After watching Roddick in Australia and again here at Indian Wells, I think he is poised to make another run to the top of the men’s game. Yes, Murray, Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer appear to have a stranglehold on the top four positions, but with a new coach, incredible training program, and perhaps a clearer understanding of point construction, the Kid is still in the game.
At Davis Cup last weekend in Birmingham, Roddick was his usual self – playing error free tennis from the baseline to sweep both matches in straight sets. Obviously his serve is huge, but as much as the serve, he now backs up his return game with better movement, increased patience, and a clear determination not to miss a single ball. Again, not to miss a single ball.
1st serve %
Service games won
1st serve points won
2nd serve points won
Break points saves
Points on return of 1st
22nd place (Murray 2nd at 36%)
Break points converted
52nd place (Federer 6th at 47%)
Points on return of 2nd
38th place(Murray leads at 60%)
Return games won
32nd place(Murray 1st at 39%)
Roddick's court position is still perilously deep behind the baseline, and it would appear that the Top Four could jerk him from corner to corner, as they tend to play much closer to the baseline, which opens up greater angles. But perhaps that fact is now a given, and rather than relearning timing and shot selection from the baseline (ala Agassi), team Roddick is content to improve his fitness and movement. This grinding style of play contributed to the early demise of many a baseliner, but Roddick is different. He only grinds the return games, he only chases side to side when receiving. Many, if not most of his service games are four swings and out. Consider the Ricoh ATP match facts. This Kid is serving wonderfully, consistently, and effectively.
And though he is not exactly at the top of any of the return categories, it would appear that he only requires one break per set, and that places incredible pressure on the serve of his opponents. One fouled up service game and generally the set will be history.
Toss the Ball into the Swing
Click photo: Roddick uses an abbreviated windup and toss, somewhat reminiscent of Roscoe Tanner or Kevin Curren.
Roddick uses an abbreviated motion with a quick windup and toss, somewhat reminiscent of Roscoe Tanner or Kevin Curren (in the old old days) and quite unlike the slow and laborious windup with high toss, pause, and swing like Djokovic. And interestingly, many of us may be “stuck” on the classic slow to fast rhythmic method more generally seen on local courts.
Some years ago, I spoke with Roddick’s initial coach, Tarik Benhabiles at the Siebel Open in San Jose. I asked, “Where does this big serve come from?”
Tarik placed his hands together, to indicate Roddick’s feet, then moved them down and up to show how Roddick used his legs. Then he said, “Andy pushes (equally) with both feet”. Emphasizing that other servers may use their legs but not with equal balance on both legs, minimizing the total effect of the leg drive. Then he said that Roddick was the most limber man on the tour, more so than even Sampras, who I read could touch his elbows behind his back. He said Roddick worked on this loose and limber thing.
Click photo: At Andy's lowest knee drop, his back is arched, but more importantly, his tossing arm is not exactly up but rather has moved backwards, increasing the depth of his upper body coil.
Years earlier the great Fred Earle had explained to me that the key to Sampras’ serve was both his continuous rhythm, the looseness of the delivery, and the absence of tension in his arm throughout.He explained that without tension there is increased range of motion, or increased racquet travel from the depths of the drop up to contact. And I have found pictures where the tip of Sampras’ racquet is actually below the hem of his tennis shorts as the racquet drops. And, quite simply, the deeper the drop, the greater the distance the racquet has to accumulate momentum as it snaps up to the hit. Well at this point in time Roddick drops the racquet to a similarly low point just prior to the thrust up and into the ball.
Please note before I go any further, some aspects of any serve are personal preference if not peculiarities that may or may not influence the serve. Other aspects are critical, and it's these key “moments” if you will, that differentiate the great servers from simply the good servers. And to take one step further, to my mind, good equates to qualities of consistency, minimizing the effort needed to produce the serve, and reliability of that serve on the so called “big “points.
Click photo: Notice how low Roddick's racquet drops before starting its upward thrust.
That said, first observe the placement of the feet directly in line and below the knees and hips. This alignment enables maximum thrust up and into the ball. If you want to use your legs more on your own serve, this foot placement directly beneath the hips is worth a try.
Now, using the rear view, note the point of Andy's lowest knee drop. His back is arched, but more importantly, his tossing arm is not exactly up but rather has moved backwards, increasing the depth of his upper body coil. This action is somewhat like drawing tension into a bow just before releasing the arrow. More than any of the other server, Roddick accentuates this pose, and yes it does add to the overall power of his delivery.
Still within the rear view, note the moment when Roddick's legs are fully extended, and notice that the racquet has reached it’s lowest position. As regards range of motion, the lower the drop, the further the racquet can travel up to contact, and the greater opportunity to build speed up and into the hit. Recreational players do not get even close to this dropped position, which is partly a function of Andy’s extraordinary flexibility.
Click photo: As Roddick jumps into the serve, he is ascending during contact.
Again within the rear view, track Roddick's feet as he hits the ball, and note that he is jumping, but importantly (Federer does this as well but not Blake) he is ascending during contact. Some servers jump but are actually descending ever so slightly at impact. Not so with Roddick, he is moving up as he is hitting up.
The remainder of the motion is simply stylistic variations he uses to dissipate the enormous energy fo the swing. Further he is hitting more of a kicker in the rear view and one with a bit more heat in the right view. These were images taken during his doubles match the other dat at Indian Wells, where he was serving and volleying with some success. If you are a student of the game, check out our files of Pete Sampras and note how his landing was further into the court and his transition into a running posture was a little more efficient.
Were the kid to take six months off to hone the serve and volley, I find it hard to imagine how any of the players could truly keep the return low to his feet. Pete picked off so many darn sitters when following his delivery to the net. I can only hope.
Takeaways for Mortals Like You and Me
Be willing to experiment. Take a bucket of balls, don’t stand on the baseline but rather in midcourt, and try versions of your serve with different tempos and windups. Roddick is supposed to have found this motion when he was angry and blasted a ball into or over a fence
Experiment with tosses of varying heights and see if you find the rhythm on hitting the ball sooner, if not as it rises. There was after all a Roscoe Tanner doing this well before Roddick hit the scene
From you normal serving stance, jump up a few times, powerfully. IN most instances you will find your service stance positions your legs at unusual angles to one another such that your ability to push against the ground is limited. Roddicks feet are under his legs, and his legs are under his hips, so he has a true dual leg drive. Can you do that?
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