Great Shots: Roger Federer’s Serve
The 17-time Grand Slam champion has one of the smoothest and most accurate serves in the sport.
1. Because a serve needs to be powerful, balanced and rhythmic, the first moments are critical. It’s best to establish a pattern that works well and always repeat it, whether it’s bouncing the ball a number of times or pausing for a set amount time before beginning the motion. Federer doesn’t rush his first sequence of movements. His hands start together and his racquet is drawn back and down while his left hand drops.
2. The serve has a lot of moving parts and it must be coordinated. But how it’s coordinated has changed over the years. Instead of tossing and lifting the racquet at the same speed, most players today let their racquet trail slightly behind, as Federer does here. This can prevent the racquet from stalling at its peak height (a hitch like that can ruin racquet-head speed). Federer bends his legs and shifts his energy into his quadriceps.
3. As the ball goes up, Federer’s right arm is bent and his wrist is loose. Many club players squeeze the handle of their racquets in a death grip. This creates tension in the wrist and forearm, and tension is the enemy of racquet-head speed. Federer’s toss is straight and off to the right at around 2 o’clock. His shoulder turn is such that his opponent is now looking at his back, so it’s tough to read what kind of serve he’s going to hit.
4. Here it is: the famous trophy position. But here’s what few people discuss about this moment in a serve: where the server is in relation to the ball. Federer is almost underneath it with his chest pointing up and he’s looking up at it. His racquet is in mid-loop and about to drop down. From here, he can spring upward and into the ball, transferring all of his energy into the serve.
5. At liftoff, Federer’s racquet is at its lowest point. This is key. His legs, torso and chest are on the way up, but his racquet hasn’t started to move forward yet. His entire motion has had one purpose, and that’s to create the ideal conditions for the racquet to spring forward as quickly as possible. Everything is in support of making his arm go faster.
6. This is a perfect shot of what a serve should look like just after contact. Federer’s racquet arm is fully extended. There’s a little arch to his body, since he’s moving both up and out (the serve is a bit like a summersault). The height of his racquet gives Federer more room to hit down into the service box from a more favorable angle. His head remains up and his eyes are on the point of contact until well after the ball leaves his racquet.
7. Federer’s head is still up in this image, even though his swing is mostly complete. His wrist has rotated down onto the ball and his momentum is into the court. He keeps his left arm close to his body to maintain his balance. The serve is a violent, powerful swing, but Federer makes it look remarkably smooth and effortless.
8. Federer lands just inside the baseline on his left foot. His right foot kicks back, which aids his balance, and his knees are bent. He’s looking into the court now, and he’s well positioned to move either to his left or his right after a split step.
Leif Shiras, a former touring professional, is a commentator for the Tennis Channel and British Sky Sports.