Federer's Serve: A Model of Perfection

But what if by a statistical miracle, I am blessed by God with that same flexible shoulder as the greatest servers? Won't I be giving away racket drop with the more circular motion? I don't think so. You can look at Philippoussis, whose motion is more circular than Federer's and see that it doesn't really seem to have a negative impact. If we look at the video, we can see that Mark's racket drop is about the same as that of Sampras or Roddick. Even with the circular backswing he achieves the same forearm position, dipping a little below parallel to the court.

So you have very little to lose and much to gain by modeling Roger's wind-up--or even that of Philippoussis. If video of your motion shows that you can achieve a racket drop equal to the top pros, sure, you can experiment with abbreviating the motion more. My guess is that will be 5 percent or even less of all players. Meanwhile, if you are in the other 95 percentile, you will have maximized the value of the number one power source on the serve.

Arm Motion to Contact

There are two primary elements in the motion of the hand and racket to the ball: extension of the elbow and the rotation of the hand and arm. One of the things I'm happiest about on Tennisplayer.net is how we are constantly increasing our knowledge of all aspects of the game, including the serve.

Philipoussis displays a great example of form despite--or because of--the backswing.

If you read Brian Gordon's groundbreaking article last month on tennis and quantitative measurement, you no doubt were fascinated by the breakdown of the contribution of the segments to racket head speed. A big part of that contribution comes from the wrist (about 25 percent). And in fact we can definitely see the motion of the wrist in the high speed video. It moves from a laid back position at the drop to a neutral position at the contact. I have described this motion as giving the ball a "high five" with the continental grip.

Brian discusses the meaning and ramifications of this in considerable detail. He concludes that that wrist motion may be at least partially driven by other components in the motion. He agrees with me--tentatively at least--that the concept of "snapping" the wrist forward is probably counterproductive in coaching.

Now in case any of you think I published that article just because Brian's science seemed to support my qualitative analysis, I have a surprise. Some of Brian's subsequent work, or so he tells me, actually indicates something different. If I understand him correctly he has found that there is definitely some active use or contraction of the muscles in the forward wrist motion. So the wrist movement is not all passive, and may even qualify as some form of "snap."

And I say great! More data is better and may lead to better understanding. I get bored just rehashing the same arguments anyway. The chance to revise your thinking is actually more stimulating This isn't a religious orthodoxy we're running here at Tennisplayer, although some coaches treat their beliefs that way and if challenged will battle to the death against the infidel.

Brian may be completely right about his revised view of the wrist, and knowing Brian he probably is. We'll let him speak for himself when he is ready on that one. But what I will stand behind is the concept of position analysis in looking at this complex motion (and all the other complex motions in tennis for that matter.) The high speed video shows the critical role of the forearm extension and the hand and arm rotation in taking the racket to the ball. According to Brian's analysis, right before contact the elbow extension contributes about 35 percent of the racket head speed, and the combined rotation of the hand and arm adds another 22 percent. As these two key motions are happening the wrist is also moving from the laid back to the square position, accounting for its own 24 percent.

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