| By Lisa Dodson

We’re finally at the finish of the three part series about understanding the major differences and similarities between the serve and overhead. Part I dealt with cleaning up movement, balance and preparation. Part II helped to find a great contact point for power and the ability to hit down on the ball. If you made the time to do the practical homework then your overhead and serve should both have improved by leaps and bounds.

Part III will now put the finishing touches on your ability to hit a killer overhead. Once again, let’s review the major similarities and differences between the serve and the overhead.


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


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


It’s time to concentrate on two things: How to use your legs properly to drive up and how to get a real pop at contact (Points F & G).

Leg Drive
These days, when serving, there are several really good options for how to use your legs. These options are dependent upon the stance that you choose to begin with. Typically, players choose one of two stances: Platform or Pinpoint Stance. Of course there are variations within these stances that we won’t be concerned with right now.

The common denominator is and always will be upward drive to the ball with powerful legs.

With the Platform Stance, the feet are spaced anywhere between four-inches to one-foot (approximately) depending upon size of the player and personal preference. The back foot stays put. Drive UP to the ball comes more from the front leg than the back leg. The back leg is more responsible for driving the back hip FORWARD than up although it is still a driving force (see photo below).

Jason Beardslee, a USPTA Pro 1, uses a platform stance

The Pinpoint Stance is very different. Players begin with their feet spaced at various distances and in different configurations. Generally, after the ball toss is initiated, the back foot steps up or is pulled up to the front foot. Now the feet are close together which potentially creates more combined driving force with both legs.

When hitting an overhead, we are faced with a number of problems. First, we have to get “behind” the ball. Remember, an overhead is not really a shot that we want to contact OVER our head, but in front of our head where our eyes can see. The ideal situation is to be turned, flexed, prepared and visually tuned in. The ball is out in front of us so that we can drive up with the legs for a powerful hit. It is really much like the leg use of a Platform Stance, feet spaced for balance and a drive up more from the front leg. I have never seen anyone intentionally hit a Pinpoint Stance overhead. This would most likely end with the player unintentionally on the ground.

Nowhere in the two common serve stance types did we say anything about driving up off of the back foot and leg. This is precisely what is needed on a large number of overhead hits simply because often the ball is traveling way over us and out of reach. This is a movement that needs to be learned and practiced often without hitting a ball.

In this situation, the objective is to “jump back” to the hit in order to keep the ball forward of the head (at best) or to reach behind the head (often in desperation).

Simply stated, when going back for a good lob, jump off the back leg (take off foot) in a backward direction. The swing directly follows the jump and is in conjunction with body rotation. Land on the opposite foot (landing foot) which now has become the back foot through rotation. You will travel back anywhere from one to four feet in common situations. This is a must have footwork pattern for good overhead coverage (see photo below).

Lisa Dodson is just about to take off her back/right foot to jump back, hit and land on left foot

Getting that POP
There is a real misconception about the finish on the serve. Players often think that the racket hand should travel all the way to the opposite hip for finish. A longer finish does not give more power. Remember that one creates racket head speed by allowing the racket head to go free. The racket head needs to travel faster than the hand.

So, on the serve, we have a couple of things to remember. The racket HAND will come to a full stop (decelerate) somewhere in front of the opposite side hip. The toss hand will be somewhere behind the hip and the racket head tip will be pointing back to the back fence. Because of the toss element, the swing will naturally be a little longer than an overhead, but substantially shorter than what is commonly practiced. Players also have more time to prepare for the return from the opposite baseline.

Lisa Dodson demonstrates a typical serve finish

On the overhead, we’re looking for a true pop, a short set and snap at the ball. We want to get that racket head moving quickly by pulling the non-dominant hand and arm into the body, using extreme pronation with the hit arm. The follow-through will be short and abrupt as we are creating power. We also need to be ready to volley in case the ball comes back. A short finish will accomplish all that is necessary.

To sum it all up
If you already love your serve, then you have the potential to love your overhead. Knowing the similarities and differences between the two strokes will give you a leg up on everyone else and allow your shots to develop naturally. In order to truly improve, you have to be willing to make changes. No one gets better simply by wanting it.

Take some time to work on the parts that will create a great whole and before you know it you will have a killer 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.