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Fine-tuning Your Serve

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Developing a strong and consistent serve is one of the most simple and valuable things you can do to improve your game. This article focuses on some common mistakes that players make in executing their serve—and how to properly address them.The serve is considered one of the most important shots in the game for two reasons: First, you can only score points when serving; and second, the serve dictates how your opponent responds to the point.

Oftentimes, players just want to drop the serve in—without a real plan. By planning and simplifying the service motion, you can greatly impact your effectiveness. In this article, we’ll discuss how the serve is an extension of the rest of your game. We’ll also go over contact point, weight transfer, swing, etc.

Here are the most common service mistakes I’ve seen, and how to address them:

Contact point and ball release.
Ideally, the contact point for your serve is well in front of your body so you can swing your paddle into the ball using the momentum from your shoulder. If a player is bent over from the hips (often due to trying to make contact below the waist), the paddle contact is often close to the hips instead of in front of the player. You’ll want your arm to relax and fully extend on contact instead of having to scoop the ball from behind your body from elbow or wrist.

A player will often hold on to the ball for too long and release it too low. When releasing the ball, take your non-dominant hand and extend it in front of you so your paddle will create speed and acceleration through the ball on contact. Your contact point would be about an arm’s length away in front of the body. This will allow the ball to stay on the paddle longer—creating consistency and depth.

Moving the head while swinging.
If you’re looking down at the ball with your head and moving it up as you swing (to follow the ball), it will create issues connecting with the ball properly and moving your weight through it. If your ball release and contact point are in front of your body, you can look down with your eyes while keeping your head still through contact. It is ideal to keep your chin away from your chest for added stability.

Positioning and moving prior to contact.
A lot of potential issues are created when a player is turned sideways before hitting the serve. In general, it’s more difficult to time the transfer of weight with your arms, hips and body if you begin your swing from a sideways position. Stepping before you swing can also cause timing issues.

If a player is having trouble with direction or distance (missing serves long or wide), the pre-serve movement could be the issue.

When setting up for a serve, point the tips of both your shoes in the direction of your target—with your opposite leading in front (left leg in front, if you are right-handed). This will set your hips and chest facing the direction you want to swing.

Next, your weight should move from the back foot to front with your hips finishing toward your target. If your back foot lifts up and the undersole points toward the back fence, that means your weight transferred forward. This will allow for more consistency with direction and more paddle head speed as you swing. It will also create the same motion on the left or right side of the court, increasing consistency and paddle control.

So take an honest look at your serve and the results you’re getting. Then begin utilizing your whole body to create more consistency, range and power.

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Five-Time National Pickleball Champion Sarah Ansboury is Education Consultant and Lead Clinician for Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR) as well as a 5.5 tennis player and former NCAA women’s tennis coach. She is a two-time US Open Pickleball Champion and a sponsored HEAD Pro Player. Sarah is currently the Touring Professional and Director of Pickleball Instruction at Palmetto Dunes Resort on Hilton Head Island, SC.

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