What’s a kick serve? And more importantly, what’s the secret to mastering it? Rod Cross explains.
A kick serve is one where the ball bounces higher than usual, typically around shoulder or head height, making it difficult for the receiver to return the ball well. In order for the ball to cross the baseline at shoulder height, three conditions must be met. The ball must bounce at high speed, at a steep angle, and it must land in the service box well before the service line. If the ball bounces at low speed or at a low angle then it will rise to its maximum height before it reaches the baseline and then start to fall.
If the ball lands near the service line then the ball will be incident on the court at a relatively shallow angle, will bounce at a low angle and will still be rising as it crosses the baseline.
The secret of a good kick serve is to hit the ball down from a large height so that it just clears the net and lands steeply and at high speed in the opponent’s service box.
It also helps if the ball is struck with topspin, since that causes the ball dive down onto the court at higher speed and at a steeper angle. However, it is difficult to do that since the racquet head must be rising as it strikes the ball in order to generate topspin.
Most players strike the ball just when the racquet reaches its maximum height, in which case topspin is generated not by the rising racquet but by the falling ball. In that case, it helps slightly to have a high ball toss. But the speed of the falling ball is much lower than the speed of the rising head, so a better technique is to strike the ball just before the racquet reaches its maximum height. The server then gets the impression that he is hitting the ball upwards, at an angle above the horizontal, but in fact the ball must come off the strings about five or six degrees below the horizontal in order to land steeply on the court.
Rod Croft, a physicist and academic of Sydney University, is the co-author of Technical Tennis (with Crawford Lindsay).
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