Lefty Tennis Serve Analysis – Comparison With Feliciano Lopez

Sep 11

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Gerry has contacted me recently to do a tennis serve analysis for him and since he is a lefty, I found a clip of another lefty who in my opinion is one of the most talented servers out there – Feliciano Lopez.

If you want to study the serve in tennis, then make sure you study Feliciano’s fluid and effortless service motion that produces tremendous ball speed without much effort.

Gerry mentioned in his email that he believes that his hand is too far from the head when he is in the trophy position and that this may be the reason why he doesn’t get a good racquet drop.

I suggested that it’s because he activates his arm too early. So take a look at the video below, make sure to pause in the sections where I have added some text and then proceed to my analysis below.

Serve Analysis

Here are my first thoughts after I sent the video to Gerry:

I think your motion is fine. Perhaps you are thinking too much about the trophy position and try to reach it or find it, so you stop to “observe”.

As for your racquet drop, it’s ok. It’s not as Lopez but it’s far from being bad.

Feliciano Lopez serve analysis

A little bit too much rotation away from the court compared to Feliciano Lopez’ serve

The reason why the racquet drop is not deep is because you are activating “strength” too early. I’d say that 90% of the service motion is very comfortable without any straining.

The power comes only at the last moment and it is not through strength but more through pulling and accelerating.

Don’t think “hitting hard”, think “swinging fast and loose” and through the ball, not at the ball. Try the drill with the racquet with no strings.

Swing many many times through the ball and look for comfort and nice speed of the racquet. Do the same with the strings and DON’T aim, just swing through the ball straight.

Also, as I said in my analysis, serve many many serves without aiming into the court. Just serve horizontal, far, and let it go. (perhaps 50-100 per day)

There is too much “aiming” into the court in your serve and it is locked. You create a lot of strength / force before contact but at contact and a moment after your are not swinging any more but rather
you’re stopping and you’re trying to control the face of the racquet so that the ball will go in.

See the video in Unlocking your Mind on how to deal with that. (by this I mean the section in my Serve Unlocked video instruction course)

Gerry replied with his thoughts and I wanted to point out this one:

“You are much move positive about my serve then I. Guess I am so focused on “correct” technique that I do not see some things I do OK. As an example you do not seemed concerned that my racquet hand is set so far back from my head. This surprises me since it limits my racquet head drop.”

And these were my final thoughts on Gerry’s serve:

You mention the racquet hand positioned far away from the head:

Pause this video at 0:17:

You’ll see how far the hand is from the head.

The distance does not create the problem of a “shallow” racquet drop, your tension does. Meaning your feel that you have to hit with the arm.

So when the arm is tense, it won’t “dangle” that deep.

These top pros completely let go of the arm so the arm is swinging around their body as if you were swinging a whip or a lasso.

Only at the last moment they activate the arm, but before that they use momentums to swing it around.

A good angle to see this is from 0:26 onwards here:

The racquet is thrown into the ball, or even better, into the swing and not “pushed” as the feel would be when we want to be strong and “hit hard”.

The key problem for all servers is to re-conciliate between this loose throw which gives us very little control (at first) and the desire to put the ball in.

See, you need to swing thousands of times if not tens of thousands of times to allow your body and brain to figure out how to put the ball in while you’re “just swinging” and not controling the racquet face.

What most club players do is what they have to do – they need to put the ball in. So they sacrifice the free swing for control.

You may think that pros do the same except better, but it’s not so.

I can tell you this because I think I have a good serve and I can tell you from my experience and feels that I don’t do what you do, “except better”.

I do something very different – I throw the racquet with full speed through the ball and let go almost completely. Not completely, but very close.

And because I have been playing volleyball for 16 years I developed a free swing while spiking and training. I also played a lot of tennis where I was not under pressure like playing friendly matches with my friends.

So even though I wanted to win I was still willing to experiment with my serve.

Because of my good swing I would occasionally (maybe in 10%) hit a really good serve and that encouraged me to keep swinging even though I was missing a lot.

Through thousands and thousands of serves the percentage went up to probably 90% on the second serve eventually where I am still swinging almost freely.

I did not sacrifice a free swing for the control – but that’s the main problem I see with club players – hence Serve Unlocked course.

Your serve needs to be unlocked, freed. You need to swing and throw because that motion is natural and inside of you. What is stopping you is the desire to hit the court.

It may seem logical but it won’t work. You can’t develop a good swing if you really really want to hit the ball in the court.

So it’s best to have no targets and just hit many balls and FEEL the connection in your body. Feel the power that goes into the ball while you swing effortlessly.

You first need to find this through lots of free hitting. Once you do, you’ll know what it is.

Then you’ll RETAIN this feel even when you aim into the court and you’ll feel when the control takes over and starts to slow down your arm.

Then you’ll be on the right path to improve your serve even more.

Sure, you can polish the 10-15% technique that is not perfect but that WILL NOT make your serve fly.

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10 comments

  1. Hi Tomaz and Gerry,

    Interesting post! I’ll start off with acknowledging that I agree wholeheartedly with Tomaz’s diagnosis. I also think that all the things that he suggests will help you. I do differ a bit with him on the way forward because I myself suffered from a very disjointed serve (see the link where I chronicle the change). I followed many of Tomaz’s suggestions and they all worked. With regard to Gerry’s serve I see the disjointed part coming out. It seems that the body rotates around the serve rather than up and through the serve. One exercise that Tomaz suggested that really helped me was to serve from the drop. I did this a lot and at times even did it in tournaments. But my sense is that you see all the rotation in the serve and that you don’t conceive of the serve as up and out. Rather than the rotation being a result of your motion you make it the creator of the motion. I had the same problem. In fact, you can see this in later parts of your serve as you try to stay sideways in order to compensate. Serving from the drop should give you some hint about this because it will reduce the rotation. Another thing that worked for me was to imagine that my arm was going from the drop directly to the side fence (not the court). You could imagine that you are trying to throw your racket sideways rather than forward.

    The best suggestion I can give you independently of what particular drill you want to use is to take away parts of your serve. Tomaz suggested that I serve very slow for a while in practice. I have found that if I tried to simply change some part of my serve I would end up messing up some other part of my serve. So rather than fixing my serve I began to try different things in practice. I would serve very slow and then observe which serve felt better and gave me the result I wanted. Over time I realized that certain cues helped.

    So my take is that you need to have a two pronged approach. Part of it is retraining your motor system to produce another serve. The other is to create concepts that will help you to serve better. I use images a lot more now and some of my images I know are incorrect. But they work for me because they get my body to do things better.

    Then film yourself every so often to see if it is getting better. If it is still not there exaggerate the image.

    For example, I no longer imagine myself turning or taking my racket back. In my mind, it goes straight up. I have tried all types of images and serves and none of them work. This one works for me and so I use it.

    My best description is that you have to uncover or find your serve. This will require testing different things and seeing what works and what does not. Then filming yourself over and over again.

    But I’ll two things about Tomaz. His feel based approach is right on the money. The problem is that he is blessed to be a natural server. So I think us less natural servers need some clear cues to the serve in order to help us out. Nothing wrong with it but the cues are necessary in order to communicate with our sensorimotor system in a way that it understands.

    Hope that helps!

    • Arturo. Thanks for your advice. Agree 100% with your comments about image change leading to biomechanical change. In the early stages of applying Tomas’s recommendations. Long way to go. Now, as the ball toss is about to peak, I visualize throwing my hand straight up to sky as loosely as possible, ignoring my left arm. Also, to release tension, I start the serve motion with racquet hand dangling down and gently rocking. Seems to help release tension. Gerry

  2. Tomaz,

    In your analysis of Gerry’s serve, you say “A little bit too much rotation away from the court compared to Feliciano Lopez’ serve.” To my eyes, the problem is specifically too much rotation in Gerry’s lower body. Gerry’s hips/legs are rotated farther around than his shoulders. We can see his kneecaps pointing back towards us, and we can see most of the front of his tennis shorts, even more than the front of his shirt. Compare to Lopez: his knees stay pointed sideways along the baseline and we can only see the side of his shorts, but his shoulders rotate so that we can see most of the front of his shirt (the white line on his chest.) So ideally Gerry would rotate his hips much less while keeping a good shoulder rotation – not more than what the rhythm of his overall motion can handle, but upper body rotation should ideally be more than the hip rotation. This would give Gerry a more powerful coil/uncoil sequence to smoothly transfer more stored energy through his body from his legs through his trunk and into his arm.

    Andrew

    • I’d just like to add that if you look at Sampras serve of Federer serve, you will see a lot of rotation away from the court, similar to what Gerry is doing.

      But a lot of rotation away from the court makes it very difficult to time the stroke and hit the ball clean and also to be accurate with the shot.

      Federer and Sampras can do that because they are extremely gifted, but I don’t recommend this for recreational tennis players because it makes the serve just more difficult.

  3. Andrew. Thanks for your comments. Agree. To much lower body rotation relative to shoulder turn. This comes from my attempt to maximize coil by showing my back to my opponent. Have moved my back left foot further to the left a little during serve set up. Opposite of McEnroe. Has limited my hip rotation a little. What has helped the most is to throw balls against the wall at 50% speed and feel the shoulder rotation or practice doing figure 8 shadow swings in front of a mirror. Have a long way to go but am optimistic. Thanks again. Gerry

    • Tomaz brings up an important point with regard to rotation. The issue of rotation is a complicated one. On the one hand it has the potential to add more power to a serve. On the other hand it complicates timing. Besides being gifted, Federer and especially Sampras are extremely flexible. Sampras shoulder allows him to get into the drop in a way that even Federer cannot. I also suspect that he is able to turn away from the court with his upper body without rotating his feet. I also had the same problem. In trying to get turned away from the court I would rotate my feet because I don’t have the same upper body flexiblity to it the way Sampras does.

      I agree with reducing the rotation on the serve and working on the most minimal serve. I followed Tomaz’s advice and hit many serves very slow. What I found was that my windup began to diminish and as that happened I was able to then add acceleration at different times. Sometimes my timing would go completely off and I would miss the serve or hit it on the same side of the court. Over time it began to correct on its own.

      I don’t want to sound too repetitive but I really think that hitting more up rather than around the ball will help.

      Tomaz’s course will also be a huge help!

  4. Arturo:
    Again, thanks for your input. Tomas’s advice on how to achieve a loose arm, letting it go, visualize hitting up, not getting to hung up on results while practicing this new motion, and accelerating at the right moment, are spot on. One of my tennis acquaintances, Steve Denton, was going 138 MPH in 1983, the biggest of his era on tour. I asked him how. He said show your back to your opponent on the coil. Turns out Sampras and others followed his advice.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Denton
    I’m more concerned about loose arm/hitting up than reducing lower body rotation. As a 65 year old hacker hoping to get to 105 MPH by Christmas. We shall see. Thanks again. Gerry
    Gerry

    • Hi Gerry,

      There are a lot moving parts to the serve. You could experiment with a serve in which you start coiled and then release into the serve. It sounds a little odd but this might allow you to try different amounts of coiling to see which one works best for you. It might be that less coiling helps you in some way. When I look at pros serve I see them turn away from the court but when I try it myself it destroys my timing. So I have started to serve from a more coiled position at the very beginning rather than turning away from the court as I toss. Maybe that would help some.

      Best,

      Arturo

  5. Simon W /

    Great thoughts to take on court. I know my serve is better when I relax and swing naturally. Sadly I can’t always do this in match play.

    • Hi Simon,

      Yes, it’s a tricky thing to bring this free swing into the match.

      The key is to observe how well the serve goes when you swing freely and how many land in. Then also observe how few serves go in and how slow they are when you apply control in the match.

      Then you need to simply lose trust in control because it doesn’t work. Letting go actually produces more serves in (which are also effective) than serving with control.

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