Where to Look?

Sofia Kenin

When you get ready to serve, where do you look … and does it make a difference?  It varies from player to player in many ways.

Focus on the Serve

If you watch tennis on TV, frequently the camera zooms in on the server’s face as they are bouncing and then tossing the ball.  Sometimes, their eyes are darting in many directions.  It doesn’t seem to impact them; but it probably does for us “lesser human beings.”

Most senior players will “peak” at the returner as they go from the bounce to the toss; but I consciously do NOT.  I check out the returner to see they are ready to return serve (and where they INITIALLY are standing) and then I never look back at them; but rather focus on the ball and visualize where I plan on serving.

That pattern also helps me avoid being distracted by returners who are changing position in the hope of distracting me and my serving focus.

When you watch young American pro Sofia Kenin serve, check out how she strangely delays following the ball up as she tosses on her serve.  For whatever reason, she keeps her head facing the ground for a half-second longer than all other servers.

Net Man’s Focus

Pelican Bay teaching pro, Mike Lewis once pointed out that when you are playing the net in doubles, you should not watch where your serving partner hits their serve; but rather, you should focus on watching the RETURNER and you will get a half-second jump on what happens next.

How about you, where do you look on the serve or at the net?

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10 thoughts on “Where to Look?

  1. I always hit the serve to where I’m looking. I was always taught when hitting a golf ball to “visualize where I want the ball to go” before hitting, so I also do it in tennis on the serve!

    Jim, i believe it is best to visualize the outcome on every stroke (where you have time to). thanks, george

  2. As with ice cream, everyone likes a different flavor. Same could be said on what makes one serve better. But me thinks a server should understand how close/far returner is in the court. From there server can pinpoint the spot to hit.

    Howie, as long as they STAY there! thanks, george

  3. What a great topic, George. I try not to look where I’m going to serve, but then I look elsewhere and so much can get scattered. I think your approach is terrific: Focus on what we must do with body, racquet, ball. Super.

    Joel, thanks! george

  4. Whenever I see an unusual tossing technique, I immediately wonder about the tossing yips. Have known of a horrendous case of same. Have had bouts of it, myself. Think I’ll go out and give Sofia’s technique a go. 🙂

    Kevin, let us know how it works for you! george

  5. Kenin’s serve motion has driven me crazy since the first time I saw her play. It might be the quirkiest serve in professional tennis. Every time she tosses she has to look up and “find the ball” in order to hit it. No problem during the normal course of a match when her toss is probably right where she expects it, but I have noticed that her first serve percentage drops on big points, probably because the extra tension in her arm results in a slightly altered toss location. I think most people look up before tossing, pick a location, and then toss to that target. Roger Federer will often sneak a peak at his opponent while the toss is in the air and actually change his serve based on their movement, but then again he is not human. I hope Kenin brings in someone to help her father elevate her game. She is a great competitor.

    Jim, yes, i am amazed no one has yet “corrected” her motion. thanks, george

  6. I agree w/Jim Marcus, above….a key rule in golf is to “take dead aim” (Harvey Pennick), and I usually pick a spot to aim at when I’m serving….IF I’m focused….and that’s a big IF!!!!

    Scoot, visualize and execute! thanks, george

  7. I think that you are spot on George! I look where the returner is standing once,
    don’t care if he moves around, bounce the ball 4 times, and then concentrate on
    the toss, and mechanics of the swing and hit, trying real hard to get that first serve in.
    For us club players, a serve mostly into the backhand of the returner is a great way to
    start the point. A great topic.

    Ron, i am with you … except i bounce three times! george

  8. As for Mike Lewis’ pointer about watching the returner rather than the ball, I have only recently started doing this (thanks to Phil/Myke Landauer and Mark Vines’ Senior Excellence Tennis boot camps). Doing this definitely gives you a better read on the ball and gives you an extra split second to react. I have also learned a drill called “Ball/Player”. As the ball is coming toward you, you say the word “ball” so that you focus on the ball. After you hit it, you say the word “player” so that you focus on your opponent. This teaches you to learn to read your opponent’s body and racquet to give you clues as to where their shot will go. This drill is also based on the premise that your eye cannot accurately track a ball traveling away from you because your brain perceives it as accelerating. A ball coming toward you is perceived as slowing down. It’s a little like Gallwey’s “bounce/hit” drill in the Inner Tennis book.
    As always, thanks for keeping this forum going. We old dogs can still learn new tricks.

    Jim, glad to help keep you young (at mind, anyway)! george

  9. George, when I read your email prior to clicking the link to the site/blog, I thought to myself…Kenin! Then when I did click and saw her I laughed. What is her coach thinking? If her serve was even pretty good, I might not change it. She needs to change it. I tell my students to take a quick look at the service box just prior to the toss and visualize where the ball will bounce in the box. And while they do that, tell themself – with confidence – “I’m going to hit this serve IN”.

    Alan, i know… crazy! thanks, george

  10. I caught part of Kenin’s match against Ash Barty yesterday. Kenin was serving for the second set at 5-3 but lost her serve after hitting two double faults. Barty wound up winning the next three games to win the match. The statistics for the match show Kenin’s first serve percentage was 42%, and she had six double faults. If Barty hadn’t had over 20 unforced errors, the match wouldn’t have been close. Kenin’s father coached her to a very high level, but they need to bring in some help on parts of her game, the serve being the most important.

    Jim, the numbers and results don’t lie! thanks, george

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