Crafting a powerful and accurate tennis serve requires hours of practice and lots of patience. There are several different schools of thought in the tennis world regarding which types of serve techniques are the most effective to use, emphasizing everything from foot placement to swing mechanics to the height of the ball toss. One thing that most players will agree upon is the fact that all of the different elements that comprise a serve must ultimately transfer and focus their collective energies up to the final point of contact, which is where the ball meets the racket strings.
So will jump-serving improve your serve? There are differences of opinion as to what the exact definition of a "jump-serve" is, and this has unfortunately caused many misunderstandings, to the point where some players have even declared that jump-serving is illegal.
According to the rules of the United States Tennis Association, a player must be standing with their feet at rest immediately before beginning their service motion. In other words, no player is allowed to walk (or run) up to the baseline and jump into a serve. If they significantly change the position of their feet before any arm or racket motion, they will be guilty of what's known as a "foot fault." This is an entirely different matter from including a jumping motion as a part of your serve.
Practically all of the major tennis pros include some degree of a jumping motion in their serve. This normally happens right after they have tossed the ball up and bent their knees to prepare for the swinging motion. As they swing their racket to make contact with the ball, they will often jump up in order to give their racket more reach and a higher level of positioning on top of the ball. The sheer force of this motion actually propels them to leave the ground. A serve that includes this jumping motion is what we will define as a "jump-serve" for the purposes of this article.
There are several benefits of jump-serving versus performing a basic standing serve. Some of the key benefits are:
- With a jump-serve, you're able to obtain a higher point of contact with the ball versus what you would get with a standing serve. This can often afford you a better angle on the ball. It can also produce greater downward momentum on the ball, as well as a stronger topspin.
- When performed from a pinpoint stance (i.e., both feet close together), jump-serving can produce more velocity on the ball, since the feet essentially act as a single unit. The pinpoint stance allows the feet to push against the ground with more force, but you will need to employ a significant amount of body control, as your center of gravity experiences a wider range of motion versus a platform stance (feet spread slightly farther apart). When executed correctly, jump-serving from a pinpoint stance puts a significant amount of momentum behind the ball.
- The extra range of motion that is produced from adding a small jump to your serve is enough to help you achieve a more complete follow-through. This will produce a fuller action on the ball and keep you from "punching" your serves over the net.
- Jump-serving increases the explosiveness of your serve. First you "load up" by bending your knees before jumping up, and then you "explode" as your legs thrust upward, which when done correctly should help you to power into the ball on the jump.
Remember that serving requires several different movements to be in alignment including the serve stance, ball toss, backswing, arm pronation, follow through, etc. When these various components are properly integrated, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. Adding a slight hop or jump to your serve can carry significant benefits, but it needs to be executed with discipline and control in order to be effective. At the risk of sounding self-contradictory, many pros recommend that you start off learning how to serve without allowing your feet to leave the ground. This will ensure that you have a solid grasp of the basic mechanics of the serve first before trying to add any power or finesse to it. Once you have mastered the movements of the standing serve, you can then add a little jump to it as time goes on. As you continue to learn how to execute each movement with precision and exquisite timing, over time you will develop a powerful and highly effective serve.