The serve is the most complex and misunderstood stroke in tennis. All other strokes receive a ball with some pace from the opponent which turns into natural power on your own hit. The serve is the only shot that requires us to generate our own pace. Everything we do on the serve can either hinder or help generate racket head speed. Just to keep it simple let's think about 3 items that are a must: 1) the grip (commonly referred to as the Continental grip), 2). an overall relaxed arm and body, and 3). the racket head moving on a loose but patterned path to contact point.
The simple answer to “How do we increase racket head speed?”
Get the racket head moving faster than the hand during the upswing and through the contact point of the ball.
In order to understand this, let's look at four frames of the serve. In picture #1, notice that the elbow, wrist and hand will move a far shorter distance than the end of the racket (Servemaster).
The KEY here is that the hand and racket are lagging way behind the elbow.
The further the racket head is behind the hand, the more “sling” you will get. This principle is similar to using a “sling shot.” We load an object into an elastic band and catapult it away from its base. The correlation is that the catapulted object—the racket head, the elastic band—the arm and the base—the elbow.
Picture 2: Notice that the server is at full extension, the racket head is straight up and that the hand is pronated (facing out away from the server's face). The grip must be correct to achieve this position and to serve naturally. This is the only time during the serve that the hand should be in a direct line under the racket head.
By using the triceps and forearm to extend up and allowing the wrist and hand to move from an inside to an outside position (pronation) we reach contact point. It is critical to notice that the elbow has made no measurable forward movement, but the racket head has traveled all the way from the back of the swing to straight up contact point.
Picture 3: The racket head has “slung” up and forward. It is critical to notice that the elbow has barely moved forward, but the racket head is continuing its free acceleration and is now fully in front of the body. The racket head is moving much faster than the hand to produce racket head speed. If the hand was going at the same speed as the racket head, we would see the hand in a direct line with the racket head and would achieve a far slower serve.
Picture 4: Here, we see that the elbow has finally lowered to around waist height and that the racket head has continued well past the opposite side hip.
A critical error that most players make is swinging the serving hand all the way to the hip in a single motion. We want the racket head to keep moving as quickly as possible with the elbow, forearm and hand coming to an abrupt, slamming stop. This is known as deceleration.
In summary, racket head speed on the serve is generated by making the racket head move very quickly up and through contact with little movement forward of the elbow. The hand moves by means of the elbow and forearm, and will travel roughly three times the distance of the elbow. Notice that I have only mentioned use of the shoulder as a factor that will slow the serve down. Think of the shoulder as the hinge pin that holds the arm onto the body, not as a source of power. The less you use it, the longer it will last.
In a very good service motion, the racket head will travel in a sweeping arc that starts back in a cocked position and finishes on the opposite side of the body with minimal movement of the elbow, forearm and hand. The further the hand moves, the slower the served ball will travel!
So, check your grip, loosen up your hand and let the strings fly for maximum speed, power and spin on your serve! Practice with the ServeMaster for optimal results!