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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Advanced Serving

As discussed in yesterday's post, a couple of weeks ago I did a series on drills. The last drills I discussed included the serve, the return of serve, the 3rd-shot drop, and the dink. Over the next several weeks, we will refocus on these basic shots. Today we will continue with the serve.

A lot of information on the serve has already been included in previous articles. These are archived in Chapter 2: The Serve, the second chapter of the "book" from A Pickleball Life. It can be found along the left side of the blog. But there is now a constant stream of new materials available. We will examine some of those materials and add them to the archive. Today's videos are from Mark Renneson. The first is called Forehand Pickleball Serve and its focus is on the mechanics of the advanced serve. The second video is called How to Serve Like the Pros and it illustrates the advanced serve techniques used by some of the top players.

You might recall that the basic serve technique about which I have previously written is similar to a bowling motion. The traditional serve is a straight low-to-high arcing movement. This motion allows the server to make adjustments to the height of the serve. But adjusting to hit a low serve that is also deep - our objective as noted in yesterday's post - requires contorting the wrist to an unnatural angle. The advanced serve technique allows a low hard serve to be more easily hit.

Mark begins his illustration by describing the primary aspects of the advanced serve including:
  • Relaxed feeling
  • Body turn
  • Stable paddle face

When Mark demonstrates the serve he emphasizes several mechanical tips:
  • His body is sideways, i.e., perpendicular to his target
  • He uses a continental grip (see The Grip)
  • He impacts the ball at thigh height and out in front of his body
  • The paddle takes a slight low-to-high path
From the very beginning of the motion there are significant differences to the traditional bowling motion. Instead of picking the ball almost directly out of the drop hand, the advanced serve requires a drop of 1 foot or more. This requires lots of practice as the drop must be consistent in order to hit a solid serve. But the drop is necessary to meet the requirements of the service rules that the ball is struck below the waist.

A second difference is that the paddle does not point downward as it does with the bowling motion. The paddle is cocked to the side and the swing arc comes more from the side than the bottom.

While the serve arc is sideways and the paddle is cocked upward, the entire paddle face remains below the wrist. This is a requirement of the service rules.

Finally, the service motion is slightly low-to-high as illustrated by the finish point at shoulder height. This must be done in order to meet the third service rule.

The screen captures shown above come from the following video.

A second video shows how the basics are employed by some of the top professionals.

It can't be left unsaid that this serve is not without risks. The very nature of a low serve means that the net comes into play. A hard low serve means the baseline also comes into play. In order to keep the serve in the court - the first rule of pickleball strategy - the timing of the ball striking must be perfected through practice.

A second risk is that players get even more aggressive and approach or cross the threshold of an illegal serve. This typically happens when the swing arc becomes flat or part of the paddle face rises above the wrist. It takes focus to avoid both potential problems.

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