Monday, March 30, 2009

Andy Murray's Tennis Serve

Last week, Rafael Nadal won the 2009 BNP Paribas Tennis Tournament at Indian Wells, California, defeating Andy Murray easily in the final.

As we watched the tournament, we heard frequent discussions of Murray's second serve, and that if he could develop a better second serve he would be almost unstoppable. Of course, he was almost unstoppable at Indian Wells, but did lose badly in the final, mostly because of poor serving. In that final match against Nadal, he lost his service games four times and won only 6 of 16 (38%) of his 2nd serve points. Let's take nothing away from Nadal though; he has the best return game in tennis, possibly the best ever.

All tennis players, including beginners, know the importance of the serve. A good serve can result in easy points and puts pressure on an opponent. The first and second serves in tennis usually have different goals. With your first serve, you want to win the point with an ace, service winner, or at least put your opponent in a defensive position for the next shot. The first serve is generally flat and fast, and you can take more risk, knowing you have an attempt at a 2nd serve if you need it. The second serve is your backup safety. Your priority is to get the second serve in and start the point. If you miss the second serve, you will double fault and give your opponent a free point. Most tennis players put a lot more spin on the second serve, but this tends to reduce the speed of the serve.

Because of the slower pace, the second serve often gives the receiver plenty of time to get into position to hit an aggressive return. However, if you can make your second serve look similar to your first serve, at least in terms of the service motion, you can make it difficult for the receiver to predict the speed (and type of spin) of the serve, and you may retain a significant advantage, even as you serve slower and with more control.

We found some video of Andy Murray's first serve and decided to look at it from a biomechanics point of view. This video is set up very well for video analysis. The camera is set up along the baseline, which allows us to get a side-on view of Andy during his serve. We can also see the complete service motion in the video, including the racquet head, and can see the racquet make contact with the ball. It would have been great if we could've seen the complete ball toss (the ball goes out of the top of the screen) and if the camera had been stable and mounted on a tripod; but in general, this is good video sports analysis footage.

The power in the tennis serve, like many throwing or hitting sports (baseball hitting and pitching, football throw, and golf) is created by a chain of events. Each part of the body loads up with energy and transfers its energy to the next link in the chain. The timing of this energy transfer is critical to creating racquet head speed and therefore a good, fast serve.

In Andy's serve, we see how he starts with his knee bend as he throws the ball up. You may also notice that as he bends his knees his hips turn away from the court. He then transfers this energy now stored in his hips by bringing his back foot up to his front foot and rotating his hips into the court. Once again notice that as he rotates his hips back into the court, his shoulders now rotate away. This counter rotation in both hips and then shoulders creates the potential for racket head speed; Andy is coiled up and ready to explode his racket toward the ball.

As he does this, he releases the potential energy, rotates his shoulders back into the court, and throws his racket at the ball. All these energy transfers add up to create the speed with which he will hit his serve. If his timing is off, his speed will not be as high.

The ball toss is, of course, just as important. If you do not throw the ball consistently, it will be very diffcult to perfect the timing of your kinetic chain (described above). Andy's ball toss is high and a falls about a foot inside the court. If you want to hit a good hard serve, the ball needs to be in front of you, so that your body and racquet are moving forward when the ball is struck. If the ball toss is directly above your head, it is much more difficult to get theball moving forward with as much pace.

Ok, so Andy has a great first serve, and we can see that here. It is his second serve that the commentators were discussing. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any good footage of his second serve to compare it to his first serve. We are sure his coach is working hard on improving his kinetic chain sequence and timing to make it more difficult for his opponents to read his second serve.

Please post comments and let us know what you think, or whether you have any questions or suggestions. We would be delighted to hear from you.

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