To Jump Or Not To Jump
You watch the pros serve, and men and women alike look like rocket ships, jumping off the ground to hit the toss. The reason? Power, of course. Leverage for the serve comes from the ground, and by making a deep knee bend on the toss and springing up to hit it, the pros maximize the power from their legs, the strongest part of the body. Racquet head speed and upper body strength certainly contribute to power, but that jump is what gave a small woman like Justine Henin the ability to hit serves over 100 miles per hour. On the other hand, Pancho Gonzalez, who many believe had the best serve of all time, never left the ground. He stepped through with his back foot, as in a regular throwing motion.
But what about recreational players? If jumping works, go for it. You'll likely add some mph to your serve. However, most of my students don't jump, and feel awkward trying. If that's the case, I look for other ways to get more pop on the serve. Following are the most important techniques.
1. Make sure your weight shift goes back to front on the toss, with all your weight arriving on the front leg at the release point. And make sure you bend both knees; the back knee tends not to bend, but it can contribute.
2. Stand fully sideways to net. For righties, the deuce court in particular tends to make players face the net with their shoulders. This cuts down on the full range of motion, which is 180 degrees. You should make a complete half turn during the serve, and your back foot should step in and cross the baseline at the end. If your toss is far enough in front, this step is a natural finish.
3. Snap up, not toward the net. The serve is an overhand throwing motion, and even though the target is across the net, the swing doesn't go forward. That results in a pushy serve. The racquet head moves much faster when you snap it toward the sky, not toward the service box. Most often, pushy serves result from a low racquet-arm elbow dropping below the shoulder during the "back scratch" part of the motion. Keep that elbow high and your arm will feel more comfortable swinging up.
4. Finish low and fully across your body, with the racquet head moving by your lower front leg. If you've clunked yourself in your shin with your finish, you can become frightened of this, but hold back on the follow-through and you'll put the brakes on racquet head speed. Bruised shins come from not following-through, stopping the shoulders from fully rotating.
5. Relax your grip. It's counter-intuitive, but hard serves don't come from tightening your muscles. Do that, and your wrist becomes rigid. You want a loose wrist and a light grip to snap the racquet head over the ball.
c Keith Shein