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Monday, April 17, 2017

Reinventing my Game - The Serve

The serve is the last time you will have full control of the ball...

My earlier post Reinventing My Game - The Grip discussed how a few small changes allowed me to make dramatic improvements in my game. Since then, I have mentioned some of the setbacks but have yet to get to the real improvements. Today's post will start the discussion with the improvement in my serve.

First, let me revisit the grip changes because they are fundamental to the new serve.

The photo on the left shows my original grip - called a claw grip - and the photo on the right shows my new grip - called a handshake grip. The difference is obvious as the handshake grip is much more aligned with the arm and seems to be a more natural extension of the arm. The claw grip forms makes the paddle form a right angle to the arm.

The handshake grip allows the paddle to create much more energy. As best I can determine, the physics principle that explains it is that kinetic energy increases with length. The more natural extension of the paddle increases the maximum reach and, therefore, the more kinetic energy that can be imparted. Let's look at one example - Alex Hamner's power serve. But before we do that, we need to confirm that she uses a handshake grip (or similar).

My thought is that she uses a similar grip with the handle knob nestled against the pad at the base of the thumb and the fingers parallel with the grip seams. Now let's look at her serve.

Note that the paddle is nearly a perfect extension along the direction of her arm. That would be impossible to make happen with a claw grip. But that factor allows not just the added length but the ability to whip through the ball with a wrist snap. The pictures show the detail I needed, but the video is worth watching to show how it works. The video The Power Serve with Slow Motion - Alex Hamner comes from the Pickleball Channel.

I showed that serve not because I use it - I do not - but to show the potential energy from a full arm extension. My new serve is much more akin to Rob Elliott's power serve. Before we look at it, let's look at his grip to ensure it is a handshake grip.

Again, it looks similar based on the knob location and finger direction. Now, look at his power serve.

Rob's service motion is much more sidearm than the straight low-to-high motion used by Alex. That sidearm motion allows less kinetic energy from length but the grip still adds some kinetic energy compared the shorter length of the claw grip. This is true because the paddle still extends along the direction of Rob's arm. As an aside, Rob still generates much more power than Alex due to 2 factors - his additional strength and the greater use of centrifugal force as he makes a long and quick torso rotation. This can best be seen in the video The Power Serve with Slow Motion - Rob Elliott, also by Pickleball Channel.

Rob's serve is generally acknowledged as one of the hardest in the game. I am not even pretending that I mimic Rob's power. The only way our serves resemble one another is the sidearm motion. The handshake grip allows me to hit the serve flatter, harder, and lower than I could with the claw grip - at least legally. The right angle formed by the claw grip can be reduced, but not eliminated, by contorting the wrist. But the remaining angle prevents a legal sidearm serve because a portion of the paddle face would be above the wrist.

In addition to a harder, flatter, and lower serve, my new grip and motion also allows for spin. I will save that discussion for tomorrow.

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