Elbows on the Serve

The following is yet another attempt to “keep it simple”

Notice the following:

  • The toss appears to PEAK within the contact area – which years ago was the norm
  • The tossing arm begins parallel with the baseline
  • As he turns away his elbow is bent and well “back”
  • As he unwinds the elbow travels up and into the hit
  • At the top of the action his arm appears to slow as the racquet head speeds up

I highly encourage you to use the same camera angle to view and compare your own service delivery

Note – this camera angle is meant to show how the server moves up and into the ball, almost as though serving from within a cylinder – “corkscrew down and then corkscrew up and out”

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12 Comments

  • 15Lgut

    Reply Reply January 6, 2020

    Jim, Glad to see you back!
    I have been fooling with my service motion since about 2015! Finally settled on much of the conclusions which were pretty much what you suggested.
    I am currently using the old fashioned, full backswing of up – down – up, where the tossing hand and the racquet hand move together. My change to this is to make the tossing hand and the RACQUET HEAD move together. This eliminates the too-early, high toss. The goal is to make it appear as if you were hitting the serve out of your tossing hand. Hit the ball on the way up!
    I have youtube of Kevin Curren serving this way against Goran Ivanisovich at Wimbledon. It bothers the receiver because it seems like your opponent is quick-serving.
    Comments about Andy Roddick moving straight up into the ball rather than forward. I found some old video of Jack Kramer hitting his serve moving straight up, and also using a “low” toss. Pretty big serve.
    Bill Tilden would combine all this with twirling the racquet like an Indian Club. (For us, a tennis ball placed in an old sock would have the same effect).
    Sincerely,
    Steve Kan

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply January 7, 2020

      Steve – thanks, and somehow the Bryan Brothers have an action similar to Kevin Curren, and of course another was Roscoe Tanner
      best
      Jim

  • Adrian G Sahlean

    Reply Reply December 12, 2019

    Jim, excellent video, as usual. You could add a comment that the ‘back scratch’ is a result of the racquet trailing behind. One of the respondents (Clay) mentioned the back scratch as essential but what I see is lots of players trying to PLACE it there 🙂 – which of course destroys any rhythm. I like the corkscrew down and up! Best, Adrian

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 12, 2019

      Adrian – actually I avoid the word “back scratch” and prefer something like a “leading elbow” but for sure it has to happen on its own and not be “manually” performed – in so many ways our language may be accurate but the pictures the language creates may have unintended consequences (sorry if that was wordy) – best Jim

  • Fred Dobbs

    Reply Reply December 11, 2019

    Im an older player – once a D-1 college player with “old fashioned strokes.” Attempting to convert my strokes to the modern game never quite worked. Your “elbow first” video finally enabled me to hit the “modern forehand” consistently with both accuracy and power. Thank you!!!!!

    I always used a service motion with the elbow similar to your video, but I have a very strong and flexible wrist and I still pronate and snap my wrist instead of the Sampras style elbow snap you describe. I am 70+ and still have a radar timed 110+mph flat serve. I just can’t break the muscle memory of too may years – same with a two handed backhand – I could fly before I could make it work. All that aside I have enjoyed and adapted a lot of your ideas that have improved my game and enjoyment.

    Thanks for your tipsl!

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 11, 2019

      Fred – these are impressive speed numbers for your age – I am your age and played D-1 as well and am not even close (perhaps never was) to your speeds – that said Pmac (in the demo video) can crack the serve though we have not measured it. I do appreciate your note – thanks
      best
      Jim

  • Clay Stiles

    Reply Reply December 11, 2019

    I would add one more thing. If you are not using a camera in your instruction, you are failing your students. You can talk all day, but until they understand and see what they are actually doing for a particular shot, your instruction will not sink in.

  • Clay Stiles

    Reply Reply December 11, 2019

    Appreciate the video. I do believe the back scratch motion is a good description of the action required – if you back scratch as depicted on the video.
    Doug Smith gave me an important tip on the serve. He said that your practice should be to serve the first serve long if you are going to miss. No dumping it in the bottom of the net. THen the action on the second serve is to change the motion only such that you impart more spin to the same action. More back scratch.

    • Ian Campbell

      Reply Reply December 12, 2019

      Totally agree with balance and rhythm plus relaxation perhaps? Breathing out through impact.
      Video work on serve so important yes!
      Keeping the unbelievably complicated serve simple is the art of teaching/ coaching it in my view.
      And that’s what you do so well Jim
      Happy hols!

    • Clay Stiles

      Reply Reply January 14, 2020

      In teaching women to serve, the toss is one of the more difficult things for them to grasp. I finally decided on the pushing the ball up a pipe as the analogy. The ball is held in the palm – or on the finger tips and the action is to lift a ball straight up and into the pipe. When trying to gauge where to start that toss, I often resort to having them tap the knee of the forward leg as they start the push up the pipe. That seems to work for the very worst ball tossers. I want to tell Maria Sharipova that!

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply January 14, 2020

        Clay – the equal if not greater challenge is whether the player (any age or gender) can throw the ball overhand with some rhythm and style – Jim

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