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THE ART OF LAWN TENNIS (chapter3)

2006-08-28 21:38

    CHAPTER III. SERVICE

    Service is the opening gun of tennis. It is putting the ball in play. The old idea was that service should never be more than merely the beginning of a rally. With the rise of American tennis and the advent of Dwight Davis and Holcombe Ward, service took on a new significance. These two men originated what is now known as the American Twist delivery.

    From a mere formality, service became a point winner. Slowly it gained in importance, until Maurice E. M'Loughlin, the wonderful "California Comet," burst across the tennis sky with the first of those terrific cannon-ball deliveries that revolutionized the game, and caused the old-school players to send out hurry calls for a severe footfault rule or some way of stopping the threatened destruction of all ground strokes. M'Loughlin made service a great factor in the game. It remained for R. N. Williams to supply the antidote that has again put service in the normal position of mere importance, not omnipotence. Williams stood in on the delivery and took it on the rising bound.

    Service must be speedy. Yet speed is not the be-all and end-all. Service must be accurate, reliable, and varied. It must be used with discretion and served with brains. I believe perfect service is about  per cent placement,  per cent speed, and  per cent twist.

    Any tall player has an advantage over a short one, in service. Given a man about  feet and allow him the  feet added by his reach, it has been proved by tests that should he deliver a service, perfectly flat, with no variation caused by twist or wind, that just cleared the net at its lowest point ( feet in the centre), there is only a margin of  inches of the service court in which the ball can possibly fall; the remainder is below the net angle. Thus it is easy to see how important it is to use some form of twist to bring the ball into court. Not only must it go into court, but it must be sufficiently speedy that the receiver does not have an opportunity of an easy kill. It must also be placed so as to allow the server an advantage for his next return, admitting the receiver puts the ball in play.

    Just as the first law of receiving is to, put the ball in play, so of service it is to cause the receiver to fall into error. Do not strive unduly for clean aces, but use your service to upset the ground strokes of your opponent.

    There are several style services in vogue in all countries. The American twist has become one of the most popular forms of delivery and as such deserves special treatment. The usual forms of service are () the slice service, () the American twist, () the reverse delivery, () the "cannon ball" or flat serve.

    The slice service is the easiest and most natural form for all beginners, and proves so effective that many great players use it. It is the service of William M. Johnston, A. R. F. Kingscote, Norman E. Brookes, and many others.

    Service should be hit from as high a point as the server can COMFORTABLY reach. To stretch unnecessarily is both wearing on the server and unproductive of results.

    The slice service should be hit from a point above the right shoulder and as high as possible. The server should stand at about a forty-five degree angle to the baseline, with both feet firmly planted on the ground. Drop the weight back on the right foot and swing the racquet freely and easily behind the back. Toss the ball high enough into the air to ensure it passing through the desired hitting plane, and then start a slow shift of the weight forward, at the same time increasing the power of the swing forward as the racquet commences its upward flight to the ball. Just as the ball meets the racquet face the weight should be thrown forward and the full power of the swing smashed into the service. Let the ball strike the racquet INSIDE the face of the strings, with the racquet travelling directly towards the court. The angle of the racquet face will impart the twist necessary to bring the ball in court. The wrist should be somewhat flexible in service. If necessary lift the right foot and swing the whole body forward with the arm. Twist slightly to the right, using the left foot as a pivot. The general line of the racquet swing is from RIGHT to LEFT and always forward.

    At this point and before I take up the other branches of serving, let me put in a warning against footfaulting. I can only say that a footfault is crossing or touching the line with either foot before the ball is delivered, or it is a jump or step. I am not going into a technical discussion of footfaults. It is unnecessary, and by placing your feet firmly before the service there is no need to footfault.

    It is just as unfair to deliberately footfault as to miscall a ball, and it is wholly unnecessary. The average footfault is due to carelessness, overanxiety, or ignorance of the rule. All players are offenders at times, but it can quickly be broken up.

    Following this outburst of warning let me return to the American twist service. The stance for this is the same as for the slice, but the ball is thrown slightly to the left of the head while the racquet passes up and over the call, travelling from left to right and slightly forward. The result is a curve to the left and the break of the bound to the right. This service is not fast, but gives an excellent chance to follow to the net, since it travels high and slowly and its bound is deep. The American twist service should be hit with the muscles of the side. The slice is a shoulder swing.

    The reverse twist is of an absolutely distinct type. The stance is facing the net with both toes fronting the line. The racquet is gripped as a club. The ball is thrown in front of the body and not high. The swing is a sharp wrist twist from right to left, the ball carried for some distance on the face of the racquet. The curve is from left to right while the bound is high and breaks sharply to the left. This delivery is slow, ineffective and very uncertain. There is little opportunity to follow it to the net.

    The "cannon-ball" service is nothing but a slice as regards swing and stance, but it is hit with a flat racquet face, thus imparting no spin to the ball. It is a case of speed alone. This service is a point winner when it goes in; but its average must necessarily be poor since its margin of error is so small. It is only useful to a tall man.

    Varied pace and varied speed is the keynote to a good service. I spent hours in serving alone, striving to disguise the twist and pace of the ball. I would take a box of a dozen balls out on the court and serve the whole dozen to No.  court with one style of delivery. Then, crossing, I would serve them back with another type of service. Next, I would try the left court from both sides. My next move would be to pick out a certain section of the service court, and serve for that until I could put the ball where I wanted it. Finally, I would strive to put it there with speed. All the time spent in this practice has stood me in good stead, for today it is my service that pulls me out of many a deep hole, and causes many a player to wish he was delivering the ball. William M. Johnston, the American Champion, has a remarkable service for so short a man. He times his stroke perfectly, and hits it at the top of his reach, so that he gets the full benefit of every inch of his stature and every pound of his weight. He uses the slice delivery in the majority of matches.

    Do not try freak services. They are useless against high-class players. Sharp breaking underhand cuts can be easily angled off for points by a man who knows anything of the angles and effects of twist. These deliveries are affectation if used more than once or twice in a long match. A sudden shift may surprise your opponent; but to continue to serve these freaks is to destroy their use.

    Mishu, the Rumanian star, has many very peculiar deliveries; but, when playing against high-class tennis, he has brains enough to use a straight service. The freak services delight and yet annoy a gallery, for once the novelty has worn off, nothing but the conceit remains.

    The object of service is to obtain the maximum return with the minimum effort. This statement holds true for all tennis strokes, but in none so strongly as in service.

    The average player hits, his first service so hard, and with so little regard for direction, that about nine out of ten first deliveries are faults. Thus, one half your chances are thrown away, and the chance of double faulting increased proportionately.

    There is a well-known tennis saying to the effect that one fault is a mistake, but two faults are a crime——that sums up the idea of service adequately. A player should always strive to put his first delivery in court. In the first place it is apt to catch your opponent napping, as he half expects a fault. Secondly, it conserves your energy by removing the need of a second delivery, which, in a long five-set match, is an item of such importance that it may mean victory or defeat.

    I urge all players to put their service into court with just as much speed as they can be sure of, but to serve both deliveries at about the same speed. Do not slog the first ball and pat the second, but hit both with average pace.

    Try for service aces whenever reasonable, but never do so at the risk of double faulting. The first ball is the ball to ace. The second should never be risked. Your aces must at least equal your double faults, or your service is a handicap and not an advantage.

    The importance of service in doubles is more pronounced than in singles as regards holding it; but the need for individual brilliancy is not so great, as you have a partner already at the net to kill off any weak returns.

    Service is an attack, and a successful attack should never break down.

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