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Bollettieri Q&A: Service Motion; Backhand Grip

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 /by

Dear Nick, I have been messing around with my serve lately and was wondering if you thought there were more advantages to a Nadal-style take back, which is more compact and quick, versus a more classic Federer-style take back that is more traditional and longer. What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of the two and which would you teach? I am a high-level player from Texas, ranked nationally.—Connor R

No two players are alike, so what works for one may not work for another. Yes, the Federer and Nadal motions are entirely different but what really matters is establishing your trophy position before going up to the ball. It’s really amazing to see this done with three different swing patterns: classical (Federer), half motion (Nadal) and still (starting with the racquet up and ready to go without any back swing, like Mariano Zabaleta and Jay Berger). I’m not committed to just one way. Whatever works for you is the way to go. At times a shorter, more compact motion is much more difficult to read for the returner, but you must have precise timing. The longer classical swing requires you to adjust your toss to a lower altitude when there are windy conditions, but there has been a lot of success with this old-fashioned serve. My choice: For the majority of players, especially at the lower-level play, I prefer the shorter motion.

Dear Nick, I’m 13 years old and my serve is the weakest part of my game. My toss seems to drift behind my head all of the time. And I have a horrible habit of dropping my head as I make contact with the ball. How could I correct these things? I just started playing level two tournaments and I have an obsession with tennis. I absolutely love the sport and I really want to be an awesome player! Please reply back soon.—Jay Burkett

There are a few reasons why your toss is drifting behind you. If you are serving a kick serve, the toss should be slightly behind you. However, if your toss is too far behind you, you might try the following:

1) Eliminate all extra body motions.
2) Develop a rhythm with the racquet swing and ball toss.
3) After you release the ball, your hand should continue to go up.
4) Shorten your backswing to a half motion, which will allow you to toss the ball a little lower.

When hitting a backhand, does your right hand have to be at the base of the racquet and your left on top? I hit the opposite.—Julious

You didn’t tell me whether or not you’re right-handed, but I assume that’s the case. Keep in mind that Monica Seles was a long-time student of mine, and she hit with her hands crossed on her forehand. On a two-handed stroke, most right-handed players put their right hand on the bottom with the left hand doing the work (on top). When your right hand is on top, your bottom hand becomes dominant. (Seles was left-handed.) I would not recommend a two-handed swing like this for 99 percent of players, but I would have to see you play in order to give you an accurate answer. Note, though, that I did not change Monica Seles’ style. Then again, she is one of the best players in the history of the WTA.

Have a question for Nick? Write to him at

Nick Bollettieri of the Bollettieri Tennis Academy has trained many collegiate and professional players, including 10 who reached the world No. 1 ranking.


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