ETI 010 | The Pete Sampras Snap

    Learn the secret that unlocks the power of the Pete Sampras serve – call it forearm rotation

    But first, experiment at the net before putting it into your own service delivery.

    At the net put your forearm at the net level and parallel to the net strap, with the racquet head at right angles to your forearm.

    Now practice quickly turning your hand and wrist such that the racquet head snaps forcefully against the net strap.

    Take your time, keep experimenting – and once this feels somewhat natural – toss up a few (rather than tossing down a few) and see how it feels on the serve.

    You may be pleasantly surprised!

    123 Comments

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    • David

      Reply Reply November 25, 2011

      Hello Jim
      Thanks for the video, it really helps to my serve.
      After i trained my server just like the way in the video, my shoulder(deltoid) get pain.
      Then i check the pronation move without holding the racquet,shoulder still hurts.
      Is this pain usually happen or anything i did wrong ?

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 25, 2011

        David – you must have done this wrong – but shoulder issues can occur when the grip is incorrect, the toss too far forward, the swing too muscular, or preexisting injuries – so I recommend you not perform this motion
        JIm

    • Joe Mott

      Reply Reply November 24, 2011

      this was great. I am interested in your “Building the Serve from the Ground Up”. Is there a cost?
      Joe

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 24, 2011

        Joe
        – thanks for the note – and yes there is a full product stream I am selling on the serve, groundstrokes and more – you can access it all from the top nav bar of the essentialtennisinstruction.com homepage
        Jim

    • Joe Partain

      Reply Reply November 24, 2011

      I don’t think there needs to be anything different in the “Sampras serve” on the first or second serve other than ball toss. If I toss the first serve in front of me about a foot then my wrist and forearm pronate/rotate more and the resulting racquet angle puts less spin on the ball resulting in hitting a flatter, more powerful serve. On the second serve, if I toss the ball directly over my head, I cannot pronate as much and because of ball location at impact the racquet angle puts more spin on the ball and not as much power. To demonstrate this, go to the fence and stand about a foot away from it and go through the motion of the Sampras serve to simulate where you would contact your first serve, Next stand almost at the fence and do the same thing to simulate where you would contact your second serve. The differnce of ball contact point is obvious although you have changed nothing about your serve; i.e. you still use the same racquet speed and forearm/wrist rotation. There are other advantages to this service motion 1) you only have one service motion to learn and timing is better 2) your second serve will have more pace 3) it is easy on the arm and shoulder. One further point, I use an extreme eastern backhand grip which I think facilitates this sevice motion making it very auto-mechancial and therefore very consistent.

    • Dylan

      Reply Reply November 22, 2011

      Dear Jim,

      thank you very much for posting up this instruction video. It did gave me something to think about as I’ve reviewed quite a bit of the service mechanics of professionals.

      I was wondering if this forearm rotation translate to more “punch” in the service and is more suitable for a service that is intended to be more flat than topspin or slice?

      Hope to hear from you, thank you!

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 22, 2011

        Dylan – a version of this is used in all serves – but with subtle racquet face or swing path adjustments – that is where the art comes in – consider a stroke review where I look at your motion – and or check out our product stream for yours is a detailed question
        Jim

    • Francisco Barahona

      Reply Reply November 22, 2011

      Jim
      There is a counter-intuitive part: At the end Pete’s racket is facing to his right. When I tried to imitate Pete, all serves went to the right, even if I was trying to serve to the left. After thinking a little harder I realized that the hand has to be a bit ahead of the ball at contact, then and only then the racquet will face left at contact, and the ball will go left even if after the follow through the racquet will face to the right. It is basic Physics, others might call it common sense. I imagine that many people do not realize that. It must be one of the reasons why most of us do not look like Pete when we serve.

      I think that I can do it in a flat serve. My question is how to incorporate this in a kick serve. I imagine that first I have to brush the back of the ball, and then at some point I have to leave the arm pointing up so that the racquet accelerates and the forearm rotates. As Vic Braden says:” when one segment stops, the next segment accelerates.” In Physics they call it conservation of angular momentum.
      Any other tip on how to incorporate this in a kick serve?

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 22, 2011

        Francisco – good call or catch on having the hand slightly in front of the racquet for the ball to go left – consider an extreme eastern backhand grip on your spin or kick serve – yes about conservation of angular momentum – I am trying to find a physical principle for kicking it – still working on that
        Jim

    • Azar

      Reply Reply November 22, 2011

      Jim, … great video you have to give a broad insight about playing tennis like a professional, I will practice to improve my tennis game is right. The way you gave that explanation incredible. thank you

    • Dan

      Reply Reply November 22, 2011

      Thanks,Jim! After watching this video about the “Sampras Snap”, I just realized that I have been using this service motion for years without even realizing that I was doing something that much different than other players. As I was developing my serve over the years, I don’t believe that I consciously tried to emulate Sampras, McEnroe or the others. Perhaps, this motion came to me as naturally as it did for them. If so, I’m in good company! Thanks, again!

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 22, 2011

        Dan – you are fortunate, some players come to this without really “knowing” but at the end of the day the game is about the doing – and sounds like you have been and are doing well
        best
        Jim

    • Jeff Edmondson

      Reply Reply November 22, 2011

      Best tennis tip I have ever seen!

    • Ron

      Reply Reply November 22, 2011

      Question on keeping elbow back on kick serve…how do you recommend developing a new habit?

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 22, 2011

        Ron – replacing habits, changing one to replace another is difficult, consider a stroke review so I could see your action – then it is easier for me to get involved – though the short answer is to move the toss less in front
        Jim

    • Ron

      Reply Reply November 22, 2011

      Jim:
      I’m getting the same lateral epicondyle pain in my elbow from unscrewing bulb action
      ice and Motrin helps

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 22, 2011

        Ron – if it hurts do not do it – you may have something seriously wrong with your elbow or a previous injury that is prone to recurrence
        Jim

    • Daniel Brown

      Reply Reply November 22, 2011

      Thanks for one of the best explanations ever on the serve! I recently took a serve lesson and got nothing from it. Your video allowed me to improve my serve and hit with confidence. I’m a solid 4.0 player and I went out and served six 40 love games!

    • Phil

      Reply Reply November 22, 2011

      I have been playing around with this for a few days having seen you mention it (I think earlier). I would add that once you have the concept you can get the action by hitting the serve by driving the butt cap at the ball (as strange as that sounds) rather than thinking about hitting the tennis ball.

      I also find that what you do with your non-hitting hand is very important (I can see you have this nailed too, Jim).

      Last night I played a set of singles for the first time in ages (I mostly play doubles). My first service game was my old-style serve, I lost it to 15. Then I remembered what I’d been working on and put it into action. My opponent, who was solid enough but not a great player, couldn’t control the ball at all. If a return did come in the court it was sitting up to be hit. It was a fantastic feeling.

      I now just have that nagging concern that I’ll forget my new serve before I get to use it again on Thursday!!!

    • gregg

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Thanks for a new way to demonstrate and explain this service motion. I’m going to share it with my students this week.

    • Kenny Wong UPSTR Professional

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Another other option to reinforce this outstanding tip is to throw a baseball. The motion is the same and there will be a gross lack of control and velocity if you squeeze the baseball when throwing. Martin Hassner also has made a great discovery about practicing this concept on the court.

      I have my students stand with their feet together while hitting serves and practicing the technique described.

      And if you think this technique won’t provide you with the increased power and velocity that you seek, hit a few serves like this with your other hand. I am naturally right handed but can pop a pretty good serve holding the racquet in my left hand.

    • rene banaag

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      is it the same as pronation? or they are just the same only it was done with a snap? learning from you streams a lot. thank you..

    • Jack

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Great and simple and clear tip, Jim!

      Many thanks!

    • Candido

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      How do you apply the forearm roll you demonstrated for a slice serve or a spin serve? For the slice serve, do you do the forearm roll after you brush the side of the ball to hit a slice?

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        Candido – that truly is the art of the serve – look down in this comment stream and another commented on how Federer rolls his arm this way to create different spins and to different targets – we have an extensive product stream, and even the chance for you to do a stroke review – in the meantime there are many more podcasts to come
        Jim

    • John

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Hi Jim…. Watched the vid a few times & am a little confused – I thought it was impossible to hit a direct ‘flat serve’ that would travel in a straight line from one’s racquet then fall into the opposite service box Unless a person was about 10 feet tall plus full arm extension. This motion looks like it is being hit ‘down on’ the ball, not like ‘throwing your racquet head at the side (ish) of the ball’ then letting your wrist flow into a conventional pronation … I can understand this motion for a Overhead closer to the net – but from the baseline I would have to see the whole serve beginning to end in slowmo .. just my thoughts …

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        John – sorry we dont have the bandwidth to put slo mo in the podcasts – but keep trying to feel this – for certainly I made it look like Sampras and he is hitting up and not down on the ball
        Jim

    • Keith

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Thanks for the tip!

      I’m definately trying that tomorrow at practice. Having struggled to generate meaningful power to my flat serve since taking up the game 4 months ago, hopefully this technique will unlock my ability to generate some pop to my 1st serve 🙂

    • Bogdan

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Dear Jim,
      Understood the bulb un-screw movement.
      I already have some pain in the elbow (from too much tennis or from some incorect strokes)

      And this bulb unscrew gives evon more pain to my elbow 🙂

      Does this mean that i am doing it wrong? :-)Would you have an advise about tennis elbow?
      will it go away at some point or can it easily get worse?
      I am playing with a light racquet 285 g.

      Bogdan from Romania

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        Bogdan – if it hurts then you should not do it – perhaps you have a chronic problem with the elbow – generally this is a light motion – but if it hurts then take some time off from tennis – and or get

    • Stan

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Hello Jim,
      In one of your first lessons about a year ago, I emailed you asking if you didn’t think that Sampras’ follow-through was not across the body but on the same (right) side and that’s what made his serve so good (and different). Your response was, “not really.” Look at the picture of Pete you sent out. He’s leaning to the left to get out of the way of his right-sided racquet follow-through.Agree?
      Stan

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        Stan – that picture is taken right after the snapping hit – but truly his arm and racquet do now “flow” past his right leg – the motion decelerates quickly, but with his shoulder rotation to get him into a position to run to the net, that shoulder action does cause the racquet to move more left than right on the finish
        Jim

    • Martin Hassner

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      worked on this at 8 am today with my playing partner.
      tried it this way: no movement of the body…no dipping of the legs…no thought of trophy position.
      just stood still…tossed lower but high enough to have to hit up and not through the ball (lower right shoulder to keep away from the R.C. pinch) hit up, kept the racquet face on edge until the last moment, rotated the forearm and wrist and got more power than I’ve ever seen. My partner, a much heavier hand than mine, got more power consistently than he’s ever gotten.
      No jumping, no knee action, no body rotation, no leaping up and into the court to land on front foot…
      none of it. Just stand, toss, hit up and rotate at contact…BANG.
      some observations:the key is the rotation exactly at contact and the looser the arm, the more obvious the Sampras look at completion….we’ll film next week and send it along.

    • Bob Woods

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Excellent point! Never head of this before!

    • Ronald

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Excellent tip!

    • Joel R.

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Wow! This is really an eye opener, especially for me. I am a senior player who has had wrist surgery. I have difficulty snapping my wrist. I have been using shoulder and forearm but have not had the snap. I’ll practice this.

      Thanks

    • robert

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Never 2 old to learn a new trick, thanks, will try this wk, if I get this down is the tour next?

    • arlene

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Hi Jim,
      Thanks for your insight. I’ve always admired Sampras’ serve, however, making the transference to my particulars, I thought I was doing it similarly, not so.
      That little “heads-up” at the finish is the missing puzzle link! The video’s are helpful to me since I’m a visual learner! You can write all you want,seeing is more effective for me. Thanks for the video spot.

    • Sam

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Hi Jim,
      I’m in Morgan Hill, just south of San Jose, only 20 minute drive away from Los Altos Hills. It’s going to be a beautiful day for playing tennis today. I can’t complain too much about rainy weather…I could be in Seattle (where my wife works).

    • Hector

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      thanks alot:D, very helpful tip 🙂

    • kendal mcphee

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      a very good tip i will go ahead and try this thanks jim

    • Chavdar

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      You are right Jim and a player can do this on a “flat” serve.
      But how do you apply this technique on a topspin serve? May-be it will be a “wrist snap” up or something between up and forward?

      Warm regards,

      Chavdar

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        Chavdar – that is the “art” of the serve – depends on the racquet face angle and the swing path – we have a full suite of products on all of this –
        Jim
        PS look through the comments to see what Sam wrote about this re Federer – it may help you

    • Jim

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Interesting progression in the art of the serve. I felt I was missing something since my attempts based on your previous videos were inconsistent but promising. My guess is now that I was moving and swinging my arm too much versus utilizing the Sampras Snap motion. I’ll definitely try it in tomorrow’s match. Thanks!

    • John Newton

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      A million dollar tip!

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        Great – where do I send the invoice – and can you pay in cash (hope you are smiling!!) – thanks
        Jim

    • Leroux Patrick

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Hello Jim, at what stage of the serve learning process would recommend to a coach to start teaching this stuff? Is that forearm twist essential on kick serves mostly? Thanks, Patrick.

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        LP – good question, they should have a good overhand throwing motion, and some fluidity in the serve – at least intermediate if not approaching advanced level
        Jim

    • Denys

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Amazing!
      I didn’t miss a first serve for two games and I barely knew what I was doing.
      It really takes the pressure off the wrist and shoulder. And you feel you can hit down on the ball. Change the grip slightly and you get a wicked slice. Power comes without effort.
      Of course once I started thinking about it I missed some. It seems that you need to get the arm and racket in a slightly different place just before the hit to allow the rotation to come at the right angle. Can you give any help on where to place the racket just before contact? Or mental visualisation?
      Thanks for a wonderful swing thought.
      PS Is the forehand also a forearm rotation rather than a wrist snap?

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        Denys – I do not recommend this on the forehand – that is an entirely different type of stroke
        Jim

    • Michaël D.

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Very interesting. I am french and i don’t understand all yours previous videos, but this one is probably more comprehensible and easier to apply
      Thank you !

    • fsilber

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      I would be sure to mention that the feel when you do this should be loose and whippy. If you squeeze the racket hard and do that forearm roll in a stiff and forceful way, you’ll end up with a sore elbow.

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        Frank – absolutely, and if you squeeze and try to hard this can also stress the shoulder
        Jim

    • muir mackean

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Jim, this is an excellent insight – I spend a lot of time trying to persuade beginners to go from a waiter’s tray/frying pan serve (eastern forehand grip) to chopper grip, and it is difficult to come up with clinching arguments to get them to change, that don’t blind them with obscure biomechanics. But it is physically impossible to do the Sampras Snap in an Eastern Forehand grip, so I can easily show that without using a chopper grip, they will never get the racquet head speed they need to develope a serve with spin and penetration. Thanks.

    • Marcus Wyatt

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Hi Jim,

      This was one of the things I was struggling with forever. Funny, that after Saturday’s game where I was serving abismally, I went to my home court, set on sorting out serving issues. I’ve always struggled with power on my serves. So I decided to try and figure out how the forearm turn really worked. Since in the MTKS2 you said power is generated with the arm turn.

      So what I did was to put the racket behind my back, toss the ball up and try to hit up with the forearm turn at the ball contact. And to my surprise, the first time I did it right, it felt so natural and the ball went in. I was quite surprised. I thought it must have been a fluke. So I tried again and again the ball went in. I must admit its more like a flat serve than a kick. But the important bit for me is that my success ratio’s changed. I’m now missing maybe 2-4 out of every 20 serves. Where before I was maybe making 6-8 out of 20.

      At this point I’m a very happy tennis player. So much so, that on Sunday I was back at the court practicing (just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming). I then tried to increase racquet head speed with some really awesome results kicking the serve. The one thing I still need to work on is Toss consistency. Get the toss right and with the new racquet swing/arm turn action I can get very good kick, but alas, the toss is very inconsistent. So next for me is to keep practicing the Toss. The torn in my side since I started playing tennis.

      Cheers,
      Marcus

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        Marcus – slow down your tossing motion, release the ball at eye level, toss lower than normal (a little) and swing continuously – think of serving tall without tossing overly high
        Jim

    • Vipm

      Reply Reply November 21, 2011

      Since I play badminton as well as tennis, the ‘Pete Sampras snap’ is actually the regular badminton snap used for all overhead shots: smash, clear, etc. In badminton, at the arm level, the overhead shot is started with the elbow leading the way, then at impact, the elbow locks, then the forearm snaps in, then the wrist snaps in, then the whole arm continuous on to the follow-through up and away and across the body.

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        Vipm – thanks for the note, nearly all of my teaching materials on the serve came from my work with a college tennis coach who had been on the international badminton circuit with Ken Davidson many many years ago – my son and I played badminton when he was very young, I always hit the shuttlecock high and over his head – and his clear became his serve which is now truly amazing
        best
        Jim
        At some point upload your serve to Youtube I would like to see it

    • Sam

      Reply Reply November 20, 2011

      Hi Jim,
      Thank you for yet another great podcast. I have been watching slow motion videos of Roger Federer on “flat, slice, and kick serves, and I see that he does rotate his right forearm on all of them. It looks like the amount of spin and direction simply depends on what happens at the point of ball contact, meaning which direction the racquet face is moving (up, or up and to the right) and how much (or little) brushing is done. I think the forearm rotation adds speed to the racquet head regardless of which type of serve is being performed. But it amazes me how fast Fed can rotate the arm and still be able to hit a ball at the right instant. I get dizzy just following his racquet head movement, even when done in slow motion (lol). Now that the rain has moved out of the Bay Area for 2-3 days, I will be back out practicing again…

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 21, 2011

        Sam – where are you in the Bay Area – I am in Los Altos Hills
        Jim

    • Laurent

      Reply Reply November 20, 2011

      Do you use this with second when you are for more control then power ?
      I anderstand more this video then telling Time
      Thanks

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 20, 2011

        Laurent – you can use a version of this on all serves but varying the contact from glancing to flat is the art of the serve
        Jim

    • Vitaly

      Reply Reply November 20, 2011

      Hi Jim,

      The root cause of the forearm rotation you described is the forearm rotation in opposite direction behind his back. He is not bringing his right arm to the trophy position. The trophy position is passed during this unique continuous rotation of the forearm behind his back. This rotation helps him to keep his wrist relaxed since he is not directing the head of the tennis racket down like everybody else who was instructed to bring it down by the conscious effort. Instead, this forearm rotation allows the head of the tennis racket to drop down by itself resulting in the initiation of the elbow move up. Nothing is forced it is just happening.

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 20, 2011

        Vitaly – right on about nothing being forced – but this action eludes many many players
        Jim

    • Lee

      Reply Reply November 20, 2011

      aloha Jim,
      my son has been playing for a few years…he is right handed and constantly hitting his left shin on the serve…any ideas? I might have to have him start wearing shin guards. thanks Lee

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 20, 2011

        Lee – hard to say without seeing this (you might consider a stroke review) but if the racquet head snaps sometimes that acceleration carries down to the left shin – but generally that should not happen – might be he doesn’t fully turn his shoulders on the follow thru, also might mean he has too much arm speed in the follow thru – but the serve is so darn important have him stay with it – and if looking for a coach – not all coaches are equally adept at coaching this – ask around in your neck of the woods to find the “specialist”
        Jim

    • Shripathi Kamath

      Reply Reply November 20, 2011

      This I like. Because you demonstrated exactly the sequence. Now I can go and work on it, and if I do not get it right, I can come back check to see what I am supposed to do.

      I know I am successful when I do it right. But without knowing what I need to do I cannot be successful, nor can I correct myself.

      This is is in sharp contrast to your kick serve instruction where you show how to brush, and how to snap, but not when to transition from brushing to snapping in the stroke. I can practice all I want, if I do not know when to make that transition I can only get it right by accident.

      Thank you.

    • Eduardo

      Reply Reply November 20, 2011

      Excellent analysis

    • Martin Hassner

      Reply Reply November 20, 2011

      ah…another great piece about the ultimate forearm-turn..
      but whatever happened to the new subscription series on the kick serve?
      Have I miss it?..I know you had some big plans…
      but I remember an early November date…
      could I have missed it?

      Best regards
      Martin

    • DrC

      Reply Reply November 20, 2011

      Jim,
      Very interesting. I have seen that forearm position often with Sampras’s serve and wondered about its significance. After your presentation, you convince me that it is something that I should try to incorporate into my service motion.
      Thanks for the insight

    • Fernando

      Reply Reply November 20, 2011

      Jim, i think i am serving without this forearm rotation, as if i would hit the ball with the palm of my hand. i will try tomorrow this tip on the tennis court to see the difference on the serve.

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 20, 2011

        Fernando – most do not do it this way – take your time at the net on the snapping first and keep me posted
        Jim

    • Peter Bernhardt

      Reply Reply November 20, 2011

      Also known as forearm pronation.

      • Jim McLennan

        Reply Reply November 20, 2011

        Pete – yes and no, everyone calls it pronation, and the wrist is implied in this, but genuinely I believe prone and pronation suggest something that is either down or moving down – so yes you are right but my own interpretation is about snap, about rotation, about whip, and at the end of the day about hitting up rather than down on the ball
        Jim

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