How to Raise Your Point of Contact on the Serve

Part I: Point of Contact for Different Serves

Despite all of the many differences in tennis serving style you'll observe among the pros, one thing you'll note by perusing your Tennis Magazine or pausing your VCR is that every one of them hits every serve with the hitting arm fully extended upward. If you are doing the same, you've taken the single most important step toward having a world-class serve.

One might think that it's a simple matter to reach up to hit a serve, but millions of tennis players find this stubbornly difficult.

On the next page, we'll look at several methods you can use to train yourself to meet the ball at full extension, but first it will help to understand the differences between the heights of contact for various serves.

The most common first serve used by advanced players, including the pros, has a combination of topspin and slice (sidespin) that results from brushing and striking the ball at a point that would be between the 1:00 and 2:00 positions on an imaginary clock face (for a right-hander). On this serve, the racquet should meet the ball as high as possible. On kick serves (topspin and twist), the arm should still be fully extended, but because the racquet needs to brush up the back of the ball more, it needs to meet the ball at a somewhat lower point of contact. On a flat serve (rarely used in the pros) or on a topspin-slice serve, the racquet is very close to vertical at contact, and thus an extension of the arm.

On a kick serve, the arm is vertical, but the racquet meets the ball while it is still tilted to the left of vertical, on its way toward becoming vertical. On an extreme slice serve (also rarely used in the pros), the point of contact is also lower, with the arm slanted out to the right of vertical.

If you have not yet mastered the skill of reaching up as high as possible to meet the ball, you should focus on developing either your flat serve or your topspin-slice. A truly flat serve has limited usefulness in advanced tennis, because the lack of topspin results in a very narrow window above the net for serves with any decent speed. For some players, though, getting used to using a Continental grip and creating spin, while at the same time training a high point of contact, is too much at once. High contact should be the greater priority. Once you get that grooved, learning the spin won't diminish your reach.

One way some players make themselves reach up for the ball is by keeping the entire arm straight throughout the swing. This "windmill serve" puts a tremendous strain on your shoulder and can result in severe damage. If there's anything as important as reaching up for the serve, it's making sure you bend your elbow in preparation for striking the ball. The proper mechanics of the serving swing depends upon throwing the lower half of the arm upward from a deeply bent elbow to a straight one. With a loose wrist, this causes all of the energy coming from the legs, torso, and arm to be translated into whipping the racquet upward and forward at the ball.

If you swing with a straight arm, your racquet speed is limited by how fast your arm can rotate around your most unappreciative shoulder joint. If you bend your arm and keep your wrist loose, the whipping effect generates far greater racquet head speeds.

The following training methods have varying success. None conflict with any others, so there's no harm in trying as many as you need, as long as you don't jump from one to the next without giving each time to work.

1. Freeze-taps: This is a method commonly used by PTR pros. Hold your racquet behind your back with your elbow fully bent. Toss the ball to the height at which you can reach with your racquet fully extended.

Swing up to just meet the ball with a light tap and freeze your racquet at that point of contact. If you're not meeting the ball at full extension, you'll see it right away. Once you are meeting the ball high, freezing there will help that idea and feeling stick in your mind.

2. Fence-traps: Stand with your left shoulder a foot or so from the court fence. Hold your racquet behind your back with your elbow bent. Toss the ball so that it reaches the fence at the greatest height you can reach with your racquet fully extended. Reach up and gently trap the ball against the fence at your full extension. Make sure you're not next to a fence pole when you do this.

3. Lower your toss: Ironically, too high a toss can cause too low a point of contact. If you toss so high that the ball has to drop for you to reach it, this can encourage you to let it drop too far. Try tossing just to the height you can reach, then meeting the ball right there.

This will also improve the accuracy of your toss. The shorter the ball's total flight, the less time it has to go astray. A minimal toss will give you an extra edge in windy conditions, too.

4. Serving on the rise: Often, players hit the ball too low because they hit it too late, letting it drop. Try hitting the ball while it's still going up, just as it's about to stop.

This will also help you avoid an excessively high toss.

5. Start with elbow up: Many players meet the ball low because their elbow is low. Try serving for a couple of weeks without any windup. Start with your racquet behind your back and your elbow up as high as it can comfortably be. This is also a good cure for the "windmill serve."

6. Go up after the ball: Make sure to bend your knees as you get ready to strike the ball, then push up with your legs as you go up to swing. Direct all of your body's energy upward. "Explode up at the ball."

Additional resources:

How To Make a Serve Trainer

How To Practice a Perfect Ball Toss

Tackling the Temperamental Toss