n bolts that they need for a consistent service motion. After that, dialing in some serving accuracy is usually about figuring out a proper toss location.

Just some thoughts (y)
 

user92626

Legend
@Chas Tennis

Excellent post! I got your meanings about the limit of videos and our problems of interpreting what we (limitedly) can see.

Well, ultimately anything and everything we see, hear, receive from coaches, videos, or any external sources still have to be processed internally by ourselves only. In other words you only have yourself to depend on!

But as external sources we can do our best to convey facts, even sometimes we fail miserably. :)

Looking at the x-ray like photo, to me it looks much more like a forward attempt swing than an upward and out one. Look at from #3 to #6 where the ball contact takes place, the racket pretty much goes forward.

If you look at #2 and before #2, you can say the swing is about upward!!!

I don't know, but where (use the numbers for reference) should we intend our swing?

Using the FH stroke for illustration, I focus and intend my swing as a almost-linear forward and up action around the ball (1 foot before the ball and 1 foot after the ball window). I can't pay attention or intend my hitting at the racket drop point or the follow-through.
 

TheIntrovert

Hall of Fame
Because you overthink a small overanalyse it. This whole forum is prone to that. No good player learnt the serve by looking at freeze frames and trying to emulate every single racket position. Hmm. So federer in 0.5seconds sets the racket at a precise angle of 23.7 degrees which then changes to 32 degrees by 0.7 seconds after the ball reaches its zenith. I must replicate it exactly.
Start off learning how every kid does. Start off your racket in trophy position already and go from there. Do repetitions of that until you can consistently get the ball in and where you want it to go, both regarding the ball toss, and the end product. Then add the full motion. Then add the legs.
Any junior doesn’t practice tennis and get better by looking at freeze frames and other unnecessary sh*t. They practice. So why don’t you?
 
Because you overthink a small overanalyse it. This whole forum is prone to that. No good player learnt the serve by looking at freeze frames and trying to emulate every single racket position. Hmm. So federer in 0.5seconds sets the racket at a precise angle of 23.7 degrees which then changes to 32 degrees by 0.7 seconds after the ball reaches its zenith. I must replicate it exactly.
Start off learning how every kid does. Start off your racket in trophy position already and go from there. Do repetitions of that until you can consistently get the ball in and where you want it to go, both regarding the ball toss, and the end product. Then add the full motion. Then add the legs.
Any junior doesn’t practice tennis and get better by looking at freeze frames and other unnecessary sh*t. They practice. So why don’t you?
"So federer in 0.5seconds sets the racket at a precise angle of 23.7 degrees which then changes to 32 degrees by 0.7 seconds after the ball reaches its zenith. I must replicate it exactly."

That looks like something that you thought up. A Strawman argument is one where the one presenting the argument makes up a position that was never made, an exaggerated argument maybe ridiculous, and then trashes the argument. But nobody ever made the argument. Why don't you directly quote what was said? And who said it.

Some angles and times are very useful for comparing strokes and especially for feedback on what is being done. Video angles are usually inaccurate unless the camera angle is just right. But who has said how they are used while learning or performing strokes? I can see things are different in tennis strokes and like to have some idea of the angles, positions and times.

It is often said on the forum that 'you don't have to think about XYZ when hitting a stroke'. Has anyone on the forum ever said that 'you have to think about XYZ while performing a tennis stroke'? The forum has an army of Strawmen..... A tennis stroke lasts about 1 second and the body has 600 muscles and I believe that a person has one verbal or visual conscious channel. I don't understand movement and conscious thought.
 
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Dragy

Hall of Fame
Any junior doesn’t practice tennis and get better by looking at freeze frames and other unnecessary sh*t. They practice. So why don’t you?
No, a junior didn’t look at freeze frames. His coach did. And even more, a world-renown coach did who did a lecture which a kid’s coach attended to improve his knowledge and understanding.
 

user92626

Legend
Because you overthink a small overanalyse it. This whole forum is prone to that. No good player learnt the serve by looking at freeze frames and trying to emulate every single racket position. Hmm. So federer in 0.5seconds sets the racket at a precise angle of 23.7 degrees which then changes to 32 degrees by 0.7 seconds after the ball reaches its zenith. I must replicate it exactly.
Start off learning how every kid does. Start off your racket in trophy position already and go from there. Do repetitions of that until you can consistently get the ball in and where you want it to go, both regarding the ball toss, and the end product. Then add the full motion. Then add the legs.
Any junior doesn’t practice tennis and get better by looking at freeze frames and other unnecessary sh*t. They practice. So why don’t you?


Well, I don't do "a precise angle of 23.7 degrees" type of freeze frame or analysis so you're not necessarily posting to me, but just curious.


(The bold part). Is that not a type of freeze frame that you advocate learners do? :) Albeit just a lot more vague.

Come to think of this, we need a middle to this, not too vague but not overkill with details. :)
 

Dim Sim

Rookie
Nick at Intuitive Tennis is very persuasive that there’s no point trying to control the motion beyond the initiation of the takeback (till the point just before the apex of the trophy pose). After that point things happen too fast and rely on too many body segments interacting. His view is that correct initiation and tempo will get you there after sufficient reps and that trying to exert consious control through the acceleration phase will choke your serve, which I agree with. Worth a look if it’s messing with your head.

How many balls are you hitting in practice? Most rec players have lousy serves and the don’t practice them beyond the 20 or so they’d do in a group lesson occasionally.
 

user92626

Legend
Nick at Intuitive Tennis is very persuasive that there’s no point trying to control the motion beyond the initiation of the takeback (till the point just before the apex of the trophy pose). After that point things happen too fast and rely on too many body segments interacting. His view is that correct initiation and tempo will get you there after sufficient reps and that trying to exert consious control through the acceleration phase will choke your serve, which I agree with. Worth a look if it’s messing with your head.
I will look up Nick video, but
For practice and learning purposes you certainly can slow down your serve.

In other words the serve doesn't have to be hit at blinding speed that you can't register anything, right?

It helps me alot to know the form checkpoints, kinda like static poses, and the intentions of how to get there.

For instance, keep a Federer's contact pose in my mind and try to achieve it. But I need to know the swing intent to get there.
 

TennisDawg

Professional
I’ve tried practicing the serve after analyzing freeze frames of Federer and other elite player. It doesn’t work for me. I find that trying to incorporate all these details is too much. Realistically, very few Rec players will ever learn a pro level serve. I try to focus only on the toss and hit and staying calm, just let your body hit the ball and quiet the critical judgmental part of the brain. I also accept that my serve will have some quirks, but for a recreational player I think it’s pretty good. I can get good pace and can hit the flat, slice, TS and kick serve.
 

user92626

Legend
Paging @Chas Tennis and anyone who's interested,

Do you think the waiter tray serve problem can be addressed by knowing where on the ball to contact? Essentially contact the top half of the ball.

If you open the racket face to the sky, it'll be very hard to contact the top of the ball.


See the contact points of all serves are at the top, ie above the ball equator.

 
Paging @Chas Tennis and anyone who's interested,

Do you think the waiter tray serve problem can be addressed by knowing where on the ball to contact? Essentially contact the top half of the ball.

If you open the racket face to the sky, it'll be very hard to contact the top of the ball.


See the contact points of all serves are at the top, ie above the ball equator.

I think the Waiter's Tray will show the racket path closer in the direction of the ball's trajectory than for the racket path of the high level serve. Racket path is the path of the center of the head. Also, for a WT the racket face will not change much in azimuth as it moves forward. It will change much more for a serve with ISR. The above things show better with a camera above the server.

For now, I believe the simple contact points on the ball as presented in Technical Tennis by Rod Cross and Lindsey. Get the book. So far it matches the observations that I've compared.

1) I don't deal with impact, too complicated.
2) Below is discussing mostly racket orientation just before first contact with the ball.

If the racket shaft appears about vertical from a camera view and you are viewing it edge on, typical side view of flat or slice serves, the ball has to be first contacted near the line between the top half of the ball and the bottom half. Get your racket and a ball and try it out. The racket shaft is not actually vertical at impact, it tilts to the left side, but it appears vertical from approximately the side camera view for the slice and flat serves. I have observed that neither open or closed racket shaft on most high level flat and slice serves at impact. For the kick serve the racket shaft will tilt, about, say 10-15 degrees closed. I have observed that for a few kick serves. For the flat and slice serves, the red spots that you show - if first contact - would appear very near the line around the ball dividing the top half from the bottom half. How far above the line can be determined by how closed the racket shaft is. Take a ball and racket and try it. If the racket shaft appears near vertical from the side view it's touching the ball between the top and bottom halves, so close that you will not see the spot as high or low on the ball. For the kick serve the first contact is farther up into the top half of the ball, but not far up.

I've spelled out how to video a kick serve so that the closed racket shaft can be seen. See thread Junior Twist Serve
You need a kick serve and high speed video @240 fps or more and small motion blur. You have to move into the court on the sideline until you catch the closest racket edge blocking the far racket edge (camera viewing parallel to the strings). Position the camera until one edge blocks the other at impact. Best to first hold up a racket and and move around to get an idea of where you have to be.
 
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Nostradamus

Bionic Poster
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)
serve isn't hard. it is hard only if you think it is hard and you have very very poor mechanics. but you can develop fluid service motion in short time like 2 month at most.
 

Dim Sim

Rookie
“In other words the serve doesn't have to be hit at blinding speed that you can't register anything, right?”

That’s right, slowing the tempo helps with learning. You’ll make it harder by increasing power and tempo until you start getting repeatable results and it feels comfortable. The intuitive tennis material advocates using a slow tempo when learning (ie the whole motion and not selectively slowing individual segments): the point about not trying to exert conscious control during the acceleration phase Is that by doing so your movement will be forced and it will throw off your timing.
 
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