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Coaches Corner - tip of the month

MARCH, 2012:

BENDING THE SERVE IN

Jak Beardsworth Tennis - Learn to bend in your serveLearning this skill is exactly where many club players, even aspiring higher ones, stall-out, and their serve literally flat-lines permanently. Very limiting.

If you’re still one of those players who serves exclusively flat on 1st serve after playing for a few years or more, and you tentatively tap in your 2nd serve meekly without any spin – advantage receiver, it’s well past the time you should learn to bend-it-in.

Long ago, or if you’re relatively new to the game, you settled on a serving grip that either is or closely resembles your forehand grip. It’s a grip that on serve squares the face of the racket to the ball at impact. This results in imparting little spin to assist gravity in bringing the ball down – when the air pressure above the ball becomes enhanced with the ball rotating 15 to 20 to 25 times per second - into a relatively small service box that’s in close proximity to the net barrier. Not much margin for error available there for a ball struck flat with pace but lacking rotation.

That means the viable pass-through-space immediately above the net is very small and unforgiving on a first serve, and then, as a result of a typically low 1st serve percentage among these players, promotes the “chicken-little” puff-ball, fluff-a-nutter second serve which should be reserved for beginners and novices only!

Here’s how you can graduate to spin in one practice session completely by yourself. Whatever your existing flat serve grip currently is rotate the racket in your hand 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch to the right. Voila. This will create a slightly – all that’s needed - angular racket face at impact causing the ball to rotate through the air and give gravity a boost.
Bend it like Beckham! Different sport same goal.

You will immediately see a change in the ball’s in-flight trajectory from the previous laser beam like flight to one that slightly curves right to left and arcs downward as well. Just visualize those great graphics utilized by the Hawkeye line calling replay technology that’s now commonplace in televised tennis. That’s what you’re visualizing.

In the beginning stages of its development, the ball will go left of the intended target and into the net. This will necessitate literally aiming “wrong” – over compensating by visualizing the target being to right of the actual intended target and by aiming considerably higher over the net than previously – until the neuromuscular magic has a chance to adapt. Your brain is smarter than you are. Let it happen.

Once settled-in you can begin to alter your toss, and possibly your grip still further, to gain either more “rainbow” trajectory – the bending spin serve, or greater right-to-left movement with reduced arc – a slice or slider, or a combo platter of the two. A useful rule of thumb regarding toss location to achieve placement in the box is: left creates right, right creates left. Placing your toss both closer to you and to the left will force you to “hit-up” on the ball at approximately the 1:00 side of the ball (seemingly over), while to the right, yet still in front like a “flattie” toss will allow you to hit more “around” the 2:00 side of the ball. 

Jak Beardsworth Tennin-Bending In Your ServeThis will require some solitary practice time – fun to me! But players often fall short on this necessity and then complicate matters by prematurely introducing their new bender or slice exclusively on second serve. Yup, you guessed it, the double faults come in bunches and the technique is quickly abandoned as undoable and impractical. And the giving-up on it begins.

When first unveiling it – in a friendly! – use the technique on 1st serve only. The pressures off and you can swing freely and begin to create a new muscle memory. The percentages will eventually come up a bit and, on 2nd serve, you can still get the ball in play just as you have previously.

In time, again with practice, your success on 1st serve will improve dramatically, at which time you can then begin to use your new bender-slice appropriately in 2nd serve situations and go back to your “big” 1st serve and live happily ever after.

Maintaining the same racket head speed utilized on a 1st serve is crucial when learning to spin-bend-slice the ball in on the 2nd. This will create greater ball rotation to clear the net safely and bring the ball into the service box, not to mention unconflicted muscle memory.

Remember what tennis legend and founder of the pro tours as we know them today Jack Kramer said, which rings absolutely true: “You’re only as good as your 2nd serve.” So learn an effective one with spin.


Questions and comments are welcome at anytime for all tips present and past via email.

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