The Serve Pronation Technique And 7 Drills To Learn It

Jun 24

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The pronation in a tennis serve is the key move that produces a lot of power if you time it right and do it right.

Yet, learning how to pronate is often times a very challenging task.

The following 7 drills and additional tips will help you develop a proper pronation and improve your overall tennis serve technique.

Why Is It So Hard To Pronate Properly?

There are two main reasons why the pronation is such a challenge: having old muscle memory from serving with the forehand grip and therefore performing the so-called “waiter’s serve” and the desire to control and not being able to let go.

tennis serve with control

The desire for control causes “waiter’s serve”, tense muscles and other technical mistakes

I’ve shared more reasons in the waiter’s serve article, so here I just want to mention the desire for control.

Control and letting go are, of course, at the opposite ends of the spectrum; the more you want control, the less you will let go.

While it makes logical sense to try to hit the court when you work on your serve, this desire is the BIGGEST OBSTACLE to improving your serve.

Hitting the service box is actually very difficult as soon as the ball travels with some decent speed as the window above the net through which you need to “thread” the ball is fairly small.

Because you either consciously or subconsciously know that, you try to steer the ball into that small window and therefore you exert a lot of control.

The “control” approach to serving causes these effects:

  • The waiter’s serve as early opening of the racquet face gives you that security that you will surely hit the ball on the strings and be able to steer it into the target.
  • You approach the ball with the “pushing” way of creating force which slows down your racquet at contact (obviously as you want more control)
  • You think or feel that you need to hit the ball hard and consequently contract many muscles in your arm, which actually makes your arm move slower through the service motion.

On the other hand, the “letting go” approach causes these effects:

  • You will approach the ball on the edge for most of the service motion and properly pronate just before contact as you are not forcefully aligning the strings to the ball but allowing your arm to do it naturally.
  • You approach the ball with the “throwing” way of creating force where you accelerate gradually and comfortably.
  • You think about creating speed of the racquet, which makes your arm relax through the service motion and effortlessly accelerate.

The most important point to take from this comparison is this: you absolutely need to practice your serve technique and NOT aim in the court.

tennis serve pronation

Practice your serve technique often by letting go and NOT aiming in the court

That will ensure that you can let go and finally feel what it means to serve effortlessly.

First, you need to develop an effortless serve that goes ANYWHERE before you can develop an effortless serve that goes SOMEWHERE.

This is so critical for developing the proper serve technique with pronation that I will probably mention it too many times here, but it is that important.

Think speed, not hard. Let go, don’t control.

The final question in your mind is probably this: how will I eventually control the ball if I keep letting go?

You will learn to control the ball in another way – not by consciously steering your racquet but through lots of repetition and storing in your memory the serve that happens to hit the court.

At first, when you let go, the balls will go all over the place, but occasionally you will hit the court.

Now you need to find that serve again, but you’ll still need to keep letting go. Do no control it now.

And with repetition, there will be more and more lucky serves landing in until you reach the point when you won’t be lucky, yet you’ll still be letting go almost completely.

In my experience, the first serve is 95% of letting go and 5% of direction control, and the second serve is 80% of letting go and 20% of control.

That’s the only way for me to describe how I personally feel the ratio on my serves between letting go and control.

7 Drills To Develop Correct Pronation

1. Throw balls and let go
If you throw the ball with your hand and want to throw it far, you will most likely accelerate very naturally and pronate your forearm.

Throwing some balls often will help you develop pronation very naturally.

If you currently serve with the »waiter’s tray« technique, try throwing a ball like that so you can feel how stiff that feels and how that type of movement doesn’t create much speed.

2. Lead with the edge, pronate, and follow-through behind your back
Perform this exercise without the ball and move your racquet slowly. By doing the follow-through behind your back, you will feel how you need to rotate your forearm and pronate it.

Important tip: Most players pronate too consciously and actually do it too early. Your arm will naturally pronate if you keep extending your arm.

Only once you feel the pronation start happening should you add some power to it.

3. Lead with the edge, pronate, and follow-through in front of your body
Make sure that the racquet path when you lead with the edge and pronate is not forward related to your body but at an angle, roughly around 45 degrees.

Important tip: Do not orient too early toward the court. In fact, did you know that at contact the body is not facing the court?

4. Serve with slice toward the ad court and pronate well after the contact
Because pronation on the serve happens so often way too early and creates early opening of the racquet face, we need to counter that by pronating too late.

Once you feel what it means to pronate too early and what it means to pronate too late, you’ll find the right timing much faster.

Perform this exercise very slowly at first so that the ball you hit won’t fly over the net.

Lead with the edge, hit the ball with slice slowly, and pronate after the contact.

pronate late when serving

Pronating “too late” will help you find the right timing of pronation much faster

After some serves like that, start pronating with less and less delay after the contact so that eventually you will hit the ball with slice but also with some power.

You will feel when you time it correctly as the ball will have slice and speed.

isolating pronation in the serve

Isolate the pronation by not rotating your body

5. Serve without the body rotation and isolate the pronation
This drill is similar to the one above, but this time you try to hit the ball flat. Make sure you don’t rotate your body and keep facing the net post.

Imagine the path of the racquet which first goes straight toward the ball leading with the edge and, just before reaching it, changes abruptly and goes toward the court.

This second part and change of direction you’ll do only with your forearm that pronates and pushes the racquet toward the target.

6. Smack the ball in the ground
Start with the racquet above your shoulder, facing the ball with the edge. Drop the ball and hit it on the bounce and follow-through on the same side.

Start the motion nice and smooth, not forcefully, and only add some power just before contact.

If you do it correctly, your elbow will be pushed back up as the racquet face accelerates downward.

Do not push down with your elbow or try to hit the ball very forcefully as this is merely a technical exercise.

There are different drills to develop more power on the serve.

7. Hit the ball backwards
This is a similar drill to the previous one except that now you hit the ball backwards after a few bounces and again follow-through on the same side.

This again forces you to pronate and feel how to perform this move quite effortlessly.

The Role Of The Index Finger

The index finger is very important if you want to perform the pronation in a tennis serve correctly.

tennis serve grip

Note the position of the index finger

That’s because you will push the racquet face outward with the base of the index finger and also with the index finger itself.

If the index finger is not positioned correctly on the racquet, you won’t feel the leverage you can create. In other words, you won’t have much power to pronate.

Try this: Imagine pointing with your index finger toward the target at the end of your pronation.

Do not point with your body toward the target but use your index finger.

Perform all drills in this article slowly at first so that you are completely aware of what goes on during the pronation.

This part of the tennis serve is hard to correct because it normally happens very fast, so it’s crucial that you slow it down at first when working on your serve as that will help you feel and see whether you’re on the right track or not.

Only when you perform the drills correctly at low speed can you start to gradually increase speed.

Again, do not worry about hitting the court. Focus on correct pronation technique and let the ball fly.

In time, you will find a way to perform a tennis serve correctly and hit the court with high probability.

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30 comments

  1. Excellent post Tomaz, the drill ‘isolation of the pronation’ is IMO a bit to challenging for beginners, maybe if they sit or lie down, then the isolation of the pronation is naturally without controling the rest of the body….

    • Tomaz /

      Good point, Walter. What I do is that I stand where they look at beginning and tell them to keep facing me and looking at me after the contact so that they have a reference point. Works fine.

  2. young hoon park /

    This is just what I need. Really appreciate for your help!!

  3. Richard Mills ' /

    Thanks so much Tomaz! Great break down of the role of pronation in the serve. One is likely to be more prone to pronation ,at least mentally, just by viewing this video. :).

    ( tip: keep those sunglasses off when you can for instruction, as the eye contact makes for a more powerful video lesson and connection with the student, even if half way around the world)

  4. Khaled Hegazy /

    Great Tomaz, that is really the natural way for the body to serve the ball, and gradually by training the acceleration will be increased until the individual flexibility limit for every one, isn’t it!

    Thank’s
    Khaled Hegazy

  5. Henri TOFFOLI /

    What about overhead? Is pronation functioning in the same way than in serve? Thanks for your answer

    • Tomaz /

      Yes, Henri, it works the same way. There is just much less follow-through on the smash as you need to get ready quickly for the possible next ball and you’re also many times in difficult positions so you need to shorten all the “long levers” that could pull you off balance.

  6. Woody /

    Great!! It’s great help for me. Thanks a lot.
    One more question.
    How does index finger help for serve direction ? Does index finger direction indicate service direction?

    • Tomaz /

      When you “point” with index finger after the contact towards the target, you will automatically pronate without thinking about your forearm.

      It just a tip you can use and see if it clicks for you.

  7. Rotor Ron /

    Yes Amazing Tomaz you explain pronation in such a way I FEEL Tennis and will continue to watch your amazing teaching of tennis..Thanks Again Ron Vancouver Canada.

  8. Double Fault Walt /

    Thank you. Most useful standalone walkthrough I have seen yet on the “snap” (Your others were still the best before). Your exaggeration of the supination (prior to pronation) helped me to finally see its source and benefit. Need to get that wind-up first to achieve most effective pronation. Helped me see the wind-up generalization from/to other strokes (forehand, backhand). Extra new drills too…yum yum!

  9. aleksandr /

    Комментарий TOMAZ THANK YOU VERY MUCH

  10. Very useful article Thomaz, thanks! I felt very inspired to see on YouTube how NFL Superstar quarterback Drew Brees throws the perfect spiral. Did you see this video? It’s about attaining maximum repeatability of movement – and BTW the role of index finger :-) With great respect, Misha/ Denmark

    • Tomaz /

      Thanks! Yes, I saw the video. And I am quite sure he would have developed a great tennis serve without much instruction!

  11. Frank Ramsey /

    Awesome demo and explanation! Obviously, the whole idea is to relax, trust, and let go. It’s so natural when throwing a ball, but when a racket is in hand, everything tends to tighten-up as we try to force (control) the strings toward the target. Wish I had had you for a coach many years ago (serve was always my Achilles heel). You have a great way of teaching, explaining, and demonstrating in such a relaxed, natural way. Keep it up. Love you video lessons. The best!

    • Tomaz /

      Thanks, Frank. Letting go won’t happen if want to hit the court though so that’s the tricky part.

      You need to hit some serves – perhaps 20-30 every session – where you don’t aim in the court…

  12. Jim Anderson /

    Related question: How does pronation relate to “topspin” or “kick serves” — where the server is brushing-up on the ball. Are these “spin” serves entirely different from pronation?

  13. Martin /

    Brilliant Thomas.
    To me it made klick when I threw the ball. So the serve is like throwing a ball.
    I started practicing your drills.
    Thank you.

  14. Jim Anderson /

    If I follow you correctly, pronation occurs “naturally” once your serving arm gets extended. If so, your point-of-ball-contact should come with an extended arm. Right? I guess many rec players hit serves early (before their arms are extended). Right/wrong?

    • Tomaz /

      Correct Jim. They may also extend their arm but have a low contact point and therefore do not get into the shoulder over shoulder position and rather keep their shoulders more level.

      But keep in mind that there still remains an angle between the arm and the hand / racquet at contact – even when the arm is completely extended.

  15. Patrick /

    The explanation, demonstration, exercises, and tips on pronation with respect to the serve (and which should be applied to the overhead as well)is the most revealing of serve lessons. With gratitude, Patrick

  16. Petko /

    Hi Tomaz!
    I tried everything on the court and the pronation occured! Thanks! I play tennis from many years and know that service must be hit with wrist at the last moment but it was difficult to do. And I did it very with control and thinking about moving of the wrist. But now, after your lessons Tomaz the moving of the wrist is very fast and natural. Thanks again! And some more! I think that I hit forehand with pronation. But how to be sure? Which is the mark for that?
    All the best for You!
    Petko.

  17. Tomaz,
    Thanks very much for your tips for the serve. I have a question to ask you, it is about how to raise the hitting elbow to the shoulder level and keep it there until the arm get up to hit the ball. I think many people have a hard time with that motion.
    Event among the pros, there are so many ways that they use to raise the elbow, and some of them look awkward and/or funny, and some of them use abbreviated backswing, like Andy Roddick.
    But yours looks really smooth and effortless, how do you do it ? How do you raise the hitting elbow smoothly in a relaxed way ?

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Dan,

      The most natural way to move your elbow is to imagine and feel that you are throwing the racquet.

      Try with an old racquet that you can throw on a lawn or somewhere safe and just throw it straight first. Just horizontal, paralel to the ground.

      After a few throws, throw it more upward, while keeping the same fluid motion. That should move your elbow correctly – and unconsciously, no need to think about it.

      • Tomas,
        thanks so much for answering my question so fast. I certainly will give it a try.

        Dan

  18. HiTomaz,
    excellent explanation, as always.

    I have discovered that I have a tendency to block the shoulder muscles at the impact with the ball, and this prevents me from letting go of the arm and pronate smoothly.

    Do you have an exercise or any suggestion to correct this issue?

    Someone suggests to inhale before and exhale while hit the ball to find the maximum suppleness.

    Thank you.

    Tib

    • Tomaz /

      Hi Tib,

      I suggest you do a serve without the ball and just make the racquet “swoosh” through the contact point and then repeat with the ball. Also, don’t aim too much, just hit through the ball as if it’s just air. It mostly is. ;)

  19. Bogdan /

    i like very match the way you teach, good working there. how do you advice to teach my son 6 years old, for a good serve?(some drills maybe). i heard slice or side spinn serve is the best aproach for beginner.(sorry for my english)

    • Tomaz /

      Thanks, Bogdan.

      I suggest you do a lot of ball throwing and possibly racquet throwing with your son to develop kinetic chain.

      And yes, I prefer to start teaching the slice serve to the ad side first and then progress to a flatter serve in time.

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