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The serve

by Ben Press, USPTA Master Professional

<i> Photo by Harvey Rubin, USPTA.
Photo by Harvey Rubin, USPTA.

December 2011 -- If there is a common malaise in women's tennis today, it is the serve. How many times in recent tournaments have you seen even the great players have a service meltdown costing them the match?

In theory, if the serve is not strong enough, today's ball bashers will unleash some kind of winning offensive return. To avoid that possibility, the server often tries for more than is necessary. A ball in play gives you a chance, a double fault gives you nothing.

As an 86-year-old teaching professional, I still go back to the "good old days" when serving was not the dominant stroke. In those bygone amateur days you played for prestige and trophies; today's huge paydays were nonexistent. I'm certain many of the WTA circuit players would not be familiar with the name Alice Marble. Marble was a Wimbledon champion in 1959 and the best female player in the world for many years.

In an effort to take advantage of his or her Wimbledon win, the current champion would often sign with one of the major sporting goods companies to promote their products and give clinics and exhibitions around the country. Marble was nice enough to come to a club in San Diego when I was a head professional for one of her clinics. The turnout was huge and the audience was not disappointed. We played an exhibition set before the clinic. After demonstrating her forehand, backhand and volley (which she actually did when she played) she got to the serve. Before she served she blindfolded herself and proceeded to hit eight consecutive balls in the proper court, no misses! Can you imagine Maria Sharapova, for example, with her high toss trying to hit a serve in the court blindfolded? The probability of success would be slim to none.

Granted, the so-called "modern game" requires some kind of offensive serve to stay competitive, but giving points away with some regularity doesn't help the problem. I had the good fortune to grow up with the great Maureen Connelly (Brinker). We lived across the street from each other and less than 100 yards from three playground tennis courts. Her progress was phenomenal as she developed into a great player in record time. You may recall that Maureen "Little Mo" was the first woman to win The Grand Slam - Australia, the French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Championship in the same calendar year. The point of mentioning this is that her serve was her weakest commodity, but a double fault was a very rare happening.

I still feel there is some merit in advice from us dinosaurs. Lower some of your high altitude tosses and sacrifice a few miles of power for consistency. Winning is still more fun than losing.

 
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