Deconstructing the Serve – Kei Nishikori

This is an article by Jim McLennan, Tennis Director at Fremont Hills Country Club.

sharapova on follow through

First, there are many ways to hit the ball and many ways to play the game.  Power or finesse, placement or spin, varying grips tactics and more.

As regards the serve, consider that there may be two distinct types of service hits used by the professionals, but equally as used by you and I.  We are not talking about spin, about the kick or even the cannonball – simply about how the ball is struck at the top of the swing – and about the nature of that “action.”

One variety, as shown with Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, Maria Sharapova, and Dinara Safina – might be called a “hand speed” action – although truly if anyone has a clearer designation I am open to all suggestions.  But for me the photos show the hand accelerating if not actively pushing through contact, with significant flexion of the wrist.

safina wrist snap down      Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro in action during the match against Belgium's Olivier Rochus at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, Thursday, June 23, 2011.(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)






murray no snap

An alternate, if perhaps entirely different action shown below, indicates a whip like effect, where the hand has decelerated at the same time that the racquet has snapped or accelerated. Paul Roetert, formerly of the USTA, had helped me on this serving project and used the term “endo rotation” to describe the motion of the forearm.

I ask the following question of students when they are demonstrating their overhand throw, “Does it feel like you are pushing or pulling the ball.” As often as not the poor throwers answer “pusing” and to my eye that is what I see. And the better throwers will say they are “pulling” and again I see something similar where the motion has an element of a leading elbow (to pull) prior to the release.

sampras inverted v  Steffi  Raonic inverted V

Federer endo at th etop


Certainly the photos of Pete and Milos and Roger and Steffi look “different” – and certainly it may be the case that there are other photos of Andy and Maria that look similar to these (though I doubt it) and also it may be the case that there are photos of Milos and Pete that look similar to Andy and Maria (but again I doubt it).


Kei Nishikori

Ranked 8th, 25 years old, 5’11”, highest ranking was 4th following his run to the 2014 US Open finals, he has amassed over $10 million in prize money – and he is perhaps the quickest player on the court with as it is known – “excellent hands and feet.”

For better or worse, I believe Kei uses the hand speed/wrist flexion model – good enough to carry him to the top echelons of the game, but as even Nick Bollittieri said in a recent interview, his second serve (and by extension his overall serve) needs improvement.

Nishikori serve contact  Roger Federer of Switzerland serves to Novak Djokovic of Serbia during their men's singles final match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Sunday, July 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)  djokovic serve contact

In comparison, the photos above show Roger and Novak at impact (middle and right respectively).

We are not splitting hairs on this!

When the racquet head is offline from the arm – the rotational leverage from the forearm is increased.

When the racquet head is directly above the arm, the rotational leverage is diminished and all that is left for racquet head speed is wrist flexion.

There are a number of ways for you to explore this feeling.

First try this podcast on the Pete Sampras Snap.

Second -Explore my online course “Building the Serve from the Ground Up” with the following introductory series of FREE lessons.

PS – Check out Nick’s comments on the serve and on Kei in particular

One thought on “Deconstructing the Serve – Kei Nishikori

  1. I feel that Kei is certainly capable of becoming a fixture in the top 10 for the next decade given his ability to grow and adapt his game. Sure he has a lot of work to do on his serve, but overall the biggest issue he needs to address is continuous injuries that have plagued his young career. When healthy, I feel he is a threat to beat any player in the world on any given day. I remember Kei as a 14 year old at IMG working with Nick, and he has certainly transformed himself and his game into one of the elite tennis players around the world. Additionally, he is certainly trailblazing success in Japan as well, doing things that no Japanese player has previously done before. I also feel that he has a great voice in his corner in Michael Chang, the American of Asian decent who can relate to Kei and his daily development on the tennis court. I feel that Kei with some tweaks to his serve, could really add a great weapon into his game that could be a valuable tool in his arsenal for years to come.

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