Dave’s Tennis Drills – Serve Rhythm
Posted on April 28 2016
Tennis Drills - Serve Rhythm
As with any shot in tennis, and indeed most sports, rhythm plays a huge part in the outcome of your serve. You may have every individual aspect of your serve perfectly tuned to maximize your serving speed, but if the individual parts aren’t working in unison, then your serve is going to suffer as a consequence.
If you’re going to get the most out of your serve, you want every single muscle in your body to be working together to add explosive energy to your end product, and if your serve is lacking rhythm then it is impossible to harness the power of all your muscles.
The power in your serve originates in your legs, and works its way up through the body, employing your hips and upper torso, and eventually ending in the snap of your wrist. If your serve stops at any point in the motion, much of the power that you have built up will be lost.
You would have thought that if you try and hit the ball harder, the result would be you hit the ball harder, but in many cases, it can actually result in the opposite. Instead, when people try and hit their serve harder, it simply results in them losing the natural rhythm they have on their serve, and they end up hitting the ball slower, and with less accuracy.
Teaching players to evaluate, and work on the rhythm of their serve is not always easy. Short of seeing footage of ourselves hitting a serve, it is near impossible to notice the tiny pauses we have in our service action, and so we can’t see those vital milliseconds where our serve is losing energy, and therefore power.
If you look on the internet you will see expensive products that are designed to help you with your serve rhythm, but Dave has got some simple tennis drills that can help you improve the rhythm of your serve without spending lots of money.
What You’re Doing Wrong
The serve should be one fluid motion from start to finish. We may think that is the case with our serve, but if you watch it in slow motion, you will see that most of us have small pauses throughout the action.
This might seem like a very small detail, but the chances are, it is costing you vital MPH. The most common time for your serve to start to stutter is right at the top of the action, when you’ve dropped the racket back behind your head, and are about to bring it back forward to end the motion.
Think of your serve as an elastic band that you’ve pulled back and are ready to let spring free. If the serve is a continuous motion, then you have all the energy that is created from the beginning of the motion stored up and ready to release as soon as you swing at the ball. If your swing stops at this vital point however, then that energy is lost. Rather than releasing from its fully stretched out position, and using all its energy, you have released the elastic band from a half tort position and therefore have only harnessed half of its energy.
Much of the power we generate in tennis is based on the principle of kinetic energy. Energy is gained through acceleration, and when the body stops that energy is lost. The serve is such an effective shot because it is an opportunity to utilize so many moving parts of the body to create huge power, but if there are pauses in your action you are never going to be able to get the most out of it.
Take a look at this video of Elena Dementieva serving, and you can see that even at the top level, some players really struggle with the rhythm of their serve.
Everything about Dementieva’s serve was stop-start, and as a result, she suffered greatly, lacking power and accuracy. The lack of confidence she had in her serve was always her biggest issue on the tennis course.
Of course, Dementieva's serve had other fundamental flaws, but rhythm is central to this shot, and if your rhythm is wrong, then it can cause other problems too.
What’s the Fix?
Rather than spending lots of money on products to help you with your serve rhythm, Dave has come up with some simple, yet effective tennis drills to practice your service rhythm. All you need is an empty pillowcase and a few tennis balls, and you can work on your rhythm whenever and wherever you want.
Once you have your pillowcase filled with 3 tennis balls, simply shadow stroke your serve, holding the pillowcase as if it was your racket. Try to keep the motion as continuous as you possibly can, and if you are successful, the constant motion will keep the balls moving, and you will be able to continue your serve as normal.
If there are any pauses in your motion however, then the balls will slow down, and hit you in the back. You will find that this most commonly happens at the top of your swing, where most people struggle with their rhythm.
This technique can also be used as an excellent warm-up tool. If you’ve got a big match or just a practice, the pillowcase technique can help warm up the muscles and joints, whilst getting your serve into rhythm.
One of the difficulties with rhythm is that it can easily change, you may have great rhythm on your serve today, but a few months down the line it might have disserted you. So even if you feel you’ve mastered the pillowcase technique it is always worth remembering if things aren’t going as you’d like them to on your serve, and of course, it never hurts to practice.
This may not come as much of a surprise, but one man who always seems to have wonderful rhythm on his serve is Roger Federer. To the naked eye, his serve looks like a piece of art, but when you see it in slow motion it is even more impressive.
Dave’s Tennis Drills - Serve Rhythm
Watch Dave as he teaches his student the best way of working on his serving rhythm.
Here you can see that Dave’s student has a slight problem with the rhythm of his serve. Rather than one fluid motion, there are two distinct parts. He moves really quickly through the first part of his swing, before pausing, and then finishing the motion.
This means that much of the work that is being done in the first part of the swing is wasted, as the kinetic energy that he has built up is all lost at the pause
Dave shows his student how the rhythm of the serve should look with the racket first, and then introduces the pillowcase. Whereas the racket is solid, and so will not be affected by a loss in rhythm, the pillowcase with the tennis balls in will behave very differently when it is in motion to when it is not in motion, and you will, therefore, be able to notice when your serve loses rhythm.
You can see that when Dave and his student have good rhythm in their serve, the pillowcase will stay in motion without touching their back. However, if they lose rhythm on their serve, the pillowcase will stop moving, and hit them in the back.
If you’re looking to add vital speed to your serve, rhythm is a key detail that can make a huge difference. People think that more effort, and more muscle, are the keys to a big serve, but the truth is if you are employing as many muscle groups as possible, and harvesting that kinetic energy correctly, then you shouldn’t be straining to achieve impressive power.
The key to all of this is rhythm; everything has to work together if you’re going to maximize your serve. You may be utilizing all your muscles brilliantly throughout your motion, but if they’re not working within one smooth motion, much of that power is lost.
These tennis drills offer a cheap, and easy way to practice your serve rhythm, giving you or your student real-time feedback as to how they are performing. There are many ways to add speed to your serve, but perfect rhythm might be the most important aspect of them all.
We mentioned Roger Federer as one of the best at using rhythm to maximize his serve, and while he might not be known for huge serve speeds, look how effortless he makes a 125 mph serve look.
Federer’s perfect rhythm means that he generates such easy power, that he can focus his energies on other aspects that make him such a great server such as accuracy and serve percentage.
How you use your new found power is up to you, but it’s always handy to have an extra 20mph to put down.