In order to hit fast tennis serves, the hitting arm must move in the optimal biomechanical way. That’s how the muscles inside the body and eventually in the arm will produce the most force with the least amount of effort.
In order to achieve that, the edge of the racquet and therefore the edge of the hand must approach the ball for as long as possible until the pronation takes place.
If the pronation happens too early – meaning the racquet face is opening too early – then some of the energy will be lost and there will also be a loss of control because the forearm and the hand will be under strain.
The following is a very good feel-based exercise that encourages the correct mental image to achieve this effect of delaying the pronation, resulting in a very clean hit of the ball on the serve.
There are three main reasons players open the racquet face early:
1. They think logically, and they do things that make sense.
It’s obvious to anyone that, in order to send the ball somewhere with the racquet, the face of the racquet must get behind the ball as the ball typically leaves the racquet in the direction of where the strings are pointing.
Because this is so obvious, players position the face of the racquet behind the ball.
It’s really hard to imagine approaching the ball with the edge with only a few hundredths of a second to open the racquet face and hit the ball – but that’s what happens in a real quality serve.
2. They learn the flat serve first.
If you learn the flat serve first, you immediately start programming your forearm to pronate early.
You’ll have difficulties learning spin and slice serves.
3.The outcome is much more important to them than the mastery of the stroke.
Most club players play points way too early in their development. When they do, they need to put the ball in when serving.
So, they can control the ball only at low speeds, and they “push” it or “steer” it and therefore open the racquet face early.
Again, they are creating a bad habit that’s hard to correct.
A similar thing happens with juniors where the result is more important than the development of technique.
Serve technique is a very complex set of movements that don’t really make sense until you feel what effect they produce.
Just look at Roger Federer’s serve technique with a slice serve. (the first serve in this clip is the slice serve out wide to the deuce side.)
You’ll see two very strange movements that don’t make sense at all to a “regular” tennis player or a junior who is not spending hours and hours analyzing tennis serve technique in slow motion.
The first one is what this article is all about – and that’s approaching the ball with the racquet’s edge until the last second.
And the second one is pronation outward immediately after the contact where you would expect the racquet to continue curving inward with the forward edge.
But, as you can see, the path of the racquet changes immediately after the contact – in fact, the ball is going out wide to the left and Roger’s arm is going wide to the right!
That’s not something that we have in our experience and most likely not something you’ll do by yourself unless you study slow motion videos of top servers in tennis.
I always start teaching a tennis serve from the left side of the court aiming toward the ad side, and I always start teaching the slice / spin serve first.
That way, I achieve very early the approach to the ball with the edge, and I don’t have problems later with the “waiter’s serve“.
Serving to the ad side helps because the ball’s path is not so different to the racquet’s path, whereas if you serve to the deuce side , the angle between these two paths is much bigger therefore they tend to orient too early towards the court to feel more in control – but in the process don’t hit the ball cleanly.
Practicing the serve to the ad side also helps the player learn – mostly unaware – not to orient too early towards the court, to hit the ball with some rotation (even flat serves of top pros have tons of rpms), to align sideways related to the direction of where they want to serve, and to have a very comfortable swing path that allows for effortless acceleration of the racquet.
Once those things are in place, it’s not that difficult to work on a more flat serve when needed.
(All videos and images were taken from the FuzzyYellowBalls Youtube channel – thanks, Will.)