How To Develop A Deep Drop / Loop In The Serve

Aug 09

As you work on your tennis serve, you will very likely spend some time improving the drop behind your back where the racquet makes a loopy movement.

This is where the racquet starts to accelerate, and a deep drop usually translates into a powerful serve, while a shallower drop produces a weaker serve or at least a less efficient one.

To tackle the serve drop problem, I suggest dealing with it from two angles – from the mechanical one, meaning correcting your tennis serve technique, and from the mental one as you may have incorrect interpretation of how the serve works.

The Key Causes For A Shallow Drop On The Serve

Just telling the player that he needs to drop the racquet more as it is not deep enough at the moment is simply trying to fix the consequence, which very rarely works in my experience.

The solution is to figure out the causes for a shallow drop and help the player become aware of them as only then can he make any changes in the motion.

There are two main causes for a shallow drop:

shallow racquet drop on serve

Correcting a shallow drop requires physical and mental exercises

1. Mechanical/technical, which means that the player has not developed the motion with any exercises, so he needs to practice the movement starting with simple exercises and progressing to more complex ones.

2. Mental causes, which can be:

Wanting to hit the ball hard and tensing up in the process, thus not allowing the racquet to drop as the arm is too stiff;

– Having an incorrect mental image of how to direct the ball with the racquet, which means the player imagines a straight line from the racquet through the ball toward the target instead of a more circular motion that creates angular momentum which in turn produces more speed; or

– Wanting to control the serve too much instead of letting go when accelerating the racquet.

If the player is not aware that his mind has incorrect mental images or that he is perhaps controlling the serve too much, then the technique of the serve and especially the drop will not change much despite putting in lots of practice.

Your mind programs the body movement, so we cannot fix the body as if you’re a robot and make it work independently of your mind.

To hit a stroke that has technically correct elements, you will need to have a mental state similar to what a player with a proper stroke technique has.

There is no other way.

So, make sure you examine your beliefs and interpretations of the serve as well as the mental images you have about the tennis serve technique that I explain in the video above or in the second part of this article.

Part 1 – Mechanics: 6 Drills For A Deep Drop And A Fluid Service Motion

The best way to create a deep drop in the serve is to use certain training aids/tools that help you feel the drop and the fluid movement of the arm throughout the loop that happens behind the back.

1. Ball on the string

The ball on the string is a very simple, homemade tool that works wonders in creating a new muscle memory of the service motion in tennis.

You can swing it with a follow-through on your right side or with a follow-through on your left side.

The key is to swing in a continuous motion without any stops or hitches.

If you do make adjustments, the ball will hit you in the body, and that will tell you immediately that you need to adjust.

serve master training aid

Swinging the Serve Master gives you the correct feel for the serve

2. The Serve Master

The Serve Master is a more “professional” version of the ball on a string, but it serves the same purpose – you swing the weight attached to a rubber string that also stretches out as you swing forward.

That gives you the correct feel of the racquet pulling you as opposed to you pushing the racquet through the ball forcefully.

I highly recommend the Serve Master (affiliate link) if you have troubles with a shallow drop on the serve as it will teach you simply by feel without any need for verbal instruction and consequently too much thinking while doing the serve eventually.

You will just ingrain a movement through repetition, and it will translate into your serve – unless you have an incorrect mental image of the serve, which I will address in the second part of this article.

3. Swinging the racquet with three fingers

Once you have swung the ball on the string or the Serve Master, repeat the same movement with the racquet while holding it with only three fingers.

That prevents you from grabbing the racquet too tightly and helps you feel the weight of the racquet which you need to swing around your body.

The key to a correct serve technique or, better said, correct biomechanics of the serve is the principle of angular momentum rather than linear momentum.

Simply said, you want to swing the racquet in a circular motion rather than steering it in a linear motion.

4. Swing with no ball and with a ball

Progress to swinging the racquet in the same way as above once without the ball and simply continue to the next swing where you will toss and hit the ball.

What you will very likely realize is that the serves are different, and this exercise will help you become more aware of the differences.

Your goal is to perform the serve with the ball in the same way (same fluidity, relaxation, and rhythm) as you do without the ball.

Sometimes it may take a few practice sessions before you can do that, so be patient and stick with the progression of drills in this article.

5. The dangling serve

Another way to feel a good drop and how it feels to accelerate upwards from there is a dangling serve where you “dangle” your arm with the racquet behind your back.

Make sure it’s not stiff or pushing against your back. It just needs to dangle and move freely behind your back.

Now imagine pulling your racquet up and forward and throwing it.

These are the key words: pulling and throwing. Hold the racquet very light and allow the racquet head to overtake your arm in the follow-through.

dangling serve drill

Dangle the racquet with a loose arm and “throw” it into the ball

Eventually hit some balls like that and let them fly over the court. You are just working on getting the correct feel for the drop and the main service move, so don’t worry about where the ball goes.

In fact, the further the ball flies and the more effortless you do achieve that, the more correct is your technique.

6. Serve VERY slowly

Your next challenge is to serve as slowly as possible. You may find it challenging to coordinate and time the toss with a slow serve, but it is possible to do that as I demonstrate in the video.

A slow serve has proven very beneficial to becoming very aware of what goes on behind your back and on the way up toward the ball.

The reason for this slow serve drill is to avoid tension. Because you are not accelerating, you are not tensing your arm, and it is very likely that a deep drop will simply happen automatically.

Therefore, you are creating a new muscle memory, a new path in your mind and with your arm that you will use later when you will want to add more power.

Note that every good server will undoubtedly be able to demonstrate to you a very slow serve. A slow movement with proper technique is the foundation of a more powerful movement that retains good form.

Just ask any martial arts warrior practicing karate, kendo, aikido, or any other style. All of them perform movements in slow motion thousands of times in order to automate proper technique.

Part 2 – Mental Game: Three Mind Puzzles To Solve

As I mentioned above, your mind programs the body, so before we fix the body, we also need to check if the programming is correct.

Think about it – whenever you want to do a new movement that has not been automated, you will run it in your mind first, like a little video playing in your mind, and only then will you move your arms or legs in that way.

So, while you see the serve technique on TV or in a video, you cannot feel what the pro feels and you may misinterpret what you see.

And in my experience working with club players for the last 20 years, the programming is almost never correct. 😉

Here are two main mind puzzles that need to be solved in order to unlock your serve :

1. The desire for control and learning to let go

Control and letting go are the exact opposite end of the spectrum.

Hitting a tennis ball into a service box at a good speed is quite a challenging task, especially if you don’t apply a lot of topspin on the ball and you don’t practice the serve regularly.

Because so many recreational tennis players want to play for points before getting a proper foundation of their serve technique, they are forced to do everything in their power to put the ball in; otherwise, they lose the point.

Therefore, a player will shorten the racquet path to the ball, thus producing a shallow drop, and hit the ball straight at fairly low speed instead of swinging freely through the ball.

With lots of playing like that, the movement becomes automatic and subconscious and is difficult to change.

The “desire for control” manifests itself in two main ways:

a) a shallow drop as the racquet path to the ball is very short and that gives you a feeling of control. A deeper drop makes hitting the ball in the service box much more challenging, and if you play for points mostly, it will feel too risky to do that.

b) a tight arm and a forceful pushing motion since you are trying to control the racquet head angle and the path of the racquet which is in the direction of the service box.

So step 1 is to become aware of the “desire for control” and allow yourself to let go in practice sessions and eventually in practice matches, as that will loosen up your arm and body and allow correct tennis serve technique.

You need to be detached from the outcome and not force it. You need to accept that a certain percentage of the serves will not go in and that’s not because you did something wrong but simply because it’s a difficult task as is, for example, scoring a basket in basketball or hitting a hole in golf.

So, swing freely through the ball and keep adjusting based on where the ball lands while retaining that free swing and the mindset of letting go.

2. The mental image of a linear path of the racquet through the ball instead of a more circular one

A straight line from the racquet toward the target area is easy to imagine, and it makes logical sense.

If you want to thread the ball into that small window above the net that guides the ball in the service box, you better hold the racquet tight and make sure it doesn’t change the angle while you are pushing it forward.

When you do that, you will tense up your arm and prevent it from dropping.

You will also just try to bring the racquet behind the ball and then push it forward; therefore, the drop doesn’t really make sense for your mental image.

A proper tennis serve is done in a more circular manner where you try to accelerate the racquet around a circle in order to create a lot of angular speed.

circular serve technique

Linear vs circular path on the serve – CLICK for the video

Therefore, you need as much distance as you can get in order to reach a lot of speed by the time you hit the ball.

And you can find this distance by having a deep drop.

It makes the accuracy of the serve much more challenging; hence, your desire for control may prevent you from swinging that much.

That’s why you need to work on your serve technique a lot without forcing yourself to hit the court.

How To Practice

I suggest you follow the progression of the drills above in part 1 and do them for 10-20 minutes. More than that usually results in mental fatigue, so your efforts to acquire new movements are not that effective.

While you do the technical exercises, also exercise your mind and bring yourself a notch closer from the control end of the spectrum to the letting go part of the spectrum.

Don’t force the drop. It needs to happen simply because you let it. Be patient and enjoy the process!

Leave a Comment:

(48) comments

Aine August 10, 2014

Excellent comments with regards to achieving a relaxed racquet drop whilst serving.
As I am older individual with some shoulder injuries I have have trouble with the racquet drop, nevertheless , all of the elements you describe are very relevant..
I look forward to putting your suggestions into practice from now on.

Many thanks,
Aine

Reply
    Arthur Quinby August 10, 2014

    Love the work! Also love that you bring up the two parts of the serve. The physical and the mental part.

    Couple of questions please.

    1. Three or four fingers? Which ones.

    2. Throw the racquet? Like can I go out into a field and see how far I can throw the racquet? Would that help the feel?

    3.Circle motion? Like having the ball go around in a circle 8 motion?

    4. If you don’t steer the serve, do you use the same mental image in not trying to steer the ground stokes? Just let it go and see what happens? Is the forehand a straight line stroke or a circle?

    Thanks

    Q

    Reply
      Tomaz August 10, 2014

      1. Start with three. Experience what it means not to have control of the racquet. Progress to four, see if you still feel that. Progress to five, retain the feeling.

      2. Exactly. The closest exercise to a real serve is actually throwing the racquet. (upwards, at a 45-75 degree angle)

      3. Yes, the ball in the string shows a circular path so you try and keep that in mind when serving instead of “pushing” the ball forcefully towards the service box.

      4. No, groundstrokes have more steering because the timing is way more difficult. The racquet keeps the plane the same through contact zone while on the serve it changes it more rapidly.

      The forehand is a quarter circle, straight line and another quarter circle.

      Reply
    Jermaine Burchell November 5, 2014

    Perfect instructions, they make all the sense in the word. I am about to do my professional certification, these instructions will definately fine tune my service motion.
    Thanks so much. Feels as if I have my personal coach.
    Jermaine.

    Reply
Bob August 10, 2014

Probably the best 25 minutes of tennis instruction on any aspect of the game that I’ve ever heard. Terrific stuff! Well done!

Reply
    Tomaz August 10, 2014

    Much appreciated, Bob.

    Reply
Jim Henson August 10, 2014

Tell me where to send the check Thomaz!
This one may win an Oscar – Best Instructional Video of the Year.

High Regards,

Jim

Reply
    Tomaz August 10, 2014

    😉 Thanks a lot, Jim. No need for a check, just share through social media and stay in touch!

    Reply
aleksandr August 10, 2014

you is best coach in the net

Reply
saull August 10, 2014

In my experience after someone learns technique, mental aspect usually comes in to first plan. And you perfectly ruled that out.

Exceptional stuff.
clap clap clap

Saull

Reply
    Tomaz August 10, 2014

    Thanks, Saull. I miss the mental aspect in developing technique when I watch instructional videos online – as if people are robots that have programmable limbs and we can somehow make them move in any way we want. But as you look around tennis courts, we don’t really see nice tennis technique…

    Reply
      saull August 10, 2014

      Looking forward for new tips from you !!!

      Reply
Aidan August 10, 2014

great video Tomaz………clear instruction and logical explanations on why the drop is important together with simple drills to make it happen……..excellent coaching………keep it up!

Reply
Aggie August 10, 2014

I agree with the other comments that this is a fantastic video giving real practical mechanical and mental techniques (using ‘feel’) for effectively helping to develop natural serve technique – pretty much like all your other coaching videos which I have found and continue to find incredibly useful. Come and coach in England. Many, many thanks.

Reply
John August 10, 2014

Very, VERY helpful Tomaz. A BIG thank you!
John

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Orlando August 10, 2014

Hello Tomaz:

A very good instructional material. Instead moving the tossing and hitting arms simultaneously, I rather prefer to lag the hitting arm for a fraction of a second. It works fine for me. How to combine the fluid circular motion, which makes a lot of sense, with the lagging of the racquet?

Reply
    Tomaz August 10, 2014

    Hi Orlando,

    The lagging of the arm is fine, you still can do a circular path. See the dangling serve part again in the video where I demonstrate that without tossing the ball.

    Reply
      Kelvin October 7, 2014

      Hi Tomaz, can you suggest ways to feel the correct tossing motion in order to produce very consistent ball tosses that reach the same height every time? Thanks.
      Alan

      Reply
        Tomaz October 16, 2014

        The #1 goal for a proper toss is knowing exactly where above you you want to place the ball. The technique of the toss does not place the ball properly, your intention does.

        So you need to imagine a box up there in the air into which you want to toss the ball.

        Secondly, try tossing while standing paralel to the fence or even in the corner of the fence. That way you’ll see very clearly if the ball starts to go closer or further away from the fence.

        Reply
Mike August 10, 2014

Tomaz, that was the clearest explanation on serve mechanics that I have seen. Well done on producing such a helpful video to show how acceleration of a fluid, circular motion will produce a powerful serve.

Reply
Hunter August 11, 2014

Thank you for the great video, Tomaz! Your videos are by far the most helpful ones I’ve seen.

I have a few questions. Are these exercises only applicable for hitting flat serves? Do I need to have a different mental image or use different exercises to practice hitting topspin serves?

Thanks again,
Hunter

Reply
    Tomaz August 11, 2014

    Thanks, Hunter!

    These exercises develop the fluid acceleration towards the ball and build proper biomechanics of the serve. A top spin tennis serve has the same elements except we approach the ball at an angle, that’s the main difference compared to a flat serve.

    To simplify, for a flat serve you’ll swing at the ball more from behind and for a top spin serve you’ll swing at the ball at a 45 degree angle.

    Reply
Ken August 11, 2014

So diligent, and consistent within framework of your prior modules.

However – your ‘four tennis balls in a plastic bag‘ is a brilliant tool, and so cost effective; why is the ‘Total Serve’ that much better… Swing weight…?

Otherwise I can only suggest to readers/viewers to check out the modules on tossing, ‘shoulder over shoulder’ and pronation…

Tomaz – you are so generous; thank you…

Reply
    Tomaz August 11, 2014

    Hi Ken,

    The balls in the bag nicely relax the wrist but unless you have a really long bag, it doesn’t give you a proper rhythm or backswing path.

    The Serve Master forces you more into correct swing path as it’s longer and “punishes” you sooner for incorrect swings.

    Yes, it’s also heavier and it stretches and that gives you a really good feel of the pull and release at the end.

    Reply
      Ken September 1, 2014

      Just want to add – I bought the ‘serve master’ from Lisa; she was great and I encourage anyone wishing to purchase to buy from her directly at site Tomaz has directed us to.

      Also, she had great things to say about Tomaz; we are very lucky to have his wise teaching and I am, personally, extremely thankful…

      Every aspect of my game has improved, and more importantly, I am enjoying my tennis game more.

      Thank you Tomaz.

      🙂

      Ken Powell

      Reply
Jim August 11, 2014

Excellent! Been working on that issue but have a question about the tossing arm and the need to keep it up which seems to help with the drop.

Is holding the tossing arm high a valid concern with creating a more fluid serve…

Many thanks, Jim

Reply
    Tomaz August 12, 2014

    I personally don’t really feel that a high tossing arm affects the drop. It may only make it look deeper as the shoulders are tilted more but in relation to the shoulder axis the drop is the same.

    A high tossing arm helps you with aligning upwards and then thrusting upwards in that direction to accelerate up to the ball.

    Reply
Jon withee August 12, 2014

Your instructional videos on the serve are absolutely terrific. I’ve purchased other courses but your technical instructions along with feel and motion are far superior. I have used the total serve and it is valuable. As you note, most rec players will alter the movement once the ball comes into play. It takes a lot of time, in my experience to fully change the motion. I have changed from a windmill serve to a partial drop. I am curious if you have any suggestions on how to stay loose or if at some point it will come naturally? It has been a journey for me but i am still working on it. Again, your teaching is unparelled, great job – i love the videos.
Jon

Reply
    Tomaz August 12, 2014

    Hey Jon,

    One of my subscribers emailed me recently saying that for him looseness is 100% mental.

    So definitely very mental but also getting used to nice and easy swinging with the ball on the string, Serve Master or even balls in a sock.

    Anything that starts to change the “forceful linear push” into a “fluid circular swing”.

    Reply
Tony August 12, 2014

Tomaz,
Thanks for the tips! They are very helpful!
But in one of your previous articles, you mentioned in order to create more racquet head speed, you start shoulder turn when racquet starts to drop, which gives me some good feelings on drop the racquet further and it also allows me to time the drop much more precisely. Wondering if you should integrate this tip in this article too?
Tony

Reply
    Tomaz August 12, 2014

    Thanks, Tony. I linked the drill you mention in your post for other readers and hopefully I will integrate all drills soon in one main tennis serve article.

    Reply
Jeff McCalmon August 12, 2014

Tomaz,

As usual, this is GREAT! – Focusing on the Feel!
Maybe you should add it to your Unlock Your Serve program as an update.

THANKS again!

Reply
Darren August 12, 2014

Hi Tomaz,
Brilliant video once again.
My biggest concern with a low racquet drop is that I won’t have enough time to get the racquet head up to the contact point before the ball drops too low. Should I try to toss the ball higher? I videoed my serve a couple of weeks ago. Apart from a shallow drop I also have the waiters tray problem. Should I try to fix that first before I tackle the shallow drop problem? Thanks.

Reply
    Tomaz August 14, 2014

    Hi Darren,

    Thanks for bringing that up as that’s one of the mental challenges I mentioned.

    Make a low racquet drop and experience whether you are really late on the contact point. And if you really are, stick with a deep drop and adjust other parts of your serve – like to coordination of both arms, higher toss, etc.

    Use the swinging drills here with the ball or serve master or balls in the sock and the drills I recommend to correct the waiter’s serve at the same time.

    Reply
Jimmy OuYang August 13, 2014

Excellent video instructions on the drop! I like the part on the racquet pull and circular motion of the serve. Thank you so much.

Reply
shiv raj August 13, 2014

TOMAZ,i am a beginner at the age of 40,i have to learn more and more from you,thanks

Reply
Felix August 13, 2014

Absolutely awesome, Tomaz!!! Congratulations for such an instructional video.

Reply
Khaliq August 14, 2014

Hi Tomaz,
Yet again brilliant instructions on the serve, but I was wondering if you will ever cover the legs, as I hardly use mine and don’t know how to get them involved when serving. When I try the serve is pathetically slow. Any ideas dude.
Thank’s Khaliq

Reply
    Tomaz August 18, 2014

    The best way to activate legs is to make them work. 😉 Wearing something heavy like a backpack, someone pushing you down or being pulled down with a rubber band while trying to serve.

    These are the best ways I know that will help you feel why you need legs. I can’t make you feel legs by writing words. 😉

    Reply
John September 9, 2014

I noticed Serena Williams doing this “move” with her racket at the net prior to the start of her semifinal match. It took me about 20 minutes to learn it. It’s amazingly effective!

Reply
Danny October 6, 2014

Excellent instructions on how to avoid the shallow drop on the serve. It help my serve a lot when you mentioned pulling actions instead of throwing. I also try to imagine someone holding the end of my racquet on the drop and I try to pull it away from his grip. This create a lag and snaps the racquet head forward.

Reply
    Tomaz October 6, 2014

    Very good tip on trying to pull racquet out of someone’s hand, Danny, thanks for sharing.

    Reply
Leonard Harris October 15, 2014

Tomaz, thank you for your excellent series of serve lessons. Once I discovered them, I felt I may have found exactly what I needed.

I’ve been working with shadow swings with good results. My shadow swings are smooth with a palm-down take-back, a good right to left movement over my head, a decent racquet drop, and an acceptable on-edge up swing, pronation and follow through.

I have been videoing myself and am happy with these shadow swings. This is good news. Now here’s the bad news: As you have suggested, once I introduce the ball toss, the pretty shadow swing goes away, and I’m left with my old not-good serve. The racquet head opens up, and although there is still some right to left motion, there is virtually no racquet drop, and minimal on-edge upswing to the ball. Also, the nice whoosh and feel of racquet head acceleration that I feel during the shadow swings completely disappears. Video taping of the real serves clearly shows that the nice shadow swing mechanics just goes completely away — replaced by the same wimpy ineffective serve that I’ve had for years. No matter how many times I replicate the pretty shadow swing, once I introduce the ball toss, I get exactly the same disappointing results. This is not a new problem. I’ve been struggling with the no racquet drop syndrome for years, and have made multiple attempts at fixing it. Frequently I’d think to myself, ooh, now I’ve got it. But video taping shows the same persistent problem. Recently I tried the “pay no attention to where the ball goes” notion, but it still doesn’t work. Once the ball toss is introduced, the pretty shadow swing mechanics completely disappears. It’s just stubborn. As suggested in your videos, I expect that none of this is any surprise.

I have yet to try the “serve very, very slow” technique and will do so. I hope it’s beneficial. I’m at the point of wondering if this will ever be fixed, and if so, what it’s going to take.

Currently a 3.5 club player. 79 years old.

Any ideas?

Lenny

Reply
    Tomaz October 16, 2014

    Thanks for this great feedback, Lenny.

    As for the serve, once you introduce control, it will find the old program which in fact was created based on control.

    I suggest you keep alternating swinging without the ball and then with the ball (serving) and trying to maintain the same swing and not looking where the ball goes.

    Secondly, serve from about 3-4 meters behind the baseline so that you go out of the usual routine. You can also change angles at which you face the court while serving.

    The idea is to “break” the old program by asking your body to produce a serve in different conditions.

    Be patient, take it easy, do not try to hit the ball hard but simply do the swing properly.

    Reply
Dave March 29, 2015

Tomaz, thank you for an unbelievably great video.
I’ve been trying to go through the serve action but it was in hindsight, all too mechanical.
I’d not placed enough importance on the throwing action. I did initially but then forgot about it.
One look at your video and it’s immediately transformed my first and second serve action.
I’m keeping it all slow at the moment and letting it naturally increase in tempo as they continue to consistently drop in.
You’ve transformed my serve action and I’m now going to research your other videos to improve other areas of my game. Thank you.

Reply
    Tomaz March 30, 2015

    You’re very welcome, Dave. Thanks for your feedback. More tennis videos on the way…

    Reply
David August 19, 2015

This guy is superb. He has opened my eyes to why my serve has always been the worst part of my game. I always thought of the serve in a linear way and never circular loopy way. I have already started working on my first racket drop. Today I was shocked at all the free energy I was getting. I was very nervous but I decided to just to be super relax and let gravity do the work. The racket was not dropping as low as the pros but went from my usual head level to maybe Mid-back level. Even that produced much more spin and power. I will need several more weeks of hard practice to really ingrain this and build confidence.
Then we can talk about my lack of pronation. The rest of my serve is pretty solid with the ball toss and trophy position. But the racket drop is often left out too much. Great videos!! David Goldfarb

Reply
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