ANALYSIS: Plenty to like about Elise Mertens’ serve, but it could be better
Respected coach David Sammel expertly breaks down the serve of Elise Mertens, and explains how she can find that little extra consistency that could make a very big difference.
Elise Mertens is a brilliant women’s doubles player with a famously powerful backhand, but it’s her inconsistent serve that teaches the value of good overall technique.
An analysis of Mertens’ serve certainly provides a good learning opportunity: even the best players must keep practising. The weakness in Mertens’ approach seems to be her use of something close to a forehand grip, which can result in a loss of control of the racket face and the inability to hit, control or spin.
However, her overall skill and mastery of good serving technique enables her to recover from a less-than-perfect shot.
Here is a frame-by-frame analysis of the Belgian’s serve.
Although Mertens’ serve (particularly her first serve) can be inconsistent, she is an excellent athlete and tennis player; this photo is a fine example of good serving technique.
This type of serve is common among female players and usually develops from wanting to ensure accuracy when positioning the ball toss. It’s a very stable base to release the ball toss from.
Here, Mertens demonstrates excellent rotation of the shoulders past the rotation point of the hips. This movement creates something akin to a wound-up coil that will help produce more speed as the racket accelerates up to the ball later in the serve.
The arms are perfectly symmetrical and her weight is poised to drive her upwards towards the ball.
This photo shows how strength of technique enables recovery from less than-perfect execution. Mertens’ shoulders have gone flat slightly early, the racket face’s position exposes too much string to the ball, and her right foot has moved past her left – losing some of the rotation from the hips. However, she is able to maintain enough control to recover.
We can see Mertens’ years of training and practice kick in here. She is able to control the movement of her hips and racket face enough to allow her to recover.
As she drives up to hit the ball, she shifts into the classic chest-and-head-up position of a good serve. She is well balanced, with her left arm dropping perfectly as the racket moves down behind her back. Beautiful!
Although she is a relatively tall 5ft 10in, Mertens takes the traditional approach of keeping her head up as it rotates forward in symphony with her shoulder. As she leaps into the air, both her legs are straight.
This is the sign of a good serve (bent legs indicate a problem with the mechanics of the upward drive. Her ball toss is also a long way forward, suggesting an aggressive serve.
The pronation of her wrist is very pronounced; clearly, she’s hit a flat serve wide to the advantage court. But the outwards swing’s force has caused her upper body to lean further to the left than I’d like, and this is the first part of the serve where I feel she could have better balance.
As a coach, I would ask her to repeat the serve again, but to try to stay more centred.
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About David Sammel
David has more than 30 years’ experience coaching pros to career high rankings, many of whom have represented their countries in the Davis Cup and at the Olympics.
David, who became an official ATP coach in 2014, regularly contributes to the UK’s tennis media, including BBC Radio 5 Live, The Times newspaper and Sky Sports. In 2014, he released a psychology and coaching book – Locker Room Power: Building an Athlete’s Mind. You can find out more at davidsammel.com/books.
David now runs Mindset College, “the only mental skills programme that provides you with cutting-edge, tried and tested tools from the coal-face of elite sports performance.”
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