By Glenn Sheiner and Barnaby Kalan
All over the world, there are players who have conciously or unconciously modeled the Roddick serve.
Today, we’ll look at Robert, a highly-ranked senior player in Canada, who has a unique version of the Roddick serve.
Taking both hands up at the same time has been referred to as a characteristic of the Roddick serve. But as you can see here, Robert takes it to the extreme…
On the other hand, here’s Andy Roddick’s version:
Aside from the awkwardness, the real problem with Robert’s serve is that he has huge variability in his first serve percentage. His first serve is quick, hard to read, and flat. But his percentage can dip way south of 50%. Plus, he basically slows down this motion for his second serve, which ends up costing him depth and pace and is easy to attack, particularly in doubles.
The surprising thing about Robert is that he also does a lot of things right, particularly in the second half of his service motion — after contact. So as we’ll see, he doesn’t have to start over to improve his serve. Just make a few adjustments. Let’s start with the set-up.
The Roddick motion is characterized by both hands starting low and coming up together in the tossing motion. Robert, however, brings both hands up together before he even gets into his tossing motion. In essence, he starts his tossing motion with his hands held above his head.
So Robert is actually starting his toss from a position with his hands above his head. He then brings down his tossing arm while keeping his racket arm higher than his tossing hand. And, as he begins the tossing motion, he begins the swinging of the racket.
THE LOADING POSITION
Given this difference in tossing technique, let’s see how it effects the totality of Robert’s serve. Let’s look at the loading position, the time of maximum knee bend just prior to an upward and forward thrust.
Now we can start to see why Robert has trouble with his serve percentage. His loading position is nowhere near what a good serving loading postion should be. Note that Robert’s shoulders and hips are parallel to the ground while Roddick has his whole right side tilted downward, roughly 35 degrees, below the left side. This allows Roddick to hit up at the ball, to get more power, more spin, and to have a higher percentage of serves go in.
We can also see that while Robert gets excellent use of his legs, his legs and hips are thrust forward into the court and not turned away from the court (more towards the back fence) as Roddick’s are.
Lastly, we can see that while Roddick’s toss is out of the picture and above contact as he loads, Robert instead hits the ball literally as it’s travelling upwards. Which gets us to the root of Robert’s problem.
HITTING THE BALL ON THE RISE
Now we can get to the next curiosity of Robert’s serve. First, look at Roddick’s toss. Roddick tosses above the contact point and allows himself time to coil as the ball descends to the contact point. Now look at Robert’s toss. He hits the ball on the way up — before it reaches its apex.
Hitting the ball on the rise isn’t a crime, necessarily. One of the best servers in the game also hit the ball on the rise, with a short toss. So let’s compare Robert’s serve to that server –Roscoe Tanner.
Here we can see Tanner’s position at his release and compare it to Robert’s. What is obvious is that Robert’s shoulders are parallel to the court as we have seen before, while Tanner’s shoulders are tilted again with the back shoulder lower than the tossing shoulder. And Tanner’s racket is below the ball while Robert’s racket is above the ball.
Incredibly, Robert even hits the ball earlier than Roscoe Tanner! Watch how Tanner waits for the ball to reach it’s apex and stop (the circle in the video), while Robert clearly hits the ball before it hits the apex.
CONTACT TO FINISH
Once Robert actually makes contact with the ball, his service motion is strikingly similar to many top servers today. He follows through well into the court with decent pronation and a kick-back of the right leg for balance. Robert’s athleticism (he’s an ex college football player) and his spring into the court enables him to generate a surprising amount of power on his first serve.
It would be easy to look at Robert’s serve and start suggesting that he change many things at once — the height of his toss, angle of his body in the loading position, and the angle of his hips in the loading position. But change is uncomfortable, especially for a competitive player who is used to winning, based on tenacity and athleticism, despite certain shortcomings on certain strokes. Push this type of player too far and he will likely ignore any advice and just revert back to familiar patterns.
So what we suggest to Robert is that he focus on improving one single thing on his serve for now. And that would be to focus on lowering the angle of his right (hitting) arm to more of the 35-degree angle we see in Andy Roddick’s serve, rather than keeping it parallel to his left arm. This once simple change should produce the effect of both raising his toss a bit higher, while also allowing Robert to hit UP on the ball for more power, greater racquet head speed and spin (especially on his second serve). We’ll keep you posted on the results.
Glenn Sheiner M.D., also known as the “tennis doctor” to his friends, is the author of the bestselling online guide, Insider Tennis Strategies, Killer Tennis Tips and Tactics to Help You Win Right Now. Barnaby Kalan is a former college player, now a ranked senior competitor in his age group at the provincial, national, and international levels.