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The Second Serve
It is no coincidence that in points won on second serve, Nadal is in the first place and Federer second.
No particular stroke may be as difficult to master, but equally no particular stroke may be more important than the second serve. Imagine the score 6-4, 4-6, 5all, advantage receiver, first serve fault and now the server prepares to deliver the second serve. Too bold or too flat and the double fault looms. Too timid or cautious and the opponent drives a forehand winner to break serve. The only real answer is a confident spinning serve out wide to the backhand. But somehow, most of us rarely practice this scenario.
Throughout our junior classes, when practicing the serve, we’ve all heard the mantra, “You are only as good as your second serve.” But the message has more depth than the obvious, for the art of the second serve includes both spin and placement. Spin to curve the ball down and into the court, and placement to avoid the opponent’s favorite shot.
A look at the ATP Ricoh match statistics is very revealing. When it comes to the leader board in percentage of points won on second serve, Nadal is in first place, winning 60% of the points on his second serve, and Federer is in second place, winning 59% of the points on his second serve. In no other category within the Ricoh match statistics are the two most dominant players in the men’s game ranked at the top two positions. So I hope the mantra, “You’re only as good as your second serve,” is beginning to get your attention.
In evaluating the importance of the second serve, I always begin with the philosophy of my teacher and mentor, the legendary Tom Stow (coach of Tom Budge). Stow’s “All Court Forcing Game” highlights why an effective serve is important. Tom believed—as do I—that you should shape your game according the principle of continuous pressure. There are several dimensions of this continuous pressure principle as it applies to coming into the net and mastery of a variety of strokes, but today let me focus on Stow’s approach to the serve.
To play the "All Court Forcing Game" Stow believed it was necessary to have a strong first serve and an accurate spin for the second serve. A hard first serve, which will put the opponent on the defensive and cause errors, is of course the best. However, this is not absolutely essential. What is essential is a serve that will prevent your opponent from making a forcing shot.
Translated, a weak second serve will give the opponent attacking opportunities. Finally, when an opponent applies pressure against a weak second serve, this constant pressure has a definite effect on the mental attitude of the opponent; translated one can crack the opponent when cracking their second serve.
So if this has encouraged you to go to work on your own second serve, let’s get started. First and foremost all serves, both first and second must be hit with spin. In that way the first and second deliveries are not fundamentally different. Rather they are more or less the same stroke, with the same toss, and the same swing speed. Spin will curve the ball down and over the net, it may also open the court and occasionally fool the opponent, but primarily the spinning action of the serve causes a downward curve (on both topspin and sidespin). Flat and fast first serves reduce the margin of error above the net. Slow and tentative second serves increase that margin but offer the opponent attacking opportunities. But further, fast first serves and slow second serves are hit with dissimilar swing speeds, and within the course of a long match this disparity works against a server’s rhythm and confidence.
Click Photo: At the club level, many players follow up a strong first serve with a very weak second. A weak second serve will give the opponent attacking opportunities.
The two options for a spin serve include topspin and sidespin. Pardon the author’s point of view, but I strongly encourage as well as teach the sidespin serve (see library). First, and most importantly, the sidespin serve will reduce the incidence of crippling rotator cuff injuries. Further, one can initially create greater racquet head speed in a sidespin rather than topspin motion. But any time one tinkers with spin, whether a top spin forehand, an under spin backhand or a sidespin serve – there must be an adjustment to both the angle of the racquet face and an equal compensation if not adjustment to the direction of the swing. Somehow these adjustments are more easily understood on the ground strokes. Swinging down at an under spin backhand, most readily learn to open the racquet face. And swinging up at a top spin forehand, most readily learn to close the racquet face. But the adjustments on a side spin serve are less readily understood.
Click Photo: Recreational players often serve using an eastern forehand grip - the lack of spin makes consistency difficult.
Flat recreational serves are generally hit with an eastern forehand grip. In this manner the racquet face is flat against the back of the ball and the swing path directly at the target. A change to the continental grip positions the racquet face ever so slightly to the right side of the ball at impact. And truly, the initial attempts at this serve curve wildly to the left of the service box. Ultimately (hopefully) one learns to swing to the right of the target to compensate for the angle of the racquet face. But this adjustment to the swing path appears far less intuitive than adjustments on top spin or under spin ground strokes. Said another way, one must change both the grip (and resulting angle of the racquet face) and the swing path to master the sidespin serve.
Now to the practice court. Rather than working on booming flat first serves and tepid flat second serves, practice a spinning delivery that appears and feels similar for both first and second scenarios. Sidespin on the first serve, sidespin on the second serve. Identical toss on the first and second serve. Identical rhythm on the first and second serve. And finally, identical confidence on the first and second serve. Sampras had the best second serve in the game, by his own admission, on the way to his stupendous 14 Grand Slam titles. McEnroe had the best second serve in the game during his dominant years, a left delivery with disguise placement and total confidence. Now it is you turn, get to work.
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Follow-through Facts and Fiction
Of all the laments and the urgings that Doug King hears people make to themselves after they miss a shot, probably the most common is the reminder to “follow-through.” The irony is that despite how common this exhortation is, it very rarely has any relevance to the cause of the missed shot. To think the follow-through is going to save a shot that is mis-timed, mis-hit, or misplaced is simply a misunderstanding. The truth is that the fate of the shot has been cast well before the follow-through even takes place.
First Step Drill Approach
Tennis is a game of movement and quickness but rarely does a player have to take more than a few steps to get to the ball, so the first step is extremely important. Legendary fitness coach, Pat Etcheberry, along with Jim Courier, show you the proper way to improve your movement on the court with this First Step quickness drill. This is the same drill Courier used to improve his fitness and reach number one in the world. Practice this drill and maybe your time will come.
Why the Greats Never Won on Clay
Until his recent break through in Rome, Roger Federer has experienced mostly setbacks on the red dirt. But he might take solace in the fact that he is in eminent company because a rather long list of tennis greats have all failed the same way Federer has so far. Tilden, Newcombe, Ashe, Connors, McEnroe, Becker, Edberg, Sampras - despite their legendary status, despite their numerous conquests and achievements on the tennis world stage – all never managed to win the French Open. Coincidence or inevitable, you ask? "Predictable," says Philippe Azar.
ProStrokes Gallery - Nikolay Davydenko's Forehand
Nikolay Davydenko is the number one Russian for the second straight year with five ATP titles. He is currently ranked number four in the world and holds wins over nearly all the players in the top ten. Although he is yet to notch a win over Federer, Nadal, or Roddick, his consistency and big game from the baseline makes him a threat in any major tournament. Fit, big topspin off both wings, definitely a baseliner, he may lack the guile of Federer, the huge serve of Roddick, or the baseline smarts of Murray, but he will run and hit with anyone. Check out his forehand in the TennisOne Prostrokes Gallery. New this issue. Davydenko's backhand.
The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
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