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Tips from Vic - Myth: Jump into the air to serve faster

March 3, 2003 10:50 AM
Myth: Jump into the air to serve faster

I still hear some television announcers telling the viewing audience that the server is getting such great power on the serve because he/she is jumping up to the ball and getting “full extension”.

Unfortunately, players who jump up to reach the ball before the upper arm and forearm have achieved maximum speed actually lose power.

One year at our Tennis College and Coto Research Center, we put seventeen servers on a trampoline to illustrate the point. If jumping up to serve generates power, then the players who are jumping fifteen feet into the air should be throwing some pretty big bombs. As it turned out, the majority of players lost about 50 percent of their normal speed.

Power is achieved by the proper coiling and uncoiling on one’s body and transferring energy to the forearm, which is the last link to contribute to racquet head speed. I will discuss the “snap the wrist” myth in a later article. The ground thus becomes a major contributor because it allows the server to coil and uncoil the body. If you’ve ever jumped up from a trampoline, you know that the whole body turns as a unit and it’s difficult to throw a baseball. The same goes for a serve.

So, when we observe the fastest servers in the game, we have to look at “when” they appear to jump. If a player jumps off the ground early to reach up to the ball before his upper arm and forearm have achieved maximum speed, the player loses a great deal of power. However, if a player has maximum speed on his upper arm and forearm as he reaches out to hit a ball well in front of his body, he will be pulled off the ground and there is no loss of ball speed.

To illustrate the point, one of our coaches, John Tichy, served a 124 mph serve while on his knees. Thus, his knees served as contact with the ground to make the coiling and uncoiling process possible. By the way, the ball went into the service box as it had enough topspin to force the proper trajectory. In the research center, we experimented with golfers hitting the ball while siting on a bench. We were quite surprised to see how far the golf ball traveled. Thus, the bench served as the golfer’s legs to maintain contact with the ground to facilitate the coiling of his body.

So, if you’re an early jumper and you’re trying to get more power on your serve, try staying on the ground a little longer and see what happens. As my biomechanical research partner, Dr. Gideon, advises athletes, “You can’t shoot a canon out of a canoe.”

Vic Braden is one of the most highly respected personalities in all of sports and has been said to be “the best all around tennis coach capable of improving the game of anyone from a beginner to a champion.” An accomplished researcher and author, Braden has penned seven books and has been featured in such well known publications as Sports Illustrated and Time magazines and the New York Times. He has also been involved in the production of over 100 television shows since 1972, including numerous series shown on PBS and ESPN. In addition, he has done commentary for NBC, CBS, ESPN, PBS and the FOX Sports Network.

Vic has a FREE monthly e-newsletter with instructional tips and other information. Sign up to receive it at www.vicbraden.com.




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