The tennis ball soars into the air and for a brief moment – like the one on the roller coaster – everything is calm. And then, boom, a rocket, whipping through the air, makes contact and the action begins.
The service is the only time in tennis when a human hand, not a racket, dictates the direction and location of the ball. And that’s why it’s important to start with a good throw to win.
“You have complete control over the service, which is why throwing is a key component,” said Craig Boynton, who coached John Isner and now coaches Hubert Hurkacz, who climbed 35th to 9th in the rankings in 2021 when his service results improved.
Aryna Sabalenka, who placed second on the women’s tour, said in an email that “you can’t have a consistent cast without a consistent pitch.”
The lottery may be the most underrated aspect of gaming for professionals, says ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert. Even more so at the club level for recreational players, where many players lose control, often use too many wrists, bend the elbow or let the arm drift. “If you lose control of throwing the ball, you will lose your service,” he said.
The ideal is to hit the ball in that fraction of a second when it stops moving at the top, said Jimmy Arias, IMG Academy’s tennis director, but there is no one perfect throw height.
Sabalenka and Taylor Fritz, who placed 23rd on the men’s tour, said they had thrown the ball higher in recent years as they learned to use their feet to bounce more, generating more height and strength.
“You want to maximize the height of contact with the ball when serving,” Sabalenka explained. “As I got stronger, I was able to bend over and jump more into the ball. That allowed me to throw the ball a little higher. “
Boynton said some large servers, such as Andy Roddick, had faster movement and therefore had a lower throw, while many Europeans learned longer movement that required more time and higher throw. “Height is partly determined by how long your movement.”
Sabalenka said that the players have their own ideal lottery. “It takes a lot of practice to find out what works best for you, your body, your specific movement and your timing.”
The goal, Arias said, is to find movement and throwing where the player is in no hurry or waiting. “Serving is about rhythm, and throwing determines that.”
Of the current players, Denis Shapovalov, Alexander Zverev and Federico Delbonis have remarkably high throws. “Delbonis throws it over the moon and has to wait five minutes before it falls,” Arias said, which is fine, except that he believed that when nerves crawled at high times, higher throws and longer waits could cause problems.
Shapovalov, who changed his approach several times, and Zverev were often plagued by double mistakes or fighting in the second service.
“Zverev has to let it go, but he could go for a lower throw on the second pass,” Gilbert suggested, which would speed up Zverev’s movement and help solve his problem.
But that would be a radical change that may be necessary for a club player or someone at the junior level, but which is rare on a professional tour. At this level, players do not separate the lot for isolated training. Fritz even laughed at the question. (To improve his throw as an adult, Gilbert worked on it as he went to school and sat in a chair. “If you have to leave the chair to catch the ball, your throw will move you.”)
Although Boynton said he believed it might be worth reworking the club or junior throw and letting them practice separately from serving, he wouldn’t make much change on a professional level.
“For professionals, it’s more about tuning the timing and rhythm of all these moving parts,” he said, adding that last year he worked with Hurkacz not to let the derailleur speed up, which helped generate a more consistently large delivery.
Repeating a professional throw can be “very dangerous,” Arias said, but added that if it worked, the results could be staggering. He pointed to Marina Čilić, who failed to reach his potential, until his coach Goran Ivaniševič remade Čilič’s submission in 2013. Ivaniševič, who is in second place in the percentage of first points scored, let Čilić throw the ball further out. in front (and a little below). In 2014, Cilic won the United States Open.
A good throw is not only about height, but also about location. Gilbert said the “elite draw” will hit a place from which you could hit a topspin, flat or slice serve.
He said Andy Roddick, Pete Sampras and Serena Williams were the dominant serveers in part because “every throw was perfect” and they hit the ball at 12 noon, without side drift, so it was impossible to read before contact. (Arias trained with Sampras “a million times,” but could not read his submission.)
“You always have to throw it in the same place and not reveal where you serve,” Fritz said, adding, “I’d just move it because of the sun.”
But 56th place Jenson Brooksby said that even though the throw must be in the right area, he did not strive for perfection. “There is a degree of error that does not matter,” he wrote in an email.
Sabalenka and Fritz said the top players disguised their submissions well, but Brooksby said Roger Federer was the best on the men’s tour. Boynton also praised Nick Kyrgios, while Arias said Novak Djokovic was underestimated, explaining that he was shortening the returnee’s reaction time by throwing the ball in front of him.
“If you could teach a long jumper to throw the ball to the service line, hitting the service would be like [a player at the net] he hit him over the head, “Arias said.