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Flow: Pitching and Serving
Some years ago, attending an ITF Science and Technology Conference in London (where I presented material on the use of gravity to accelerate movement about the court), Miguel Crespo opened my eyes with the following comment, "When teaching the serve, do not show anything about the grip or the swing until the student is on balance and in rhythm."
The normal stride length for a pitcher is 77% to 87% of his height. Lincecum's stride is 129%, some 7 1/2 feet.
Now, in my own efforts as a teacher (and player) I work with constant reference to balance and rhythm. Further, with so many of the tournament juniors, I see big, balanced rhythmic forehands and serves that bear no resemblance to that form. Too often these players lean forward with the toss, and lurch forward into the hit and the overly high tosses, reminiscent of Sharapova or Graf, deny any reasonable rhythm. Unfortunately, once ingrained, habits are often difficult to change, and to my mind many of these ungainly serves can be credited to their early formative coaches.
Tim Lincecum's Pitching Form
Click photo: I took a look at the pitching mechanics of Tim Lincecum, and found the same references to balance and rhythm.
So on a recent rainy day, for it has rained quite a bit in Northern California the past few days, I took a look at the pitching mechanics of Tim Lincecum, and found (perhaps confirmation bias here) the same references to balance and rhythm. And one more element, something about effortlessness – for Lincecum they call it the "dangle," for Sampras, Federer, and more it is about a loose grip.
For those of you not entirely familiar with baseball, Tim Lincecum is the star pitcher of the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants, and a two time Cy Young award winner (given to the best pitcher in the league). I think reference to Tim’s mechanics
provide excellent insight into flowing, rhythmic, effortless serves.
Pitching Mechanics – The secret to Tim Lincecum's overpowering velocity is stored within his pitching mechanics (and let's not forget, at 5'11" and 172 lbs, Tim is not exactly an intimidating figure). His delivery puts as many muscles on stretch as quickly as possible, which helps develop "maximum elastic energy." His body then acts like a huge rubber band, stretching to its maximum length, ready to be let go and whip the arm through.
Hips – Tim on his hips, "I'm getting everything toward the
target, and my hips want to go. My hips can't just go and open up. I'm
trying to create torque. That's when everything kind of explodes. My body comes, and [my arm] is just kind of along for the ride."
Delivery – His delivery gives the illusion of being one movement rather than the cobbling of several separate ones. Dave Righetti, SF Giants pitching coach, calls this apparent seamlessness "flow."
Dangle – "Dangle" refers to the looseness of a pitcher's arm action, the well-lubricated unhinging of the limbs and body, which helps explain why Chris Lincecum (Tim's dad) regards Satchel Paige and Sandy Koufax, two hallowed flow pitchers, as the spiritual forefathers to Tim's mechanics. "He'll throw forever," Chris once posted on a blog, referring to his son, "and maintain his velocities and the best breaking ball since Sandy Koufax and the best fastball since Gibson and Feller."
Now back to the serve
Click photo: Watch Roddick closely to see him launch his body up and into the ball, with his shoulder bulged backward and the arm trailing.
Imagine the server as the hammer, and the receiver as the nail. Active and passive. Servers bring the heat as it were, but too often receivers in this modern age attempt to hammer the return, where the percentages favor blocking, borrowing pace, accepting the passive role, simply getting into the point and working it from there.
Elastic energy – Muscling has no place on the serve. Elastic energy, or "spring force" occurs when each lever lags the preceding lever. Watch Roddick closely to see him launch his body up and into the ball, with his shoulder bulged backward and the arm trailing. The stored elastic energy hurls his arm and racquet up and into the hit. It would not be possible to serve in excess of 150mph were this not to occur.
Keep your weight back as long as possible – Pete, Roger, and Andy all toss with their weight on the back foot. And as they drop to explode up and into the ball, they are centered so both legs are used to drive up and into the ball. This corresponds totally to pitchers who drive their delivery with their back foot on the pitching rubber. And if Tim Lincecum's keeps his to the side as long as possible, these three servers keep their weight back as long as possible.
Flow – This has to do with the all important toss, and specifically how the flow is influenced by the toss. Too high and there is always a hitch. Too low and the motion becomes hurried. Note Roger, Rafa, or Andy for a toss that influences if not dictates a flowing rhythm. Contrast that with so many players using an overly high toss and with definite "rhythm" issues.
Notice how Pete's pinkie and ring finger bare contact the racquet.
Fingers and the grip – Just as Tim "dangles," good servers will often lengthen their grip so the pinkie, if not half of the ring
finger slide off the end of the racquet. You can see it in Pete, and now you can see this with Raonic.
Loose, dangle, flow – If you want racquet speed without effort, work on your balance, your rhythm, and always with less not more effort.
Allow the arm to lag behind the shoulder and torso, in a loose if not
delayed motion, so the arm is put on stretch from the shoulder. There
is a lazy aspect to Pete and Roger at the early aspect of the service
Want to develop a great serve? Emulate the great pitchers and the great servers. Simple, right?
Jim McLennan's DVD is in the TennisOne Writer’s Store:
- "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members – Public
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The Heavy Ball Drill
At the club level, most errors are hit into the net, however, at the pro level these kind of errors are much rarer. Using a simple rope hung a couple of feet above the net, Mark Gellard along with WTA touring pro Melinda Czink demonstrate the heavy ball drill. This drill, long favored by the Spanish, is designed to take the net out of play and it is a great exercise for players of all levels..
The Modern One-Handed Backhand
The one-handed backhand is physically easier to hit than a forehand, the arm moves away from the body with a nice free, easy movement and yet, at the club level, so many players struggle with it. That is because though the movement is easier, mentally, it can be a tougher shot. Tom Avery can help you break through that lack of confidence and make your backhand a shot you can hit with power and consistency – a shot that you truly enjoy.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Gilles Simon's Backhand
This 26 year old Frenchman has been on the verge of “greatness for some years. Simon is known for his speed, agility, mental strength and tennis brain. His backhand is considered his best shot and he is capable of expertly creating angles and varying his shots ,but his forehand is his attacking side. Simon is only now beginning to regain his form after a knee injury suffered at Roland Garros 2009. A stylish player, and ever dangerous, Gilles is looking for a breakout year in 2011. New this issue, Simon's backhand.
TennisOne Writers Store
One of your many new benefits as a TennisOne membership is your ability to purchase selected instructional DVDs at 20% off ($7.50 off each) in our new TennisOne Writers Store (login in first to access members links):
- "TennisOne's Stroke Secrets: Keys to Better Groundstrokes," Public; Members
- "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Building Your Ground Game," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Building a Kick Serve," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Underspin Backhand - Weapon," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Achieving Peak Performance the Wholistic Way: The Mental Game," Happy Bhalla Members – Public
- "Building a World Class Serve," Phil Dent Members – Public
- "Building a World-class Volley," Dave Smith Members – Public
- "Keys to Modern Tennis Technique: One-Handed Topspin," Doug King Members Public
- "Best of Ken DeHart," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Corrective Techniques & Myths," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Defeating the Monsters in Your Mind," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Skills, Drills, and Games for Beginning Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- "Drills for Intermediate Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Drills for Advanced Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
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