Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Play is continuous, but take a couple of seconds to plan your serve !

When I watch players of all levels, except the professionals, it is quite shocking to see that many, if not the majority of players about to serve, take absolutely no moment at all to mentally prepare themselves for what they are going to hit, nor what replies the receiver is likely to hit.

Tennis of course has the timed interval inbetween the end of a rally, and the next serve. But the other racket sports: Badminton, Squash, Table Tennis, all basically require play to be continuous. But that doesn't mean the server is not permitted to take a few seconds to compose themselves prior to delivering the service.

With the serve being the only shot a player has complete control over, and given that in most places we play the PAR scoring system (Point A Rally), as a coach I find it incredulous that players are not more careful about their serve.

A sloppy approach to the serve will too often give away the point in an error, and regularly give the opponent an opportunity to gain control of the rally with their return.

Service aces in Squash, like Badminton, and Table Tennis, are not the common intent of the server. What the server should be focusing on, is hitting a serve that achieves two goals:

1) The serve should not give the opponent a chance at either a kill shot nor a shot that puts the server under immediate pressure.

2) The serve should be hit with the intent to force the receiver to hit a shot that is weak or errant.

At lower levels of play, achieving the first goal is often enough to also achieve the 2nd goal at the same time. Because at lower levels of play if the receiver can't hit their normal return, then their next option is often at best only a weak and likely uncontrolled one.

Intermediate players with practice and experience will have a better range of service return strokes to select from. So for the server, the first goal should be the primary objective. As the server becomes familiar with the receiver's habits and strengths, the server can begin looking for serves that will achieve goal number two.

At advanced and pro levels of play, the skill, control, and consistency of the receivers make achieving the 2nd goal quite difficult, so you'll find that at these levels servers are generally only aiming to accomplish the 1st goal, of not giving the receiver an opening for a kill shot, or immediate control of the rally.


The take away from this?

If as server, you don't take a couple of seconds and think through, and plan the serve, then you're leaving the success of the serve completely in the hands of your opponent.

Decide what serve you want to hit, what you want to achieve with the serve, before you step into the service box. Once you've stepped into the box, you should be imagining (visualizing) the serve you want to hit and the responses that you can reasonably expect. Clear your mind as you bounce the ball. Then just before the ball toss, you should 'see' the correct serve in your mind.

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