Using Your Legs on the Serve – does jumping help?

Okay – the game keeps changing.  The racquets, the training, the speed of the game, and yes for sure the technique.

Once it was common, and even a rule, that the server would have to keep one foot on the ground during the delivery.  Then the rule was changed (though I am not sure when and think it was the late 1960’s) enabling the servers to hit the ball when off the ground.

The photo of Kei Nishikori now appears common – nearly all the servers are well up and off the ground.

The dialogue from coaches concerns whether this adds power to the delivery, or perhaps it has more to do with the angle of projection – meaning the height at which the ball is contacted.

 

 

 

 

Now, as ever, my age shows – for as a young student we learned to serve by standing in a grocery box.  Our coach Blackie Jones was teaching us about balance, serving on center and the importance of an accurate toss .

And from that era Pancho Gonzalez kept his feet on the ground and his delivery was more about continuous rhythm and though his legs were used – the modern excessive knee bend was no where to be seen.

My hunch these days is that coaches are able to emphasize the legs because they are large and easily observed, whereas the hitting action is a blur and it is hard to clearly see whether the server is whipping or pushing the racquet during impact.  And for better or worse there are quite a few examples on the WTA tour and even a few on the ATP tour who push the racquet head.  Yes they can still hit big first serves, but the limits of this type of delivery shows clearly on their second serves.

 

So in my work with students, and especially tournament juniors I see many examples of significant leg drive but lack of racquet speed and action on the hit.  And the kids are asked to do the following drill.  You can try this as well.

From the baseline can you hit 5 serves in a row with all the following three requirements ?

  • Hit all serves with sidespin (or topspin if that is your preference) – develops a leading elbow
  • All serves must cross the net – means to swing up not forward or down
  • Do not step across the baseline as you follow through – clarifies balance

Enjoy the following clip – and I believe it showcases a “different” approach to the serve

Rather than a massive knee bend, rather than hurling himself forward (ala Andy Murray), rather than an effortful grunt (ala Novak Djokovic) ……

Roger’s serves on Balance, with Rhythm, and Effortlessly – and your goal (one of these days) is to do the same and reinvent your serve using these same keys – B R E-

 

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9 Comments

  • Noushin

    Reply Reply October 27, 2018

    Many thanks for sharing your invaluable experience and knowledge.

  • Rhees Blewett

    Reply Reply October 15, 2018

    gday Jim,

    I’m constantly looking to improve pace, consistency and serve accuracy – surely by not using the leg drive – you’re sacrificing kinetic energy and relying more on racquet head speed for pace – no doubt taller players get to see more of the box so the higher we can hit from – the bigger the target. Jumping at the serve seems very logical – especially for a serve / volleyer – provides greater momentum (mass x speed) which should translate to more power – No doubt that rhythm is a major component and the set-up / toss needs to be repeatable to produce the same result. I’m always looking to go up and forward to meet the ball and land inside the court which gets you onto your toes and ready to move. I’ve seen guys with a platform stance that are slower to get to a shorter ball.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply October 16, 2018

      Rhees – this was just a point of view to show that yes the legs matter and yes most are jumping, but certainly some create pretty good racquet speed without the jump (Wawrinka) but said another way I believe there are “flawed” serving mechanics as the arm approaches the ball that are using the legs. Jim

  • robert g davis

    Reply Reply August 25, 2018

    I think the question is confusing because one doesn’t “jump” to hit the ball but rather the jump is a result of the upward swing and how high the contact point is. The more you bent your legs during your motion the higher the contact point which gives you more margin for error. I am not sure if it gives you more speed but I am sure someone has tested this? Have you?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply September 2, 2018

      Robert – I haven’t tested this – but my intent is to show that often those who serve with less of a whip action try and make up for it with an extreme leg drive – for me the serve is about a whip like throwing action – legs are somehow secondary
      best
      Jim

  • Shmuel Goldberg

    Reply Reply August 22, 2018

    Personally, I can see no necessity for a jump. It looks to me that the jump is not intentional. It is caused by a lifting force that applies on the player’s body during the serve. This force is a result of cetrifugal forces applied on players body due to circular movements in the vertical plane, movements of different player’s body elements and of the racket, that constitute a serve.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 22, 2018

      Shmuel – I always enjoy your comments – on this one my hunch is that the leg drive in some instances is now overdone and more attention can be placed on the whipping action of the service hit
      Jim

  • Bob

    Reply Reply August 21, 2018

    Good point on whipping vs pushing, Kryious provides a great example of the whip. I believe the jump drive serves the same purpose as the leg drive or stepping out in pitching e,g, putting the upper arm external rotators on stretch.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 22, 2018

      Bob – said another way the upward force from the legs (jumping or not) puts a stretch on the shoulder if the racquet head is dropping at the same time –
      Jim

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