| By Lisa Dodson

In the last issue, we started discussing the major differences between the serve and the overhead. Hopefully you have started cleaning up your overhead technique by improving your movement, balance and preparation for this important shot. If you have, you may now be looking forward to hitting your overhead instead of avoiding it.
Let’s do a quick review of the major similarities and differences between the serve and overhead:

Similarities
►Sideways set-up with Continental grip
►Relaxed arms and legs
►Use a “throwing” action with the hit arm
►Power attained through use of legs, trunk, shoulders, rotation and pronation
►Power is achieved by forward contact point
►Potentially a power shot

Differences

Serve Overhead
A. Stationary shot Movement shot
B. Drop toss and hit arms  Raise non-dominant and hit arms
C. Contact hitting “up” Contact hitting “down”
D. Contact point varies Contact point needs to be the same
E. Accurate, versatile, high percentage shot with a potential for power  Overpowering shot for power
F. Drive up off front or both legs Drive up off front, both or back leg
G. Follow through is longer Follow through is short

For your next phase of improvement, let’s concentrate on Contact Point for Power (Points C, D & E).

When you are serving, you are in complete control of the situation, so choosing your contact point is really a matter of choice and practice. There are three main types of serves: Flat, Slice and Kick. Typically, players start by hitting a flat serve because they initially hold a forehand grip. A flat serve seems easier because a full racket face with all the string area going towards the ball gives a higher success rate. In an ideal world, the Continental grip should be learned first, therefore developing the slice serve. This sets the edge forward to the ball and allows the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder to move naturally in a “throwing” motion. It also prepares the player for learning the more complex kick serve and easier understanding of the volley (and all under spin shots).

Learning the various serve types allows players to choose the best serve for a situation, keeps the opponent guessing and creates a very high serve percentage.

Let’s make one thing very clear: Where you toss your ball creates contact point. Place the ball in the path of the moving racket, rather than hunting for the ball and contacting it. It must be predictable, precise and consistent. Tosses should have no spin, excessive speed or arc (except the kick and topspin serve must arc back). Understanding that concept will help both your serve and overhead.

Each serve type has its own corresponding toss. It is impossible, for example, to hit a flat serve from a kick toss or a kick serve from a slice toss. The flat and slice serve toss are very similar and often players don’t differentiate between the two and don’t understand why their serve doesn’t work. It’s time to get serious about your toss so that you feel like you are in control of a controllable situation.

Contact point
Contact point is equally important on the overhead, but is much more difficult to negotiate. Opponents are attempting to make you fail by throwing up various high balls and lobs with varying spins, speeds, heights, trajectories and angles. You have no direct control of the situation and are constantly fighting to put the ball in a good relationship to your body to hit a successful overhead.

It makes sense that the more intentional versatility one has on the serve the better the potential for hitting a great overhead. If you can choose to serve from different tosses then you have a bigger range of places to contact the crazy balls your opponent lobs in your direction. The bigger the range, the more balls you’ll be able to cover. However, the ideal place to contact the ball for the overhead is in the flat (or slice) range.

Power
If power is what you want on the overhead, then contact the ball out in front of the hitting shoulder. Since overpowering the opponent is the primary objective, success will be yours. After a player has attained good preparation and movement, the next big task is tracking the ball.

Remember that preparation gives you a sideways, balanced position to the net, a prepared racket and an extended non-dominant arm. The non-dominant hand is basically across the body to the right (for right hander) so that the hitter is looking over the forearm. The hand is further to the right and stretched up to “catch” the incoming ball. The non-dominant shoulder is higher than the hitting shoulder and is high under the chin. These common similarities to the serve provide an appropriate amount of turn for a powerful hit (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1-Jana Juricova, NCAA Singles Champion 2011, Doubles 2009

Hit “down” when hitting an overhead
When hitting a serve, we are hitting “up” to the ball. This is a fairly confusing concept for a lot of players who attempt to hit down on the ball. Simply stated, hitting up means that contact is initiated with the racket head on the way up which creates spin to help bring the ball down. Then, going through the phase of pronation (the hand, wrist, forearm go from an inward to an outward direction) creates a downward direction of the ball. Studies have been done to prove this point and show that even a very tall man hitting at 102 miles per hour must hit up and add some spin or the ball will travel seven feet long of the service line.

When hitting an overhead, we want to hit more “down.” Of course, we cannot physically hit the top of the ball, but we want to get more of that feeling. Again by pronating the hand, wrist and forearm one can safely hit down with power to clear the net and keep the ball within court boundaries.

In summary, in order to hit the ideal, powerful overhead, first understand where the best contact point is for a flat serve. This ball will always be well forward of you. The challenge on the overhead will be to accurately move into great hitting position and be in a good relationship with the ball.

Practical homework
1. To understand where the serve toss should generally be for a flat or slice serve
Set up to serve, then place your racket on the ground with the butt of the racket off of the left toes and the head in the direction of the right net post (off right toes and left net post for lefty). Toss the ball up to height so that it will land on the racket head. This is proper placement for a power serve. This will help you understand the ideal contact point for the overhead (see Figure 2 below).

Figure 2-Amy Jensen, NCAA Doubles Champion 1998, 1999 & 2000

2. Stand 10 feet from the net and start in abbreviated position
Toss the ball forward and hit it down into the opposite service box. Attempt to hit the ball so that it bounces very high. This will develop hand, wrist and forearm action (pronation) and help you learn to hit “down” on the ball for the overhead (See Figures 3 & 4 below)

Figure 3-Kat Winterhalter, Women’s Assistant Coach at St. Mary’s College

 

Figure 4-Kat Winterhalter, Women’s Assistant Coach at St. Mary’s College

Okay, it’s time to get to work. Check in the next issue for better leg use on the serve and overhead.

Lisa Dodson

Lisa Dodson is the developer and owner of Servemaster, a USPTA Elite Professional and a former WTA world-ranked player. She is currently the director of tennis at Shenorock Shore Club in Rye, N.Y. She may be reached by e-mail at Lisa@TheTotalServe.com or visit TheTotalServe.com.