ETI 047 | Will Staying Sideways help you hit up on the serve?


  • ETI 047 Staying Sideways
    ETI 047 Staying Sideways

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fed kick impactThough there is much discussion about whether when serving we are hitting up, hitting forward, or even hitting down on the ball – the following podcast is done from the perspective that when serving the best action occurs from hitting up against the ball.

The common problem I see at the club, as well as on television, is where the server flexes at the waist at the hit – more or less jackknifing to create a little more ball speed.

And this action creates both forward and downward forces – and is generally associated with netted serves.

On the serve you can use your shoulders to turn to run into the hit (rotation about the long axis), somersault where you arch your back to spring up and into the ball, and cartwheel also called shoulder over shoulder.

But I am now believing (as well as have learned) that the longer you stay sideways the more you can cartwheel and the less likely you will jackknife.

Please shoot me some feedback on this one!

62 Comments

  • Gordon Ripley

    Reply Reply September 2, 2016

    Jim, as a regular stiff neck sufferer, many thanks for pointing out the ‘staying sideways longer’ principle. This technique gives me better focus on the ball which has lead to a much more reliable serve. Hopefully my stiff neck will improve too! Gordon

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply September 2, 2016

      Gordon – thanks for this note – it has felt to me that anyone who is told to keep their head up – has nothing to do with the head and everything to do with a down flexing trunk – keep me posted – am delighted this helped
      Jim

  • frank

    Reply Reply August 30, 2016

    Serving is one of only movements that one HAS to learn and pay attention on how to hit. Yes there are basic movements to be taught but very minimal, imo.
    People want to much instruction instead of studying the motion themsekves

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 30, 2016

      Frank – yes study and experiment – too often we look to others for the solutions
      Jim

  • charles owens

    Reply Reply August 29, 2016

    Hi Jim,

    How does one “stay sideways” longer and timely rotate into the serve?

    Regards,
    C. Owens

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 29, 2016

      Charles – a bit of a long story to describe when to turn into the hit – or even when to swing in the baseball batters box – but this one was all about getting an off line swing path to create sidespin as well as to avoid swinging down – take some time to explore the website and you will find more on this in the articles and the podcasts and you can use the search function as well
      best
      Jim

  • Michael

    Reply Reply August 29, 2016

    Jim,
    Here it is!!!
    Had to learn this the hard way.. My instructors frequently told me for 3+ years I was hitting my serve sidearm and behind myself. But had no solution to help my serve..The problem was, while my toss was out and in front of me, when I rotated to contact the serve i was facing the net on contact. I couldn’t see the ball and had to bend my arm to hit the ball. My toss was dropping without me knowing it, I was facing the net before contacting the ball and my body was already into the court. The ball was actually back behind me. I couldn’t reach the ball with my body out of position. I learned after watching live and video streams of the pros serving. Most, if not all hit/contact the ball on the serve from the side and finish/complete the follow thru facing the net. Its illusive when you see it on TV because it all happens so fast when pros serve. It’s easy to think they contact when they square up to the net. The ball is already gone before they face the net…Contacting the ball at the twelve, twelve thirty, or even one o’clock position is a matter of inches on the toss alone. Once I realized I needed to contact the ball from the side I found it easier to hit up, extend my elbow above my head, relax my arm, pronate, extend fully to the top of my reach, roll my shoulders end over end (cartwheel), and gained more (deeper) throwing dynamic from my racquet drop. Not only do I see the ball better, but I see it continuously throughout the entire serve motion until the ball leaves the strings. My serve is accurate, has greater spin potential, and has increased pace (100+) whenever i want it. I can hit any one of my five serves from the same toss and position because I can see and contact the ball from the side. Synchronization, timing, spacing, and momentum are all enhanced exponentially….So, YES. Staying sideways allows you to hit up. I have been practicing this method/transition for the last six months now. I LOVE my new serve!!!! Good on you for putting this out there!!!!

    (Good pro examples include Nadal, Verdasco, Almagro, KJokavic, Delpotro, Kygrios, Monfils, and Federer if your looking for the hip extension upto the ball and stretch/short before and after contact).

    M

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 29, 2016

      Michael – I like the phrase that you now “like your serve”
      Jim

  • Brent

    Reply Reply August 29, 2016

    Jim, that’s a great title for a great podcast. I struggled with my serve for over five years, trying different things, complicated analyses of the serve, and different coaches. Finally the right coach got me to try the cartwheel, as you call it, and the results sold me. For years I had blown off hitting up (really up) on the ball and trying to hit it harder toward the target. I watched videos of myself bending forward at the waist with my shoulders almost parallel to the net and often pounding it into the net or long.

    Since I realized the effect of staying sideways and hitting up on the ball, and the collateral benefits to my toss and hitting shoulder, I now focus my serve practice and attention on other things to to ensure that I keep sideways as long as possible and hit upwards. The cartwheel seems a little counter-intuitive, but the results don’t lie!

    P.S. It’s also now understandable why the pros and good servers land on their front foot.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 29, 2016

      Brent
      thanks for this – interesting about all the methods to serve – but what the key elements truly are
      Jim

  • Michael

    Reply Reply August 28, 2016

    Hey Jim, I’ve been practicing this for the last six months..I sent you an email about my serve nightmare that went on for years. You are spot on with this serve application. I found, while the bend is at the waist, it’s actually the oblique side that bends as a result of the extended lift on the toss into the cart wheel action through contact. The bending is not intentional but happens naturally from hitting up and contacting the ball from the side. It’s a good thing… I love my new serves. Kick serve, twist serve, and slice serve-have been off the charts!!!! Thanks for putting it out there. Good on you sir!!
    M

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 28, 2016

      Michael – thanks and especially for the comment that the bending is not intentional
      Jim

  • Al Smith

    Reply Reply August 28, 2016

    Jim – I have great advances based on these tips. Think teaching the serve is truly one of your specialties.

    As for me, standing sideways and leading with the elbow can/has created a lot of power and feel more natural. My only challenge has been my own aging process. A few years ago I began pointing my toe at the net post to allow my hip an easier release but the unfortunate trade off has been opening up too early – thus losing power and hitting long. As a toe dragger standing sideways is also challeging – thus I’ve tried to add a tiny jump.

    There is little doubt to me that standing sideways and leading with the elbow (and the cart wheel) is what you see the best pros do – I am just looking for ways to manage my aching knees and sore back in the process.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 28, 2016

      Al – as regards aching knees and sore back – please send me something a video of your serve – might be that by lowering the toss if not hitting it at the peak (or on the rise) a quicker action would improve rhythm and lesson the knee back thing
      best
      Jim

  • Jack

    Reply Reply August 28, 2016

    I do not think it is bending at the waist …it is more a lifting of the legs (femurs) upward

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 28, 2016

      Jack – yes about the legs – but if you look closely many players jack knife either at or before the hit – think of it as serving forward
      Jim

  • Paul

    Reply Reply August 28, 2016

    As always, your analysis is most insightful. Of all the different strokes, however, I feel that serving is the most individualized. That is to say, I don’t think that there is one “accepted manner” for everyone as there is, e.g., in a “two handed backhand”, or an “overhead smash”, etc. I see more “successful diversity” in serving motion on the amateur & professional level than on any other stroke. So much is involved in serving, I think that one has to tweak it to find his/her comfort level & then build “muscle memory”. What do you think?

    FWIW: I do “stand sideways” very much when my serve is working well, but I see others having success without doing so…thanks.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 28, 2016

      Paul – agreed about serving being an individual matter – but to my eye the greatest servers had much more in common with one another than all the others
      Jim

  • Bryan West

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    HI jim,
    Haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but your analysis resonated with every point. I have (and have had for some years) a stiff neck which has made watching the toss degenerate as a match progresses as watching just becomes too uncomfortable when you are also tiring.
    Great observation, looking forward to trying it.

    Thanks for the insight
    Bryan

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 27, 2016

      Bryan – thanks, at some point upload something of your serve – let me see
      Jim

  • Bernard Mckey

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    SPOT ON-The tennis motion is like your toss -if its slightly off it effect your neck or back

  • John Mootz

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    Jim,
    Thanks for your always insightful analysis. You are spot-on about the neck pain! For years I suffered with right neck strain. Tightness in the shoulder related to an old injury was causing me to rotate too soon with the consequence of having to crane my neck to see the ball with my dominant left eye (I’m right handed). Never realized it was my serve motion until recently, with the help of our tennis pro Keith Ferda. Now I concentrate on correct release FIRST, then driving up sideways and rotating late (after full extension of legs) and the chronic neck pain is gone.
    John

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 27, 2016

      John – also depends on toss location and keeping your chest up during the acceleration to the ball
      best
      Jim

  • Petre

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    WILL TRY YOUR SUGGESTION. WILL TRY TO GET A FEW STUDENTS TO TRY IT. MOST OF THE TIME, HAVE ALWAYS TAUGHT THE TROPHY POSE WHICH MEANT YUOU ARE STANDING MORE TOWARDS THE NET, NOT SURE WHEN ONE OF ALL CHOICES IS BEST.

  • Bill Smith

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    It still amazes me that people don’t understand that the service motion is identical to throwing a ball straight up. In effect you toss a ball with your left hand and attempt to hit it with a ball you throw with your right hand (assuming right handed). To do this you must keep your back arched so you can see the ball you are throwing at. You are in reality throwing your racquet not another ball. You are not hitting anything forward. Your shoulder must go straight up at the ball. It must come over the top. If it is not over the top and is 3/4 or less you loose power because your are rotating forward rather than straight up at the ball. Unfortunately as you get older and loose flexibility this is very difficult to do.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 27, 2016

      Bill – yes on throwing straight up – a coach of mine called it throwing a dart in the ceiling 0 and yes on aging and losing flexibility
      best
      Jim

  • Frank

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    I was always taught, when my serves went into the net, that I was probably dropping my head. So, “Keep your head up!” became a mantra to prevent that. Do you think that is essentially the same thing that you are saying? It seems to prevent the same bending at the waist you described.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 27, 2016

      Frank – yes and no, yes that is what I am talking about – but no – I believe when players flex at the waist the coach says keep your head up – but the head is the symptom not the cause and then flexing at the waist while keeping your head up looks awkward if not hurtful to the neck
      Jim

  • Ken

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    It took me the longest time (& hurting my elbow in the process trying to ‘pronate more’), trying to figure out why I have no trouble with slice but just cannot hit flat serve. Eventually, I realize that I open up my chest too soon! Also, if the chest opens up prior to contact, I tend to cast the swing & rob myself of power.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 27, 2016

      Ken – yes – swing up hit up look up – and every serve to clear the net
      Jim

  • Erik

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    I love watching videos of tennis and try to see what is happening. Often I get fooled in what it thought I saw compared to what was actually happening so for me it takes a lot of times before I can understand the motion.

    On Federer’s serve it seems to me he does different things for different serves. When he hits more top spin or kicker type serves, he seems to stay sideways and tends to bend sideways at the waist into the court.

    On more flatter or slice serves, he seems to come almost square to the baseline.

    It can be difficult to see what he actually does also because he serves differently during his warm up practice than he does in a match situation. His starting feet positions can be quite different and for sure, he jumps much higher during a competitive serve.

    What is also surprising is that often, he does not look at the ball at contact. His eyes can even close while his head drops before that moment. It may be that trying to see the ball getting hit might actually slow the serve. I have seen this happen with other top players too. Just an observation.

  • Charles Owens

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    Hi Jim. I have played around with “stay sideways longer” from time to time. I have a timing problem. As I rotate into the hit, my momentum causes me not to maintain sideways as I desire.

    Regards,
    C. Owens

  • STEPHEN Francis Duffy

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    Enjoyed the videos….Thanks
    I work on my service games a lot…your so rightaboutthe sideways idea. I teach some n tell folks to turn into the ball…it works well also serving into the sun…looking sideways at the ball..of coarse ball torse is important…realise the ball he lost moment. Not too early..keeping the arm up as long s you can.
    Being a lefty I can get great action keeping sideways s long as I can..rotating the shoulders into the ball..racket back..elbow up..knees bend…pow..even the good players I play with don’t slam,the serves back…slices into their bodies…great fun…Being 68. …still work ing on my game…yes sideways…is a key….people tend to push the ball…if they extol soon…be well, Duff

  • Adrian Sahlean

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    This is another gem! You make things clear about what goes wrong with the serve in recreational players when the three planes of motion are not understood (that also includes teaching pros). I am constantly looking for ideas about the right sequence in teaching beginners (adults or children) so that they end up with the correct motion (rather than having to change later a habit that goes on automatic pilot on the wrong path). Clearly, the most common idea with all beginners is that they think you direct the ball toward the target by tapping it with the racquet that starts behind the ball and follows toward it. It is a ‘linear’ idea of cause and effect, that is understandable… I have had good success in changing that perception and modifying the serve in some of my adult students, but it was always slow and frustrating for them before they could replace the habit… I am curios about how you start beginners. Thanks again, Adrian

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 27, 2016

      Adrian – I start beginners with a three beat motion, relatively low toss, and only after they are throwing overhand reasonably loosely and with a whip or sling and not a push – the spin comes much later
      Jim

  • Tom Bauman USPTA

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    Jim nice article. I have improved my serve a great deal by staying sideways and cartwheeling. In doubles I used to start facing the net way to early as my serving time went on. I now stay sideways longer and try to finish with my elbo lifting up and then to my pocket. It has added spin and control. I have played forever and love this new aspect of my serve.

  • Henry

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    Jim
    Hitting sideways is also referred to as (shoulder over shoulder) and not only is helpful when hitting a first serve but also protects the dominant shoulder from pinching which causes pain. By keeping the chin up while contacting the ball adds to keeping the entire body up during the serving motion.
    The second serve is hit with the shoulder moving across from left to right (right handed boaters) and requires that you stay sideways.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 27, 2016

      Henry – yes on the shoulder over shoulder – often cartwheeling does not give the best “picture”
      Jim

  • Poida

    Reply Reply August 27, 2016

    Ahhhh, the joy of lifelong learning, and applied to tennis, the game for a lifetime!

  • Gordo

    Reply Reply August 25, 2016

    Jim
    I changed to doing almost exclusively cartwheel a couple of years ago. I try to create a wave with my body by first jutting my hip back and shoulders forward, then hip forward and shoulders back with the left shoulder high and the right shoulder down. Then cartwheel my shoulders as I try to make contact in front of my left foot and slightly forward. My power increased dramatically when I started doing this.

    Watch Stan Wavwinka’s serve. He is doing just that + plus powering off with his legs (which I can no longer do).

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 25, 2016

      Gordo – thanks for your note – yes I see that with Wawrinka and remember Pete Sampras used to do something similar – all about cartwheeling
      Jim

  • Michael

    Reply Reply August 25, 2016

    Jim, as always really good perspective. this one on staying sideways.
    Over my 40 years of teaching tennis I have increasingly left out the words, “follow through over the left side of your body” (for righties). I now say “follow through up” or “finish up” which helps students not “bend at the waist” pulling the ball down, often into the net. This also helps them learn topspin faster, and eventually some “kick or American twist” on their serves. I always look forward to your emails.
    Thanks,
    Michael Pearson
    USPTA Elite Tennis Professional

  • marz garcia

    Reply Reply August 24, 2016

    The way I am being taught to get more power is to bend backwards, my back to the net, bring my right toe to the heel of my left foot, keep my eye on the ball throughout, then hit up on the ball as I use both feet to throw myself up and into the court as the racket finishes to my left side. The core turn and cartwheel motions improve velocity and accuracy. I am a right handed player and it seems to work for me. Thank you for your tips which I find helpful.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 24, 2016

      Marz – thanks for the note, for sure on the bend backwards but be careful about your lower back – anyway this was more about the thing that occurs when some players crunch or bend at the waist for more power and then they are hitting forward more than up
      best
      Jim

  • john m

    Reply Reply August 24, 2016

    Shoudn`t name drop but I was told (secondhand) that Frank Sedgman (Australian Champion 40`s 50`s) advised staying on the side as long as possible.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 24, 2016

      John – thanks and I will use that thought – though on court with so many students these days tennis history is not on their radar – what a pity – when I was young my idol was Lew Hoad – I saw him play a small exhibition tournament in Northern California in 1966
      Jim

  • Sachin

    Reply Reply August 24, 2016

    Great video, Jim! Hope. All is well. Thinking one should stay sideways on all shots – FH, BH, volleys, overhead, drop shots. Would you agree?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 24, 2016

      Sach – yes, the more I read and look around I see the same – staying sideways much longer on all shots
      best
      Jim

      • Sachin

        Reply Reply August 27, 2016

        Thanks Jim!

  • Joe

    Reply Reply August 24, 2016

    Jim- the reason we need to stay sideways longer is the serve grip (continental) so that on contact the racket face is facing the service box. Open up too soon and your serve goes to the left for a right handed server. So why hold a continental? Because with it we can execute a throwing motion much better than if holding a flat straight-up eastern grip. But we don’t hold a continental to accommodate staying sideways longer.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 24, 2016

      Joe – well said, but truly it is hard to unravel this stuff about whether the grip creates the motion or perhaps one must need a throwing motion before the grip even begins to feel “right”
      Jim

      • Joe

        Reply Reply August 24, 2016

        What I mean Jim is that a continental grip enables or allows for a throwing motion & swinging up to the ball on edge better than a forehand grip, not that the continental grip necessarily creates the motion.

  • george geczy jr

    Reply Reply August 24, 2016

    You are a master! So correct about staying sideways and the “cartwheeling! My world changed when I discovered the importance of the non-dominant arm pulling aggressively to enhance the cartwheel.
    All the Best
    George

  • Shmuel Goldberg

    Reply Reply August 24, 2016

    The player can, and usually does create two rotations: about a vertical axes along his body, and about a horizontal one, that runs about his waste. The second rotation can be sideways (Sampras did it), forward, or both. Both rotations contribute to the speed of the ball. The first contribution is from the racket rotation in a horizontal plane above the player’s head, the second – from racket rotation in a vertical plane about the player’s wrist.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 24, 2016

      Shmuel – yes, as I study the dialogue the axis in three planes of motion – from where I stand it is about creating drills that deliver the feel – for truly I struggle with the often complex analysis
      Jim

  • Chip Staton USPTA

    Reply Reply August 24, 2016

    Hi Jim ,I have enjoyed your insights over the last year since discovering your web site.
    I could not agree more with you as having taught for 25 years one of my more successful drills is serving sideways and hitting up and out while watching the ball. I ask the student to not rotate around the long axis and keep their head on the contact point long after having made contact. then with out having them look ,I ask them if they felt like they made their serve in the service box. It is most of the time . Keeping the head up and watching the ball through contact is critical to a consistent serve .

    Keep up the the great job of sharing info.
    Chip

  • mike

    Reply Reply August 24, 2016

    I have been playing tennis for 30 years (only a 4 player though) and discovered the stay sideways technique for the serve this summer. better late than never. I am going to have to come to your tennis clinics one of these days.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 24, 2016

      Mike – I too am experiencing the “better late than never” thing in a number of areas – both tennis and personal
      best
      Jim

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