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Tech Talk: Donna Vekic’s 2023 surge starts with the serve
This Croat's powerful delivery has seen her rocket back up the rankings and score an impressive upset over reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in Berlin.
Published Jun 22, 2023
TENNiSTORY: Vekic is on course to top her 2019 career-high ranking after a resurgent season has already seen her reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Donna Vekic is competing her way back into the Top 20 after battling knee injuries in 2021. After "knee-rly" calling it quits, Vekic once again counts among the most dangerous threats of any given draw.
Her 2023 form has become one of the stories of the season, and her serve is undeniably the game-winning component to her success.
Just look at her recent win over Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the second round of the Bett1Open with a score of 6-7 (1), 6-3, 6-4. Vekic won 72.6% of her service points, which bests her previous seasons average.
The serve is the only shot in tennis where the technique is unlike anything you do in your daily life. Think about it: when do you ever need to throw something up into the air, go up after it, make contact with the other hand over your head and launch it away from you?
While the toss is definitely the catalyst for a successful serve, the synchronization between the tossing arm and the swinging racquet is the make or break between an ace and a fault. From there, the racquet’s point of contact determines the trajectory of the ball. The continental grip is the universal serving grip as it allows for serve variation and ball control.
While the serving motions vary on tour from servers like John McEnroe and Alexandr Dolgopolov to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the fundamentals of the toss, all of the above have mastered the perfect balance between swing and grip.
Being her powerful weapon, when Vekic is on serve, she is maximizing her options. This means using her serve to set up the point that she wants to play.
Before the point begins, she is not only planning where to serve but also anticipating different types of returns she would receive. For instance, serving down the T towards the opponent’s backhand means she could either receive a cross-court or down-the-line backhand that are either offensive, neutral or defensive, any kind of slice or even an inside-out or -in forehand if the player is running around the backhand.
Working through the likelihood of these scenarios, Vekic is able to absorb her opponent’s patterns, match them to her serving strengths, and deduce the most effective serve to hit. Taking into account that Vekic prefers a wide serve to any other, except for when it comes to break points, she is more likely to force a neutral or defensive return from that corner of the court.
Her first serve—plus the 119 aces she's hit in just under 30 matches—helps her take control of rallies. Her second serve, which has helped her win an average of just under 60% of points this season, is consistent enough to be reliable under pressure and can go the distance in longer matches.
The serve is an extraordinary feat for any young tennis player to learn. We see toddlers standing on mats and practicing tosses into a tube and practicing their fundamentals of their stances more thoroughly than they learn the technicalities of their groundstrokes.
Taking time to learn the serve is absolutely necessary for a successful tennis game, not to mention to avoid injuries, especially at older ages. The toss, serving motion and the grip are the most important components to developing a successful serve. With practice comes confidence, and from there going after the serves and learning variations will be the cherry on top.
Trust me, once you have a strong, reliable serve in your arsenal, your favorite part of the game will be executing it and watching the points trickle in.