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Myth Busted: Serve Pronation 2.0

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I’ve had ENOUGH of the misinformation and flat out wrong statements surrounding serve pronation, so it’s time to set the record straight…

Here’s what pronation actually IS and why it’s present in EVERY high level serve.

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31 Comments

  1. Joseph Hudson May 2, 2018 at 5:15 am - Reply

    Perception is Everything…folks disagree with terms, but the fact still remains, I also Team Roped for many years,… when you deliver your Head/ Heel Rope,… you make the same motion. Throw a football,…same motion… thumb down . My son and I enjoy your instruction,…Thanks to you and your crew

  2. Rusty December 20, 2016 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    Jeff Salzenstein has a YouTube video advocating the "dirty diaper" approach to the kick serve, which is basically what you call the "wrist snap." He insists that it is possible to both snap your wrist and pronate at the same time. That does not seem right to me. Can you please comment?

  3. James Fawcette October 21, 2016 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Actually, Ian, the top experts at the ATP and at Stanford University say that you're wrong and what you're preaching here is sadly outdated.

    Misinformation indeed. Will Hamilton of Fuzzy Yellow Balls has a good video on serving with Dr. Mark Kovacs, a PhD in biomechanics who works with the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals, which includes every top, male tennis player) including this exchange:

    Dr. Kovacs: "Our research shows that there is little to no pronation in the professional serve."

    Will: "Wow. That was taught to us in the 90s."

    Dr. Kovacs: "Yes, but they were wrong."

    There is more on his work here: http://www.mark-kovacs.com/index.html
    You can learn how long-axial rotation, and ulnar deviation works in the tennis service from extensive work at Stanford University here: www.tennisplayer.net

    You're making the mistake of equating all arm rotation with "pronation" and misusing the term. Experts such as Dr. Kovacs and Dr. Brian Gordon of Stanford have done the research, so there is no need to continue terminology that is over 10-years out of date and misleading. Or, to use an Internet meme:

    "That word that not mean what you think it does."

    — from American actor Mandy Patinkin, who portrayed the swordsman Inigo Montoya in the 1987 romantic comedy The Princess Bride

  4. Chris October 21, 2016 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Ian … I think that this is a great review of the definition of pronation. I am curious as to an example of pronation in a kick serve, does it still exist..I am 4.0 transitioning to a 4.5 whose major serve is a kick serve because at this level it creates the most difficulty for those attempting to return… In addition the last comment that you post on this string is also interesting.."Trying to stop that motion would be incredibly jarring and abrupt". I have mild medial elbow tendonitis that becomes more serious as I practice more serves. I believe it is related to my not continuing to pronate after contact… Thoughts..?

  5. Donald McDonald October 21, 2016 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Pronation describes rotation of the radius of the arm around the ulna so it moves from parallel to an "x" formation. When you pronate, only the forearm moves. I mention this because I have read advice saying you swing by turning your arm like you turn a door knob which is pronation. This is much too slow an action. The upper arm rotates which rotates the elbow which rotates the forearm as a unit so the ulna and radius stay parallel. They, in turn rotate the wrist which rotates the hand. Everything turns as a unit. Since the upper arm rotates at up to 3000 degrees per second and this has to be transmitted to the forearm cleanly so it can provide 40% of the serve's power at contact, turning as a unit is vital. I fell hook line and sinker for door knob turning and it ruined my stroke (not from you). (Rotation rate might be 300 degrees per second, but that is still awesome.)

  6. Joe October 21, 2016 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Ian, I met you & your team (Ira & Kirby) in Mason at the Western & Southern Open this year. Great time there! I agree with you 100% about the pronation on the serve. I think the point some folks are confused about is the degree of pronation "at the point of contact". This does vary slightly depending on the type of serve and level of the player. Some players will supinate slightly during the take back. To be clear we need to differentiate a full service motion vs. a point in time during the service.

  7. Tony October 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    Great video! Thank you very much, Ian, even though I have to look at your videos with a mirror because I am left-handed. Just kidding. Unfortunately, I start my serve with my hand already pronated, I think, by having the face of my racquet parallel to the ground and arm extended before coming overhead. I don't get a lot of power but I seem to be more accurate at putting the ball where I want – usually. At 75, though, I am just happy to be playing.

  8. Sally October 20, 2016 at 4:08 am - Reply

    Ian, if a righty spins the ball out sharply to the left is there any pronation in the serve motion? I wouldnt think so since youd be aiming to hit the outside of the ball.
    On.contact.

  9. Jim October 20, 2016 at 12:04 am - Reply

    As an old guy with a good serve, I learned to serve many years ago, before anyone ever mentioned pronation. I was lucky enough to find the service motion a very natural movement. Since I began playing tennis again a few years ago, people occasionally ask me to help them with the serve. Quite commonly, they ask what about pronation. My answer is that it is not something to think about; get the important parts of the serve right and pronation will happen naturally because it has to. The one place where mentioning it can make some sense is to point out that an incorrect grip is not useful because it alters the arm action such that pronation will not occur. Otherwise, forget about it.

  10. Ernest Zike October 19, 2016 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    So, if a right hander continues his hand pronation to point to the right, is that what we call the American Twist? Will the serve spin to the right? Ernest Zike

  11. William vazquez coachvtennis academy October 19, 2016 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    So sad you missed supination as the most important partbof serve.

  12. Claes Wang October 19, 2016 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    You are absolutly right about pronation. I have seen almost every free video from you,Jeff, Will, Florian and others on
    F B but, Why do´nt you and the others mention the HI elbow ? Like Andy Roddick

  13. Carlos October 19, 2016 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Very interesting post, but should we consciously try to pronate the arm after contact or is this something that happens naturally anyway?

  14. Angel Del Valle October 19, 2016 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    I saw that video from Fussy Yellow Balls with Patrick Rafter. It is impossible to carve around the ball, the moment the strings make contact with the ball, it is gone. Now, I think Jim wants to say that pronation is the product of shoulder rotation. If you isolate the forearm, lock the shoulder, pronation let's you rotate about 180 degrees. Now incorporate the shoulder and you can rotate about 360 degrees. Someone very flexible I am sure can pass 360. I feel that the shoulder activates the forearm. First goes the shoulder and then the forearm goes.

  15. Eugene Russo October 19, 2016 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    Good job. I often read articles and view videos that say the pronation gives you extra power. My opinion is that it does not. What is your opinion?

    • Ian Westermann October 19, 2016 at 4:01 pm - Reply

      The build up of tension and energy in the shoulder and forearm all released through the point of contact increases racquet head speed over a more "pushing" motion tremendously. It's a lot of things working together, but pronation is most definitely a big element. So, yes, it absolutely increases power as opposed to not doing it. If it didn't increase power (racquet head speed) then what would be the point? Why would literally every professional player do it?

  16. Leon Fournet October 19, 2016 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    Great Video

  17. Alex Marcial October 19, 2016 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    Awesomeness!

  18. ron October 19, 2016 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    I do not understand Terry's comment. Pronation is a precise term used to indicate motion of well defined anatomical structures. It would seem to fall under a general description of upper arm rotation which is so precise. What does Terry mean by "upper arm rotation" that differs from pronation?

  19. John L Jackson October 19, 2016 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    Good job. Great information well presented. Reminds me of when Fuzzy Yellow Balls site had Pat Rafter on a for sale series. Rafter clearly said that for a slice serve you should carve around the ball with the strings like peeling and orange. I wrote and asked about his instruction and never got a reply from Will so stopped ordering his products. I will say carving like that produces a lot of spin and slice but little to no speed.

    • Ian Westermann October 19, 2016 at 12:57 pm - Reply

      Yes, it will create spin, but the ball will NOT hit the service box. Hitting the right side of the ball will make the ball travel left of the box.

  20. Giuseppe October 19, 2016 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    Great Ian as i always say to my stuedents
    Giuseppe

  21. Jon Piper October 19, 2016 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    I am a righty and often hit a second serve much like throwing a curve ball. In other words I carve around the outside of the ball and and snap my wrist inward. A reverse hand rotation from what you show in your videos. The ball curves right to left and kicks left after hitting the ground. This is an effective serve for me, but I have never seen a slomo video of anyone doing it. Is there a reason why?
    Jon

    • Ian Westermann October 19, 2016 at 1:00 pm - Reply

      Have you ever shot a video of you hitting this serve, Jon? I wouldn't be surprised at all if you're actually doing something different than what it FEELS like. In fact, I'd bet money you aren't actually hitting the "side" of the ball at all. If you are its only a small angle to the right, otherwise you'd be missing these serves to the left of your intended service box. Curving your racquet face inwards doesn't allow for nearly as much racquet head speed….which is why you don't ever see videos of anybody doing it. You won't find a single example of a professional player ever executing that technique.

  22. Jim sievers October 19, 2016 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Great

  23. Terry October 19, 2016 at 11:59 am - Reply

    John yandell would not agree with your anaylasis, I think you will find it's not pronation but upper arm rotation that turns racket head.

    • Ian Westermann October 19, 2016 at 12:06 pm - Reply

      That's absolutely present as well, Terry. I should have mentioned it.

  24. LJ October 19, 2016 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Thank you Ian.

    Very good explanation.

  25. chris October 19, 2016 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Why do they continue the turn after contact?

    • Ian Westermann October 19, 2016 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      Continued momentum and deceleration, Chris. Trying to stop that motion at contact would be incredibly jarring and abrupt. Think about a forehand groundstroke, or a golf swing, or a baseball swing trying to stop at contact. Same thing.