Saturday, 3 March 2012

Serving: Sometimes you just need a small adjustment, to make a big difference

It's a well worn adage, that the serve is under recognized for its importance. Really, every player should be striving to make their serve more effective. A good consistent, well placed serve will allow the server to not only put pressure on the opponent, but also give the server the opportunity to dictate the likely responses from the opponent. Making it easier to predict what the opponent will do with the serve.

Good players develop one or two serves that they will consistently use, from each side of the court. Typically good players will play a little more variety when serving into the backhand.

Generally these serves get pretty well 'grooved' and will follow a very similiar trajectory and speed every time. And that's where the server can gain some advantage, because if the serve is well placed, then the responses from the opponent become quite predictable.

So when you're watching pros play, it's often noticible that the beginning three or four shots of a rally are often the same, as the players settle into the rally, and get moving up to speed.

The thing is, for those of us who play at lower levels, we may not notice very subtle differences that might actually be occuring either within a match, or from opponent to opponent.

For example, when serving from the left into the forehand of the opponent, I have a grooved serve that hits the side wall, and then into the back wall, if the opponent lets it go. But usually my opponents go after the ball, trying to attack. And that's fine if my serve hits the side wall then the attack of my usual opponents is not very pressuring.

This past week, I played with someone who was taller than most of my opponents, and he was basically crushing my serve on the forehand side. And I wasn't having trouble with the accuracy, it was going where I wanted it to go. But, the serve was right at an optimum height and speed range for him to zero-in and either win the point outright, or put so much pressure on me, that the rally was over in another one or two shots.

This is not good, as it meant that every time I got to where I served from the left, I was usually losing the point and of course hand out. Thus, it was very difficult to establish any momentum at all.

So rather than change to a completely different serve, I simply did two things: 1) I hit the ball a little higher on the front wall, and 2) I hit the ball softer. My toss, and swing were basically the same, just a tad slower, and a little bit more lift. Not making big changes to my service, meant that I still had good control over the ball's path.

What did this do? 1) It took the ball out of the opponent's comfort zone. He was having to stretch just a little bit more for the ball. Which resulted in less accuracy on his part. 2) Since the ball was coming in more slowly, it meant that his normal return was less powerful. These two effects, meant that now, his service return was much more manageable.

And when he tried to up the speed of the ball by adding his own power, his accuracy suffered even more. This then gave me even more control over the rally, because I was able to intercept more balls near the mid court.


So the take away here?

1) Work on getting a couple of serves grooved for each side of the court. So that you can start the rally with some control, at least being able to anticipate more, what the opponent will hit.

2) If an opponent is getting your best serves, and hurting you with the returns, then before changing to a completely different serve, try slight changes, get the ball out of your opponent's optimum contact point. What you'll likely find, is that now this troublesome opponent is giving you the service returns that you are more used to. (and thus more opportunities to gain control of the rally within the first couple of strokes)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments. I will get your comment up on the blog with a reply as soon as possible :-)