On today’s episode, I spoke with Ramon Osa from Osa Tennis 360 about how to hit kick serves. Ramon is an expert at helping tennis players discover the fun in tennis, while showing them what they need to do to improve their technique and tactics. Ramon is the founder of Osa Tennis 360, where he produces value-filled and fun tennis videos. He also has an awesome Youtube channel with fantastic tips and advice. Ramon believes that fun, along with the right system to develop world-class strokes and sound fundamentals, is the key to improving your tennis game.
We discussed technical aspects of the kick serve, how to toss the ball properly when hitting a kick serve, kick serve strategy, Ramon’s approach on how to learn this severely underused and often feared serve, and much more on Episode 58 of the The Tennis Files Podcast!
I hope you enjoy my interview with Ramon, and let us know what you think in the comments below!
Time-Stamped Show Notes
[5:56] What is the kick serve, and how can it help us win tennis matches?
[9:07] Why are players uncomfortable hitting or trying to hit kick serves?
[11:05] At what level (NTRP rating) do players consistently use the kick serve?
[12:34] The number one thing that players do incorrectly when trying to hit a kick serve.
[13:41] How to be more relaxed when serving
[15:15] The technical differences between the kick serve and a flat or slice serve
[17:38] How we should toss the ball when we hit a kick serve.
[18:45] How should we approach developing our kick serve — piece by piece or as a whole?
[20:17] Ramon’s two favorite drills that teaches us how to hit a kick serve.
[22:28] How far forward should we lean into the court for kick serves?
[25:21] How often should we use the kick serve in tennis matches?
[27:26] Why we should use the kick serve more often in doubles matches
[23:18] One key tip to help us hit better kick serves
[30:52] How Ramon’s serve course helps tennis players develop their kick serves
[34:56] What is in the course, and how is it organized?
[38:44] Results Ramon’s players have achieved through his instruction and courses
[41:55] Advice to players who don’t believe they can develop a solid kick serve
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Loosening Up: “I would ask the player to try to make errors, to hit out and let the hands fly. And to feel what it really feels like to be relaxed. Then slowly focus on the breathing, the relaxation, the bounce, the contact. And the result will come at the end. If you can improve your actions, you will improve your result. We are too focused on the outcome.”
A great tip from Sven about how we can loosen up ourselves and play more freely. I remember another coach who used to tell his son to try and blast a couple balls and the fence with them. Sometimes that’s what you need to do to regain the freedom and range of motion for your strokes. The worst feeling is to play tight, not be able to hit out on your shots, and make errors or be dominated during points because of it. We must learn to play more loose, more relaxed, and Sven’s tips above will help you do it. And when you focus on things like your breath, the bounce and contact, there isn’t much room to think about extraneous thoughts or tighten up because of the pressure.
Mental Game: “You may be a level 3 player, but when you get emotional, you revert to a level 1 player. The mental part of the game is a massive undertaking.”
This quote from 2-Time Australian Open Champion Johan Kriek solidifies what I and my podcast guests have been saying all along. Focus on the process and not the results. While there certainly is a place and a way to use emotion positively, many of us lack the experience or training to properly channel that emotion. We get too wrapped up in what we want to happen at the end rather than concentrating on executing in the present moment. Turn your attention to what you need to do to win points, and you’ll have a better chance at winning the match.
Serve Technique: “Slowing down first, moving slower, being more methodical with your tossing arm, not rushing, will help you with your toss and your rhythm. A lot of players move their arms too fast or they flick their wrists or do other things, and that really impacts the serve.”
What do the greatest servers have in common? Impeccable rhythm and timing. What do you see with most amateur players with weak serves? A herky-jerky, rushed service motion. Part of that is because players start the motion too quickly, which prevents momentum buildup and a natural-flowing progression towards powerful acceleration. If you start your service motion more slowly and deliberately, and let your body do the work instead of just the arms, you will have better timing, a more accurate toss, and decrease the chance of injury. Oh, and you will add a lot more MPHs to your serve, too.
4. David Ramos – USTA’s Senior Manager of Coaching Education and Performance
Using video: “Try to use video to help guide your discovery. It’s pretty easy these days to set a tablet on the court and record your practice or match. You want to get a good idea of what it looks like when you are able to do things well, and when you are struggling, and try to find what the differences are. Use video on a regular basis to give you feedback.”
Why do the best coaches in the world videotape their players? To spot technical and strategic deficiencies in their game so both player and coach know what to work on to reach the next level. This is especially critical for those of you who don’t have full-time or consistent coaching. Without it, it is extremely difficult to objectively self-assess our game during matches and practices without recording our play and analyzing how we performed afterwards. You might think you have the greatest serve, forehand, or backhand. I challenge you to record your play, watch it, show it to a coach or fellow player, and even share it online among knowledgeable players and coaches. And like Dave says, it is super easy to record these days. All you really need is a smartphone, and to make it easier, bring along a friend and/or tripod to prevent shaky video.
Competing: “There are a lot of different ways to win. Every coach is looking for a great competitor. Don’t get discouraged if you have some “ugly” technique. We’ve seen a lot of ugly technique work and win. It’s what’s under the hood and in your heart.”
At the end of the day, we won’t all have flawless technique like Federer. Heck, Gulbis reached the Top 100 with a very “interesting” looking forehand. When it is match-day, forget about technique and focus on executing your game plan, finding solutions against your opponent, and competing to the best of your ability. Beautiful technique means nothing if you aren’t willing to play through adversity, weather the storm, and come out on top by focusing on playing solid, no-nonsense, high-percentage tennis. It can be a confidence-buster if you think you have deficient technique, but just as in life, we do the best with the cards we’re dealt and make the most of it.
Volleys: “When it comes to firmness, it’s not either or. You have to be able to match the firmness with the situation you are in and with the desired outcome that you want. A lot of coaches are black and white with the firmness when in reality it’s a million shades of grey. No two volleys are going to be exactly the same.”
A lot of tennis players think every volley has to be hit the same. Every volley out in front, or always a certain degree of tightness/looseness in the arm. When the reality is, you have to adjust according to the type of ball coming at you and the type of volley you want to hit. This is the same philosophy that other world-class coaches like Feisal Hassanteach as well. Will a half volley have the same feel and technique as a high volley? Will a slow floating volley be hit at the same contact point and backswing as a fast-moving ball hit straight at you? I think you kNOw the answer to that question if you read Ian’s quote above. It takes time, practice, and an open mind, but you will find your range and learn the difference adjustments needed to hit great volleys no matter what type of ball you are receiving.
Kinetic Chain: “If you move your hips, your shoulders have to turn. That’s the preferred and optimal method. If you just focus on the shoulder turn, sometimes the hips don’t move, and you can put put your shoulders in a compromised environment that will rob you of pace and potentially overload the shoulder and elbow potentially in the motion.
A common question for me to tennis experts is: what initiates the kinetic chain? Who better to ask than the man who co-authored a fantastic study entitled “An 8-Stage Model for Evaluating the Tennis Serve” and is an expert in sports science? Too many players initiate their movements with their arms on most strokes, and the better ones initiate with the shoulders. However, as Dr. Kovacs mentioned, the optimal driver of the movement is to start with the hips. Sometimes when we rotate with the shoulders, the hips do not come along for the ride, which is inefficient and prevents maximum power and acceleration on the stroke. However, if you initiate your motion with your hips, then your shoulders must move, and you prevent under-rotation of your lower body. In general, we are using way too much arm and not enough hips on our shots. Hip rotation is the key to unlocking power.
Optimal Learning: “A great technique we use in coaching is called chunking. We focus on one area, or if the athlete is able to manage two areas at once, I would go no further than that. Sometimes coaches overload information. Keep the main thing the main thing.”
I’ve had lessons before where ten different instructions were shouted to me before I had to hit the ball. It is extremely difficult to absorb anything in these circumstances. Most of us cannot learn more than one thing at a time. And that’s fine because the optimal way to learn is to put 100% focus on one thing until you learn it completely, and then move on to the next concept. This is precisely what Allistair advises to coaches who are teaching students, and this also applies if you are trying things out on your own. Take the serve for example. If you had 100 students focus on increasing hip rotation, tossing the ball at 1 o’clock, and keep the head up at contact all at once, how high do you think the failure rate would be? Instead, focus on developing hip rotation for a solid 30 minutes or however long it takes until it feels natural, then move on to the toss.
Making Mistakes: “It is much better to accept a double fault and let it go, than to be hard on yourself and get upset and irritated. No top player has zero double faults. Just accept it and refocus on the next point rather than overanalyzing why you double faulted.”
Double faults and other mistakes can be the negative turning point in a match for tennis players. Or, it can just be another point like all the rest of them. The key is not to make such a big deal of your mistakes, because mistakes will happen. The sooner you accept this concept, the better your overall performance and results will be. This is also the main concept in certain meditation practices (Headspace is my favorite meditation app), and mindfulness-based tennis psychology, where instead of battling with your own mind and over-thinking why you made a mistake, you accept that it happened and stay focused on the match. Once you lose that focus, the match is practically over.
Footwork: “Start small and grow bigger. If it begins with just implementing more jump rope in your routine for example, it’s a great start. Anything you can do to make your feet move faster, be in more control over your center of gravity, balance, and your ability to move faster, is worth it.”
One useful piece of equipment that the Tennis Technique Summit coaches have consistently mentioned is the jump rope. Jumping rope can help you in a multitude of ways, from general fitness, to better balance, a stronger core, endurance, speed, and many other benefits. How about this for a challenge: implement 5 minutes of jump rope two times per week in your fitness routine, and take note of your footwork intensity and general fitness. I’m willing to bet that you will feel faster and fitter on the court in a few weeks. And at the very least, you’ll feel better about yourself knowing that you are taking small steps that will turn into big results in your tennis game.
I hope that the 10 greatest tips I’ve learned from world-class coaches above will help you in your journey to becoming a better tennis player.
If you aren’t convinced to check out the Tennis Technique Summit yet, which is free to watch from March 22-27, here’s a short highlights video that I had my video editor make for you to check out:
I highly encourage you to register for The Tennis Technique Summit! You’ll get to watch 30+ hours of video interviews and presentations with over 25 world-class coaches, including the ones above.
To check out the Tennis Technique Summit for free, enter your first name and email address below! See you there!
Get Your Free Ticket to the 2017 Tennis Technique Summit!
Join 25+ world-class experts from March 22-27. Register Now!
From March 22-27, you’ll be able to watch the coaches and I talk about tennis on your computer and smartphone. And you can get a free ticketto watch all the sessions!
It has been incredible connecting with many of the greatest coaches in the game. The lineup of over 25 coaches includes multiple Grand Slam Champion Johan Kriek, Sven Groeneveld (Maria Sharapova’s coach), former top 100 ATP player Jeff Salzenstein, current doubles pro Megan Moulton-Levy, top-notch online instructors Ian Westermann, Tomaz Mencinger, and Florian Meier, USTA’s David Ramos, and high performance coaches Dr. Mark Kovacs and Allistair McCaw.
The coaches and I examine technique on the serve, forehand, backhand, volleys, footwork, and other areas of your game to help you become a better player and reach the next level.
You’ll get to watch over 30 hours of extremely valuable video interviews, powerpoint presentations, and recorded lessons during the 6 days of the summit. I truly appreciate the time and effort from all of the coaches to help make this summit a fantastic event.
Here’s a quick little preview of the summit that my video editor sliced together for you:
Think of how much cash you’d have to invest to get this amount of advice from all of these world-class coaches. Even one tip could make a huge difference in your game, and you’re going to learn about a hundred of them when you attend this event. The coaches on the summit have had so much success helping thousands of players like you improve their games. Now it is your turn.
You also have the option to upgrade to lifetime access to all the videos, which includes downloadable mp3 audio files so you can listen to the sessions from anywhere you want, free courses from the coaches, a question and answer session with me after the event, and access to a private facebook group. For all the value you are getting, I think the price (hint, it’s under $100!) is pretty reasonable.
Whether you just want to watch the videos, or upgrade to the All-Access Pass, it’s a no-brainer to sign-up for your free ticket to the event. If you’re a passionate tennis player who wants to improve your game, you’ve got no excuse not to check out the Tennis Technique Summit.
I’d also really appreciate it if you could share the event with any people or groups that are interested in becoming better tennis players. My goal is to positively impact as many people as possible with the summit.
On today’s episode, I spoke with Brian Smith, creator of Performance Tennis Training, about tennis serve technique. Brian and I went through each phase of the tennis serve, from the grip to the finish.
The serve is easily the most important part of the game. As I’ve said time and time again, we serve half the time, and you can start dictating with it immediately.
Brian creates fantastic, value-filled videos about all aspects of tennis, including stroke mechanics and footwork, on his Performance Tennis Training Youtube Page. I’ve watched many of them, and when I’ve implemented Brian’s tips, they have worked really well for me.
Thanks to Brian for being on the show and talking about the most important stroke in tennis, the serve!
Time-Stamped Show Notes
[2:32] How Brian Smith became an expert tennis coach
[3:52] Tennis book that made the most impact on Brian’s tennis career
[4:49] What motivates Brian to be the best tennis coach he can be every day
[6:23] Why the tennis serve is the most important part of your game
[7:16] The grip we should use for the tennis serve and some alternatives
[9:09] Various stances for the serve (platform, pinpoint)
[10:35] Brian’s preferred backswing technique (abbreviated vs. full/classic)
[13:23] How to develop a smoother backswing on the serve
[15:19] Tools we can use to smooth out the serve
[16:57] How much should we rotate our bodies on the serve?
[18:32] The ideal loading position for the serve
[19:42] Ideal height to toss the ball
[21:17] How to toss the ball properly
[23:04] What is pronation and how does it help us hit better serves?
[24:42] Would a weak continental grip still allow us to pronate effectively?
[26:22] The different types of second serves
[28:19] How can we produce more spin on our serves?
[30:10] Tips for generating power on our first serves
[34:03] How can players hit flat serves?
[37:58] Brian’s favorite serve placements
[40:14] How many serves should we practice hitting a day?
[42:32] What parts of our body should we be strengthening to hit better serves
[43:57] Favorite point patterns off the serve
[46:19] Exercises to keep the rotator cuff healthy
[47:27] Resources to improve players’ serves
[49:52] How did Brian come up with the idea for Performance Tennis Training?
[51:23] Why should players check out Performance Tennis Training?
[53:07] Brian’s favorite PTT video
[54:30] Future plans for PTT
[55:59] One key piece of advice on how you can improve your tennis serve
[56:57] Where can we follow Brian and PTT online?
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A couple years ago, I had a lesson with a former ATP pro and coach of the Chinese Women’s National Tennis Team, Ni Chang Hong. He quickly detected a deficiency in my game that is rampant among tennis players, especially amateurs: falling back while hitting groundstrokes.
Throughout my lesson, the coach called me out if I leaned backwards while hitting a shot, and repeated “strong legs” through the lesson.
To be clear, there are times when you will have no choice but to lean backwards when striking the ball. You’ll see pros do this occasionally, especially the Spanish contingent who hit heavy topspin and can loop the ball back deep.
But many tennis players have a bad habit of not keeping themselves balanced when playing tennis. Balance is extremely crucial to your tennis success.
If you don’t believe me, consider that during one of Kei Nishikori’s practice sessions at the Citi Open this past year, his coach Dante Bottini performed the very same drill and instructions with the Japanese star that I did with coach Hong.
The main instruction I heard from Bottini to Kei on the stadium court during a backhand drill was “balance.” I’m pretty sure the IMG Academy, where Bottini coaches, knows a thing or two about tennis.
Check out a clip of the practice, specifically the difference between Kei’s backhands at 54 seconds vs 56 seconds, after Bottini tells him to be more balanced.
When I, a mere mortal, had my lesson, I had to elevate my footwork intensity so that I was balanced or leaning forward while striking the ball. And if I was pushed back, I was instructed to backpedal quickly and then shift forward before hitting the ball.
If you have enough time to hit the ball, you should have a strong base, and avoid falling backwards to hit the shot.
Let’s take a look at the reasons why you fall backwards, an exception, consequences, and how to fix this problem.
Reasons Why You Lean Backwards
(1) Not enough time. You fall backwards because it gives you more time and space to hit the shot.
(2) Fear of the ball. Perhaps your opponent has hit a strong shot, and you instinctively fall back as a defense mechanism. When I am not confident in my game, this tends to become a problem.
(3) Inefficient technique. Your technique or footwork causes you to shift your momentum backwards when you hit the ball.
Sometimes, It’s Okay to Fall Back
Of the reasons above, #1 is excusable, but only if you truly do not have the time to get into proper position. I say this because you can drastically reduce this occurrence by increasing your footwork intensity and technique during training and matches.
Sometimes you will have no choice but to lean back while hitting the ball. Certain situations force even the most aggressive players to lean back to hit the shot and play defense. Just don’t make it a habit.
Negative Consequences of Leaning Backwards
When you let your body fall backwards while hitting a shot, the following problems can and will often happen:
(1) Loss of power. When your momentum goes backwards while hitting the ball, you will lose a substantial amount of power. You will produce more force when you put your weight into your shots.
(2) Loss of depth. Your shots will land short or in the net. You won’t be able to muster enough force on the ball to hit it as deep as you could if you leaned forward, unless you can master adding height to your shots (i.e. loop the ball with topspin) while falling backwards.
(3) Lose control of the point. The mere act of falling back means you are yielding control of the point to your opponent. It is virtually impossible to be on the offensive if you fall backwards while hitting your shots.
(4) Inefficient use of the body. When you hit a ball while leaning backwards, your arm is doing all the work. Hence, you waste energy on your legs and other body parts because even though your body is working hard on the shot, its energy is not being transferred as efficiently as if you were leaning forward, which would let you take advantage of your body’s energy.
(5) Injury. Repetitive inefficient technique from leaning backwards will cause you to “arm” the ball. As a result, your arm will overcompensate for the lack of contribution from your legs, trunks, and other parts of your body. This can lead to overuse injury.
Solution: Think “Strong Legs”
Here’s what you need to do: Remember the words “strong legs.” This translates to holding your ground and your balance.
Be confident, keep your feet moving, and lean in on the ball whenever possible. Your weight should be evenly distributed so that you are balanced when hitting the ball, and when you can take the offensive, transfer your weight forward.
Try as hard as you can not to lean back on shots. This will help you to be more aggressive and less passive, which will be great for your game as well. If there is a flaw in your technique that causes you to lean back, commit to fixing it and regaining your balance!
If a floating ball comes back deep, you can back-pedal a few steps, and then lean forward when you strike the ball, instead of hitting the ball on the rise if you prefer not to.
For the times when you absolutely must lean back, make sure that you end up balanced when you finish the stroke. Here is a video that describes how pros rotate their body and end the shot balanced when they must lean back to create more space.
Have an aggressive mind-set, strong legs, work hard on your balance, and your groundstrokes will improve by leaps and bounds.
For more helpful tennis tips, download my free eBookbelow!
The serve is the most important shot in tennis. All points begin with a serve. The key to this stroke is fluidity, rotation, and use of the entire body to snap upward into the shot.
Start at the baseline with the tennis ball in the non-dominant hand and the racquet in the other hand. Use a continental grip to serve. You should be turned predominately sideways with the front foot at approximately a 45 degree-angle pointing towards the netpost.
Players most commonly begin with both racquet and ball together in front of the body, then bring the racquet back while tossing the ball in the air and slightly to the right (for right-handers) or left (for left-handers) and in-front of the body. You should reach a point in the motion where the tossing hand is extended upwards and the racquet head is pointed up and behind the head.
Load the hips and knees while remaining sideways and then uncoil into the serve. Mimic a throwing motion with the racquet to whip up into the ball and hit it into the opposite service box. Focus your eyes on the ball until contact.
The serve takes a lot of time and effort to master, but the effort will be well worth the reward. The service motion will feel natural and fluid with consistent practice. Meticulous attention to technique and dedicated serve practice sessions are a must if you want to become proficient at the tennis serve.
Kei Nishikori Citi Open Final Forehand – Photo by Mehrban
The forehand is usually a player’s strongest shot because it uses the dominant hand. The key to a great forehand is footwork, racquet preparation, and balance. Most players use a semi-western grip to hit a forehand.
You must get into position, bend the knees, and (like the serve) stay turned with the hips and torso coiled before striking the ball. You can use the non-dominant hand to help track the ball while your dominant hand loads your racquet before the strike.
Ideal backswing lengths vary according to how much time a player has to strike the ball, but you should generally follow a half-circle (visualize a lowercase “c”) pattern. If you use too large of a backswing you will make contact with the ball too late, resulting in loss of power and an inefficient ball strike.
Occasionally, you may opt to hit a slice forehand when stretched wide, to approach the net, or to vary the spin against your opponent.
You can either use a one-handed or two-handed backhand. A one-handed backhand will provide you with longer reach and is better-suited to handling shots coming into the body than the two-handed backhand.
However, the two-handed backhand provides more stability and control. Players also generally have less trouble hitting high balls with a two-handed backhand than with one-hand. Children may find the added strength of a second hand more suitable.
Ultimately, you should try both a one and two-handed backhand to see which one feels more natural to you.
The majority of players with a one-handed backhand use an Eastern backhand grip. For the two-handed backhand, most players use an eastern or continental grip for the dominant hand, and an eastern or semi-western grip for the non-dominant hand.
Like the forehand, you must get into position with excellent footwork to hit a great backhand. Balance, knee bend, racquet preparation, and body rotation are crucial in order to maximize the power, speed, and spin of a backhand.
The follow through is especially important for a backhand in order to give it enough depth into the court. Players tend to shorten their backswing on the backhand, resulting in short, weak, and flat shots.
Make sure to keep balanced while hitting backhands, and lean forward into the shot whenever possible. On a two-handed backhand, your non-dominant hand should be used equally or more than the dominant hand during the stroke. This facilitates a more powerful and lengthier extension during the follow-through.
You can also hit a slice backhand, either to approach the net, when stretched wide, or to make your opponent hit a low ball. An effective slice backhand stays low to the ground after bouncing and can be a tough shot to handle for many opponents, especially those with a more closed-faced grip like the western or semi-western.
Players who approach the net will often make contact with the ball while it is in the air. This stroke is called a volley. Use a continental grip to hit volleys.
The key to the volley is a compact backswing, making contact with the ball in front of the body (and to the side), and footwork. Most players have problems hitting a proper volley because they do not get into good position.
When this happens, you will either be forced to reach for the ball, or hit the volley too close to the body. These shots will feel awkward, unbalanced, and are hard to control.
Another common flaw when hitting volleys is a big backswing. This causes players to make contact with the ball too late. The volley is a simple and compact stroke. There should be minimal if any take-back when hitting a volley. You must use the opponent’s power and think to “block back” the shot by moving forward while hitting the volley in front of your body.
You will also have to master a variation of the volley, the half-volley, when approaching the net. For the half-volley, you should utilize the same preparation and compact stroke mechanics as a normal volley. The difference is that for a half-volley, you will make contact with the ball right after it hits the ground instead of before the ball bounces.
The overhead is basically a tennis serve that requires footwork and does not involve a ball toss. It is imperative that you get into position so that you can hit the overhead in your ideal strike zone (same place as the serve). You should not plant your feet until right before impact.
This means that once you get into the general area where the ball will drop, you need to keep taking small adjustment steps to get into the right position to hit the overhead.
The racquet head and arm should both be up and ready in time to strike the ball. You should be turned sideways and ready to uncoil your energy into the overheard, similar to a serve. However the racquet take back should be more abbreviated than a serve. Use a continental grip to hit overheads.
Some of you asked me why I didn’t include the lob or drop shot on this list. While they are important tennis shots, I think the lob and drop shot are extensions of the forehand, backhand and volley strokes. As a result, the lob and drop shot are types of shots, but are not strokes.
I have personally never heard of someone describe a drop shot or lob as a stroke. But forehand, backhands, serves, volleys, and overheads are definitely strokes. In any case, we will dive into the mechanics of all the different shots in tennis in the future. It’s all semantics anyway 🙂
I hope you enjoyed my article on the 5 basic tennis strokes. If you have any questions, feel free to email me or visit my contact page.