Nick’s size and strength add to his serve’s potency, but his technique is the differentiating factor. Specific characteristics of his technique contradict many common beliefs about the serve. Using images and video of King Kyrgios himself, we’ll debunk the top five serving myths and help improve your serve in the process:
SCRATCH YOUR BACK
As illustrated in the above photo, Kyrgios’ racquet is nowhere near his back. Scratching the back is one of the the most harmful myths for two reasons: it reduces racquet head speed and puts you at greater risk for injury. When you try to scratch your back with the racquet, it places the elbow in a more elevated position, which tightens the shoulder muscles. The elbow should only go higher than the shoulder once—upon making contact.
The anatomical action associated with the “back scratch position” is external rotation of the shoulder. When serving, the muscles responsible for external rotation should go into an eccentric—or lengthening—phase. A tense muscle reduces our range of motion, therefore reduces our racquet head speed. Greater range of motion = greater racquet head speed.
To increase external rotation on your serve, it is best to think about combing your hair back with the strings—or scratching someone else’s back behind you—rather than scratching your own back. Consistently tight muscles are more susceptible to overuse injuries, therefore this concept will not only improve your serve’s power, but also reduce the likelihood of getting injured.
SNAP YOUR WRIST
The wrist is a radial joint that can perform several anatomical movements, but pronation is not one of them. Pronation occurs when the radius turns over the ulna.
In the above photo, you can see Kyrgios’s wrist is neither extended, flexed, abdubcted, or adducted. The outward twist of the hand is a combination of forearm pronation and internal rotation of the shoulder. Trying to feel or visualize the wrist snapping targets the wrong joint entirely. This verbiage is also detrimental because wrist flexion brings the racquet down, when we ideally want to swing up and out.
Pronation occurs during overhead actions in other sports as well. For instance, major league baseball pitchers (even when throwing a curve ball), quarterbacks in football, and freestyle swimmers. So, you should consider saving the “slam dunk the basketball” wrist action for two-on-two in the driveway.
A better alternative to the phrase, “snap your wrist,” is “twist your palm out.” In addition to this phrase being more factual, your brain relates best to the palm, so this will help you begin to feel the correct action. Understanding the role—or lack thereof—of the wrist should help you start serving more like the pros.
In reality, the toss is usually not the culprit. A low—or collapsed—contact point often stems from having an open racquet face at some point during the swing. A simple axiom to remember is, “when the strings point up, the racquet must pull down,” and vice versa. Trying to toss higher distracts from the root cause and actually exacerbates the problem. When the toss is significantly higher than your peak reach, the body and racquet match the falling ball—and the higher you toss, the faster the ball falls with gravity.
Watch Kyrgios’ serve from the side view. You can see the toss barely falls a couple of inches before he makes the hit:
Nick’s low toss helps him—not hurts him—with extension and posture at the hit, while also never giving him the chance to pause or decelerate the racquet. Here’s an easy way to make sure your toss isn’t too high: hold your racquet up for contact, then toss the ball to its usual height. If the ball is significantly higher than your reach, you are most likely hurting your chance for an efficient and consistent contact point.
POSE LIKE A TROPHY
If you have always accepted the tennis trophy as the gold standard of serve technique, you have been deceived—albeit not as bad as the Trojan’s were deceived by a large wooden horse, but deceived nonetheless. Of course, there are elements of this pose that are correct, but three major flaws have created mass confusion over the years:
The angle of the racquet face doesn’t allow for sufficient forearm supination, which greatly decreases torque upon pronating. Also, because the racquet face is open, it’s harder to create spin. When players emulate this position, they regress to a “palm-up” serve. Essentially, as the shoulder moves forward, the racquet will swing back with the strings—and palm of the hand—pointing to the sky. The old axiom, “when the strings point up, the racquet must pull down,” applies here yet again.
The angle of his knees, hips, and shoulders, demonstrate a lack of body rotation. With body rotation being the primary source of power on the serve, this is a significant issue.
Lastly, the ball has yet to be tossed while the racquet is above his head. This means he will have to wait in this position for the ball to be released. Rather than stopping your momentum, it is best to keep the racquet accelerating during this phase.
The irony is, that with serve technique like this, trophy man probably isn’t winning too many trophies himself…of himself.
Now let’s compare Kyrgios during the same phase:
Notice how the racquet face is closed—or angled more downward. This will allow Nick’s racquet to stay closed as he accelerates forward. His back is turned towards the net, which shows good body rotation. And while the racquet is above his head, the ball has already left his hand, which will allow him to keep accelerating throughout this phase.
These key differences make the Nick Kyrgios serve a powerful cannon, while the poor trophy dude is left armed with a bee-bee gun.
JUMP FOR MORE POWER
Having a Doctorate in Physics is not a prerequisite to become a tennis coach (thank God it isn’t), but it certainly helps to have a basic understanding of some Newtonian principles. For example, normal force—the foundational concept that allows us to generate power using the kinetic chain—states that when we push down on the ground, the ground pushes back on us. The jump doesn’t necessarily correlate with your ability to produce force, as evidenced in the video below:
As you can see, Kyrgios is absolutely annihilating the serve while staying grounded. How does he crush the ball without a jump, you ask? Two words—body coil. As he uncoils from the ground up, he accelerates each link and subsequently decelerates the previous link, all the way up the chain.
When top players like Kyrgios get airborne, it’s a reaction—not an action. Leaving the court, is a byproduct of a properly sequenced kinetic chain. In other words, great servers are not trying to achieve a max vertical leap when they serve.
If you can’t break a pane of glass with your serve when grounded, trying to jump higher or farther will most likely not help one iota. In fact, jumping can cause you to lose power—if your feet leave the ground before your racquet reaches peak velocity.
Thanks for stopping in to read our blog! Big thanks to Nick for helping us debunk these serving myths. Good luck at the Australian Open, mate! If you have any questions or comments, leave a comment below, or find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @fmtennisfl.