The Roger Federer serve is nothing other than epic.
An enchanted moment upon every ball strike – the perfect combination of power, timing and accuracy that leaves tennis players and fans standing in awe, every single match.
Federer wields a tennis racket like a wizard conjuring up majestic, fire breathing dragons from the depths of the ocean.
Today’s article will aim to deconstruct and analyse what makes the Federer serve so magical and such a potent weapon on tour.
Federer’s flat first serve averages between 120-125mph, whilst his second serve, which often utilizes heavy kick, will fall in the 85-95 mph range.
These are still fast numbers, but very ordinary amongst the top ATP players of today and even amongst the lower level professionals on the Challenger and Future tours.
You’ll also find the odd few club level players across the country who can hit these numbers consistently.
However, there are also players such as Kyrios, Isner and Querrey, just to name a few, who can strike the ball much harder indeed – regularly going above 140mph on their first serves and sometimes second serves, too (Nick Kyrios)!
Therefore, although the Federer serve is pretty quick, it’s not quick enough for that to be the sole reason his serve is so effective.
Just to be clear, we’re talking about a serve, here, that isn’t just great, it’s one of the best of all time and feared by every player on the professional circuit!
The real secret lies in his combination of accuracy and variety, but we’ll take a look at this in more detail as this article progresses.
Firstly, let’s study his biomechanics a little closer as this will provide us with the insight we need to understand the building blocks of the Roger Federer serve.
Federer uses the platform stance in his serve action.
This is where a player stands with their feet at around shoulder width apart when beginning their service motion, and also, maintaining this gap during the knee bend (or loading) phase.
We’re not going to delve into all the various types of stances in this article as we have other resources on our website for that, but the platform stance is a pretty standard and commonly used stance amongst pros and amateurs, alike.
Possibly the main benefit of the platform stance that’s complimentary to the Federer game style would be consistency, whilst still ensuring great power delivery.
You’ll see many pro players on TV, like Andy Murray or John Isner, who draw the back foot up to their front foot when executing their knee bend.
Many players and coaches feel this provides an additional boost in power, as it’s easier to hit the ball further inside the court, thus reaching the opponent’s side faster.
The downside is that the additional movement brings added complexity into the service action, lending itself to inconsistency if things aren’t firing exactly in synchronisation on a particular day.
Clearly, Federer favours the consistent day to day performance of his stance, even if it means giving up a couple of mph. He already has enough raw power to “get the job done” anyway.
Roger Federer’s ball toss is a thing of beauty in itself.
Watch in this video how consistent his delivery of the ball into the air is.
Not only is the execution superb – the rocking motion in his action helping to ensure the angle of release is always the same, but, the disguise of his serve is also phenomenal.
Most players radically change their ball toss to hit the various types of spin.
For example, it is much easier to hit a topspin second serve if you throw the ball way over to the left of your head (for right-handed players) as naturally you have to brush up the back of the ball in order to strike it.
In the same way, a slice serve is much easier to hit if you throw the ball to the right, as this forces you to wrap around the side of the ball, naturally creating sidespin.
However, even amongst professional players, the Roger Federer toss is special, as there is very little fluctuation in his tosses for different spins, making his serve extremely difficult to read.
American legend Andy Roddick often commented on this, saying, “I could never read Roger’s serve”.
No one else can, either, Andy!
The Woodworker Analogy
The most important aspect of having a good ball toss is that it opens up a work-space above your head to create possibilities in spin, exactly on your terms!
Imagine this scenario.
A woodworker has all his tools laid neatly out in front of him when beginning his new project. Items on the shelves are clearly labelled and any machinery has been moved into position, with regularly used tools always at hand.
Now imagine a woodworker who has just decided to wing it!
His workshop is an absolute mess – he has to go searching for tools during his project, he discovers some of his machinery isn’t even working anymore, and, since he hasn’t planned in advance, he has to go to the tool shop a few times during his project to gather the necessary materials.
Which person would complete their project the quickest and most accurately do you think?
Certainly not the first!
In the same way, Federer’s toss is so precise, he can carve out the exact spin he wants to at the right time, without having to throw the ball up a few times to find the right slot.
Amongst club level players, they often don’t find the right ball position in the air even after several attempts and end up “chasing” the ball in the air, leading to mistiming and poor accuracy in the service box.
You’ll rarely see Federer mistime a serve.
Federer has an excellent level of shoulder turn during his action which helps him access the limits of his physical power, due to the coiling or wind-up effect this creates.
It also helps create a more aggressive level of spin on the topspin and slice second serve, due to the greater racket-head speed.
Most importantly for Federer, though, it creates more opportunities in terms of accuracy.
We discussed in the previous section, in depth, how important it is to have a good ball toss to create spin, but the shoulder turn is also one of the most neglected aspects of the service action amongst coaches.
Having a full shoulder turn, with the hitting elbow set away from the body and down encourages you to hit up and over the ball.
We talk about this in more detail in our Secret’s of the Serve course, but this coiling effect is critical when it comes to getting the ball up and down and ultimately, in, much more often.
This creates natural shape on the ball – slight topspin, even on a flat serve.
Most people don’t realise that Federer’s flat (or spinless) serves also have a little bit of topspin on them, in order for the ball to dip inside the service box more consistently.
The Pete Sampras sserve was the same – players were always complaining about how “heavy” his serves felt, even on the flat ones where you wouldn’t expect this sensation.
To those unfamiliar with pronation, this is the final rotation of the forearm and wrist before making contact with the ball.
When performed well, this looks like an incredibly violent snapping action.
Arguably, it’s the most crucial aspect of the serve, as this is the point in which the kinetic energy that has been generated through the legs and shoulders is transferred, then exits from the body upon completion of the service action.
Federer doesn’t pronate as aggressively as players like Pete Sampras or Dominic Thiem who really exaggerate this, but he still pronates fully.
We’ve talked about the precision of the Federer ball toss and how this allows him to open up a “work-space” of opportunities above his head.
By changing his ball toss by the subtlest of margins and disguising this to his opponent, he’s able to hit any type of spin or combination of spins that he desires.
Federer can strike the ball hard and flat on the first serve or with slice.
On his second serve, he can hit heavy, biting topspin, kicking the ball up and away from his opponent, or even, topspin-slice to keep them on their toes.
You’re probably thinking – surely all pros can hit these spins, too?
And you’d be correct in your thinking!
However, Federer is able to do all of this off a very similar ball toss, creating the ultimate level of disguise. He also chooses the right spin at the right time, more often than pretty much every other player on tour.
All players complain about not being able to read Federer’s serve.
It’s not the fastest, or heaviest in terms of spin, but it is one of the very best ever, through his incredible variety and decision making throughout a match.
This is something most club level players should take encouragement from.
Bigger isn’t always better.
Instead, look to vary up what you have in order to leave your opponent in a constant state of confusion.
All of the factors that we have discussed, above, contribute to the unreal levels of precision that Federer possesses on serve.
He can hit into any position in the service box at seemingly any time, with any spin, whilst also constantly fooling his opponent as to which position and spin is coming!
When you’re at this level of perfection, it doesn’t matter if the serve if you send a serve down at 120 mph or 150mph.
It isn’t coming back!
Improving Your Serve
We hope you found some useful takeaways during our breakdown of Federer’s serve!
There are so many players on tour with lots of little “quirks” in their serve and sometimes these aren’t the best to model, as they contain so many individualistic aspects, that would only “work for them”, so to speak.
However, Roger really does have a textbook serve, containing so many aspects that you could study and start implementing in your own game, today.
We’d certainly recommend that you spend some time watching his ball toss as this is one of the most common faults amongst amateur and sometimes professional players, too.
Watch the motion of his arm, the way he holds the balls in his fingertips and how consistent the point of release is.
All of this contributes to a repeatedly superior ball strike and finding his targets in the service box with unparalleled accuracy.
We’re very fortunate to have International Master Coach and Ex-ATP and Davis Cup Player, Dave Ireland amongst the staff at TheTennisBros.com.
He has spent over 30 years tirelessly studying and picking apart what makes Federer’s serve such a feared weapon on tour.
He’s created a course, perfect for amateur players, looking to improve all aspects of their serve – whether that be starting from scratch, learning to carve out all the varying types of spin or how to practice your serve alone.
Everything’s under one roof as Dave walks you by the hand, every step of the way!
It’s called “Secrets of the Serve” and we think you’ll find it extremely useful in moving your tennis serve to the next level. Definitely check it out and let us know your results!
Remember, the serve is the one shot that you are in complete control of, therefore, always give it the time it deserves in your sessions.
So, until next time, get out your bucket of balls in practice and start pinging down those serves!
Article by: Tom