Question: How many times have you, your doubles partner, opponent(s), or someone on the court next to you missed a serve and said, “Head up!” immediately after?
I’ll bet it’s a commonly heard self-instruction, trying to fix something that likely causes a majority of service faults.
All the strokes or shots in tennis have many elements in common to execute them successfully. To name a few: balance, posture, staying relaxed, transferring weight forward, eye-to-ball-to-racquet-hand coordination, etc.
When done correctly tennis is one of the most gracefully coordinated and choreographed of sports.
But then comes the serve. Unique because it’s the only shot that a player is in complete control of, it’s also the toughest shot to learn, having much more involved than firing it like a cannon or just trying to get it in.
Making it a good one can, as John McEnroe says, “pay dividends” quickly.
Although the serve starts with a good toss of the ball by your “off hand,” by focusing on keeping your chin up and having it stay lined up with the tossed ball through contact, your serve consistency will be greatly improved.
Another aspect of the service motion that helps to achieve this is to point at the ball with your off hand through contact.
Practice tossing the ball underhand and catching it overhand with your arm fully extended over your head. This will force you to keep your chin up and eye on the ball in order to catch it.
After practice-tossing the ball four or five times, try hitting a serve, chin up, tossing arm fully extended on releasing the ball and through racquet contact.
A couple of other benefits to “chin-up”: When starting the service motion, getting your chin up can help you load up your weight on the back foot to push up into the ball.
It also helps the shoulders and hips stay in alignment, allowing an optimum transfer of energy from the legs and hips, through the core and back, to the shoulders and hitting arm.
This is the same energy transfer for groundstrokes, starting with the legs and hips, through the core and back, to the shoulders and hitting arm, except that the head has to stay down and still through contact.
So, if you’ve been having trouble with your serve be positive, keep it simple, and keep your chin up. It’ll get better.
If it doesn’t, contact me and I’ll show you how to use the “Italian salute” to make it work.
(Just kidding, but some of my students know what this refers to.)
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area.