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Interactive Stroke Analysis Roscoe Tanner's Serve

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  • Interactive Stroke Analysis Roscoe Tanner's Serve

    Interactive Stroke Analysis: Roscoe Tanner's Serve

    Tennisplayer Subscribers!

    For the past several months, several subscribers have expressed repeated in the Forum in taking a look at Roscoe Tanner’s serve. I’m still not totally sure why but it did get me thinking. So it became the inspiration for starting a new type of interactive article on Tennisplayer.

    For Roscoe, nothing exists that is even remotely close to the video resources we have on our Stroke Archive players. But I have put together 3 interesting clips as well as a couple of revealing still images, thanks to the contributions of our subscribers.

    Later in the month, I plan to add my own analysis of Tanner’s serve, but first in this new interactive article, you have the opportunity to analyze the motion of a legendary player for yourself, and hopefully learn more about what to look for in studying strokes in general on in the process.

    Our Forum is the only one of it’s kind in the world, because it allows us to insert video and still images directly in the threads. This is a big problem in some of the other larger tennis message boards. Fights break out because no one can actually see or show what people are discussing and/or arguing about.

    So far I think our Forum is underutilized. So this is also an experiment to see whether we can get more people involved in contributing or just visiting and learning there as a regular part of the Tennisplayer experience.

    If this works out as I hope I have a lot of other interesting video of other players from all eras we can look at next/ Sound like fun?

    With Roscoe, I have inserted the 3 movies and the 2 stills below. I’ve also posed a series of questions. These questions are the same blueprint that I use myself when I analyze footage or work with players.

    My request is that everyone limit themselves to one or two paragraphs at a time on the various questions to make it easier for more people to jump in.

    As I said, I’ll share my thoughts at some point a little later. But maybe I’ll learn something first that will make them more insightful than if I had led off the discussion.


    What to Look For:

    Roscoe’s racket drop. How does it compare to other pro players? Is there a relationship between his backswing and racket drop?

    What's the meaning of that circle? How does it relate to the toss height?

    What's happening with his tossing motion?

    What can you see about his hand and arm rotation?


    What to Look For:

    This clip makes it hard to see the racket path.

    But what can you see about the stance, the leg action, and the left to right axis of the toss?

    What about the body rotation?


    What to Look For:

    In this one look for:

    The position of the contact point. The Toss Height.
    The Contact Point. Shoulder Rotation. Followthrough.

    What's going on with the legs?


    1st Serve versus 2nd Serve

    What to Look For:

    What do these stills say about the differences in his first and second serve?

    In particular what about the type of spin and the relationship of his motion to "modern" deliveries?
    Last edited by johnyandell; 11-03-2015, 03:32 PM.

  • #2
    Thanks John,
    I'll give it a try:

    Side view
    Roscoeís racket drop. How does it compare to other pro players?
    His racket drop is not as much as that of Roddick, but seems to me comparable to Agassi.

    Is there a relationship between his backswing and racket drop?
    IMO he is swinging so fast, that the gravity drop will not be so pronounced.

    What's the meaning of that circle?
    The circle shows where the balls gets tossed.
    How does it relate to the toss height?
    It is at the apex of the toss, the dead point, where Roscoe hits the serve.
    What's happening with his tossing motion?
    Early release of the ball on the toss, the toss motion seems circular, the ball thrown well ahead, he does not keep his right arm up very long because of his fast concerted swing.
    What can you see about his hand and arm rotation?
    Good pronation

    Rear View

    But what can you see about the stance, the leg action, and the left to right axis of the toss?
    Starts wide then goes over to pinpoint stance, not much leg kick.

    What about the body rotation?
    Not much shoulder rotation.
    Front View
    n this one look for:

    The position of the contact point.
    Out to his left (slice) The Toss Height. Mininal toss.
    The Contact Point.
    To the left of his head and out in front. Shoulder Rotation. Not much shoulder turn. Followthrough. Full follow through, his right hand finishes behind his body.

    What's going on with the legs?
    Not using his legs much. Not jumping up at the ball.

    Rear View Stills

    In these stills, he was a lot younger, and he is jumping up in the air much more than in the two previous videos, where he is about 40.
    What do these stills say about the differences in his first and second serve?
    Toss is more to right on the second serve, adding more of a topspin component

    In particular what about the type of spin and the relationship of his motion to "modern" deliveries?
    Slice on the first, Kick on the second.

    Summary: IMHO, the reason his serve is so fast despite the fact that he does not use either his legs much or rotate his body much, is that due to the low toss, his arm action accelerates from the very start, with no pause, provding a very rapid arm action.
    Last edited by gzhpcu; 07-05-2006, 07:09 AM.
    Regards, Phil


    • #3
      Nice job Phil!

      Come on guys--about 300 subscribers have looked at this awesome footage--don't be so shy!


      • #4
        The first video shows the slo mo footage of Roscoe in his prime. Even though it is nice slo mo footage, it is difficult to see how far past parallel to the ground his forearm gets at its lowest point on the racquet drop. It looks to me like it is clear Roscoe got at least past parallel, whether he gets as far past parallel as someone like Roddick, who pretty much sets the standard for this in modern tennis, is difficult to say. Maybe John has some ideas on this? The full body shots of Roscoe, even though he is past his prime, really show the quick cadence of his motion. Bungalow Bill has pointed out in some posts here and on the tennis warehouse message boards, that Braden had a love affair with Tanner's motion, and used it as his ultimate example of his teachings on the serve. BB should be able to give us some good stuff on Roscoe. I think BB would agree that Roscoe's motion would tie in nicely to his latest piece on the serve in this month's tennisplayer. Clearly, John has a good point when he says if this type of motion was really the way to go, it would be prevalent in pro tennis, and even though someone like me thinks Roscoe had a beautiful motion, hitting the ball at the toss apex as he did, John is correct, of course.
        Last edited by stroke; 07-07-2006, 04:43 AM.


        • #5
          Well, regarding rotation, I felt that he rotated too soon into the shot, because his hips are almost parallel to the baseline at contact. One thing I also learned from these clips of Roscoe is that it doesn't take a tremendous 45 degree knee bend like sampras to hit the ball big.


          • #6
            Yeah, how about that lack of knee bend, low ball toss, hitting without letting the ball drop. Strange. My guess is that Phil is onto something with the speed of his serve having to do with that fast backswing.


            • #7
              Fellow Students of the Serve,

              I'm impressed with the accuracy and level of the analysis you guys have shown with Roscoe.

              My take doesn't really add anything that hasn't been said one way or another, but since I am on record as saying I'd add my thoughts, they are as follows:

              Most teaching pros I think have been frustrated by this low toss model of the serve. I consider Vic a friend and his analysis of what Roscoe did is basically dead on. The question is how applicable it is to the world. Vic thinks it is, universally. I disagree with that.

              The first high speed clip shows something amazing--how long the ball sits at the top of the toss as it changes direction. Does this give you more "time" to hit?

              Well if your contact point is really going to be at the exact top of the toss, the ball is in the strike zone a few tiny fractions longer. That's true.

              But is that the same as having more time to hit? Not to me. Time to hit means how much time you have to do the entire motion. The low toss doesn't give you more time to do the motion. It gives you less.

              No current pro player I know hits at the top--check out Ivanisevic, he's the closest. But of the 50 other guys and girls on the site--all of them hit on the way down--usually a foot or two or more.

              The fact is that you have to have a super super fast twitchy rhythm to make it work in that interval. A few others like Kevin Curren have had it--but c'mon! If it's rare at the world class level, what is that saying?

              As a few people pointed out the low toss means that almost all the speed has to come from the arm motion. Roscoe has very little shoulder turn and very little knee bend.

              And yes I know there are teaching pros who can stand on their knees and hit 100mph. And wheel chair players. But sorry, it's ridiculous to conclude that we should all just serve with our arms. If you look at Brian Gordon's article you can see the serve and the racket head speed are produced as a whole body affair--the legs and torso are key.

              Which brings us to the point of spin. I venture to say all those guys hitting 100mph down on their knees probably aren't generating 2500rpm as well. Spin is a huge, critical component in serving well at all levels. I am more than convinced that to really generate spin and speed you need the knee bend and some torso rotation.

              We don't have Roscoe's spin numbers, but look at those two stills at the bottom. His contact point on both his first and second serves is much further to the side than modern guys like Pete, Roddick, or Federer. Yeah Roscoe's ball must have been spinning, but it's not a modern delivery with a mix of sidespin and topspin. It can't be with that contact point.

              So my conclusion. An amazing serve and an instructional curiosity. Copy it if you want, but I don't know why you would.
              Last edited by johnyandell; 07-10-2006, 04:07 PM.


              • #8
                Dear John, as usual I agree with just about everything youíve said about the Roscoe Tanner serve. However, I would like to raise a few points that do not necessarily contradict what you wrote. I realize that you're primarily addressing the Tanner serve here, but I also know from your previous posts that a lot of your comments apply to any of the lower toss/quicker motion servers such as Roddick, Ivo and Kevin Curren. You have never been a fan of any of these motions:

                1. First of all, I would encourage you and the other Tennisplayer.net readers to focus mostly on the second video of Tanner, not the first or third. While slow motion is usually the ideal way to analyze strokes, paridoxically, sometimes viewing the stroke at its actual speed tells us more. The second video which is in actual speed really shows the acceleration of Tannerís motion at the critical time, starting immediately before and after the racket drop. Similar to what Rick Macci said about Roddickís motion, Tannerís secret to explosive power seemed to be his ability to get in and out of the racket drop so quickly. While his racket drop may not be as deep as others, the racket speed and accompanying force which comes from that racket speed more than makes up for the depth of the drop. I think that you will all agree that the racket is simply EXPLODING with unusual force at this critical time.

                2. You seem to be certain that Tanner didnít get much spin on his serve. I believe that youíre underestimating the amount of spin he was able to generate. I base my belief on two factors: (1) When I was a 13 year old kid, I saw Tanner serve on a side court at the U.S. Open in person. At times, I was only about 20 feet away from him. Iíll never forget how amazed I was at how fast his ball was spinning. Particularly on his second serve, the ball seemed to actually SHAKE in mid air as it flew off his racket and over the net to his opponent. I donít recall ever seeing a ball spin that fast while watching the players of today; and (2) I believe that ďracket speed is racket speedĒ and that you can use it for power or spin or both. So long as Tanner was getting that massive racket speed, regardless of how he acquired it, he was probably able to generate as much spin as just about anyone when he wanted to. Whether he acquired it with his legs, torso, quickness of his motion, or farting, is immaterial.

                3. I encourage you to view and analyze video of Nadalís dramatically improved serve motion at Wimbledon this year. Am I imagining things, or did he lower his toss from a few months ago which not only improved the speed of his serve, but also the accuracy? His serve motion at Wimbledon this year reminds me of Tannerís. Theyíre even both left-handed. Iím willing to bet that his toss at Wimbledon this year comes down before contact no more than Ivanisevicís toss and I encourage you to look into this. This very recent adjustment is just another reminder of how this Tanner type of motion is still very applicable and relevant today. In fact, this one adjustment in Nadal's toss and related quicker motion might ultimately determine Nadalís place in history. Take away his new serve from this year and insert last yearís motion and Iím willing to bet that Nadal wouldnít have even made it to the quarters this year because his improved serve was critical to his improved results on grass. Had he continued on with his old and frankly pathetic motion from last year, his chances of winning Wimbledon some day seemed distant. With the new serve, his chance of winning Wimbledon multiple times now seems likely.

                4. With regard to Tannerís use of the shoulder turn and legs, I think that youíve also underestimated this. Tanner starts his motion and tosses the ball with his shoulders already fully sideways so he doesnít need to turn them much more. Moreover, similar to his abbreviated racket drop, he uses both his shoulders and legs so quickly that there is no need for the lengthy knee bend and shoulder turn because the speed of the move makes up for the length of it. Also, you cite Brian Gordonís biomechanical study for the importance of using the legs. While I enjoyed reading Dr. Gordonís article, there is one incredible flaw in his study. Shockingly, instead of studying the biomechanics of great professional servers which would have been a good idea, he decided to just study serves of 2003 Division 1 college players. There isnít even any indication that he confined his study to the GOOD SERVING college players, as opposed to random college players. Most college players donít have great serve motions and thatís why theyíre playing in college instead of the pros. What he should have done is limit his study to players who can hit the serve at least 120 MPH. Iím not interested studying mediocre serve motions. I already have one. :0)

                5. Iím afraid that you use a bit of circular reasoning in your ďif this type of motion was such a good idea, why arenít more players using it?Ē rationale. The main reason that more top players arenít successfully using this kind of motion is that they donít completely understand how to use it and thatís why we canít give up trying to figure it out. Another big reason that more top players arenít using the motion is that most tennis pros and analysts like yourself are in love with the Pete Sampras high toss motion or the Roger Federer classic motion, both of which I believe are even harder to generate power with for the average player than the lower toss Ivo, Tanner, Curren and Roddick motion. If players could figure out how to duplicate the Roddick, Tanner or Ivo motion, then they would use it. Trust me.

                6. In conclusion, I think it is a mistake to simply dismiss Tannerís (and Ivanisevicís, Currenís, and even Roddickís) serve motion as nothing more than an ďinstructional curiosityĒ partly because you donít fully understand it. Iím not saying that I have all the answers, but instead of turning away from these ideas, I hope that we can continue to try to unlock the secrets of these great strokes. I believe that we can still figure out how these faster motions can be duplicated by mere mortals and I don't think we should just give up trying, yet. There must be some trick to these motions as there seems to be in all tennis strokes and I don't believe that success with these motions is entirely innate.


                • #9
                  Narrow Minded

                  Dear GMann,

                  .5 I would first like to know what you are smoking so I can get my hands on some of that stuff. When I was smoking the killer Norcal I could argue with anyone that Johnny Mac had the best serve of all time. Hell, I still think he does. In Mac's heyday he could place the ball anywhere in the service box with any speed/spin/trajectory combination up to 120mph. Science has defined a 120 mph ball splitting the T as an ace. Connors, Lendl and a young Agassi could not deal with this onslaught of mental/physical torture.

                  .7 I stopped smoking for a week and opened my mind to thoughts of Tennisplayer.net gurus Yandell, Chabria and Murphy.

                  .8 There is no silver bullet in any sport movement; human anatomy/physiology is too dynamic.

                  .9 If it was that easy everyone would hit a one handed continental backhand (like my boy Mac).

                  1. Count the frames and know the frame speed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! One must trust the science of measuring velocity and acceleration. There thousands of people that can replicate the racquet head velocity/acceleration of Tanner, PERIOD. You guys talk about the man as if he is superhuman/uberman or something. All humans have the same muscles/tendons/bones/brains ect. What do you think is going on here?

                  2. I love your observations of the ball flight, but biases often cloud truth. When an object shakes in air it is a sign of instability of motion. The more an object spins in a medium (air, water ect.) the more stable it becomes. A ball with less spin will SHAKE more than a ball with increased spin. As a knuckle ball in baseball, or the recent ball (with less seams) used in the World Cup.

                  3. Are you suggesting Nadal's serve got him into the finals? One again, just give me the name of the strain and my boy at the club can hook me up. What does the the amount of drop in the toss contribute to racquet head speed......NONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                  4. Now I must start smoking because this is just crap. So many players with more speed/spin/placement/wins/titles/grand slams. My bad, he does have them on alimony payments.

                  5. The best tennis athletes in the world just don't know how to hit a high velocity low spin serve with low accuracy. This must by why these motor morons can't hang with deadbeat dad.

                  6. You keep mentioning Roddick, Curran and Ivanisovic. They all suck compared to the best servers in the world. What is the point?

                  The point is that a higher toss gives the server more time to vary the spin/speed ratio and deceive the receiver. The serve is not about power. It is about having many options to make your opponent think about what type of serve you are not about to perform.

                  I still want to know the strand; Tannners' serve SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


                  • #10

                    That's an impassioned post, and it's fine that we disagree. I read thru what you wrote and I think we will have to do just that, agree to disagree.

                    There's no doubt Roscoe had the racket head speed. My comment on spin was, I believe, that he couldn't produce the topspin element like Pete or even Roger due to the ball position of his toss. I would agree he could spin the hell out of the ball, it would just be predominantly sidespin.

                    Yes he starts square, but almost every good server either starts turned away or turns away past 90 degrees. It's the same with the legs--the whole thing happens so fast there is no time for a deep knee bend.

                    For what it's worth my friend Paul Lubbers who directs the high performance coaching program at the USTA thinks that Goran's quick motion with less body and legs probably caused or contributed to the destruction of his shoulder.

                    I tend to agree that the more components of the kinetic chain a server uses, the better. Roddick's toss is somewhat lower than Pete's but it's nothing like Roscoe's. He has a deep knee bend as well and more turn than Roscoe--and yes he is fastest in and out as Rick points out. Rick is a good example of very succesful coach with an incredible track record who believes in the low toss more than I.

                    Over the years I've seen successful players at all levels with the low toss, quick motion. I'm not saying don't use it or that it can't work. Vic has been a tireless advocate for this version, on the cover of the tennis magazines etc.

                    My opinion though is that percentage wise very few players have the twitchy speed to do this--even at the world class level. And I don't think the reasoning is circular. Top players are ruthless--as soon as one develops something that seems to give an edge many more will instantly copy it. if they can make it work. In this sense, Roscoe and Pete are actually similar. Not too many people could make that huge body turn work like Pete, and it's the same for the low toss.

                    Having had dozens of players with low toses come across my court--including some top 100 players--and having seen that more turn, more knee bend, further left ball position is something that usually works much much better, I'll stay with my view.

                    If it's working for you or another player I would never don't do it--but I also wouldn't say that I think it's the best option.


                    • #11


                      • #12
                        By the way I think Crazy Lefty is being a bit TOO harsh--but then look at his name...

                        Obviulsy Roscoe had a great serve for his day--the question in question is whether it has any application for most players.


                        • #13
                          Tanner's serve does not suck. He served up to 149 mph with a wooden racket. What I agree with, is that his fast windup is difficult for most players, and his minimal toss probably also had him serving at times not at his full height. You get better timing with a higher toss and a more relaxed windup initially.
                          Regards, Phil


                          • #14
                            I feel like GMann had some very good points regarding the Tanner serve. His point about racquet head speed, and the resulting spin and speed, was spot on in my opinion. I also feel that Roscoe's serve, in his prime, with today's equipment, would be one of the very best serves in tennis, a true weapon. I have to agree to disagree with John concerning the topspin component of Roscoe's serve. I have a tape of Roscoe's 1977 win in the Australian Open, vs Vilas, and his 2nd serve, clearly to me, was jumping off the court, because of the topspin action on the ball. Lefty, it is clear to me, after reading the many posts of you and GMann, who can contribute thoughtful posts to this board, and who can't. GMann knows his stuff in my opinion. GMann is also correct about Nadal. Rafael has lowered his toss somewhat and his serve has become more of a weapon. Wimbledon made that clear, his serving stats were better than they have ever been.
                            Last edited by stroke; 06-30-2007, 05:42 AM.


                            • #15
                              Following up on both John Yandell's and Stroke's most recent posts, I think Stroke and I have raised an important and very timely point regarding Nadal's improved serve at Wimbledon this year. The videotapes that I have examined clearly show a lower toss that improved his serve as it sped up his racket speed as well as increased his accuracy. I think the lower toss actually makes the timing easier because you don't have to wait forever which makes the swing much harder to time. Since John is probably the top tennis videographer in the world, I challenge him to examine the change in height of Nadal's toss at Wimbledon this year vs. last year or even 6 months ago. So far John's silence on this point is deafening.

                              Also, what the lower toss did to Nadal's serve in such a short period of time is something we can all learn from so long as long as it's done correctly. I don't advocate a toss as low as Tanner's necessarily, but some of the most amazing servers of all time (Tanner, Curren, Roddick, Ivo) used a toss that was much lower than your beloved Pete Sampras's.

                              Again, my point is that we shouldn't give up at least trying to understand how to hit a great serve using the lower toss (perhaps six inches to two feet above the apex) vs. the higher toss. I believe it can pay huge dividends if we can figure out how it's done. I understand that John believes that this is hard to do and I respect that he is acknowledging that difficulty, the only thing I object to is an attitude that dismisses the idea as only possible for the gifted and something that should be thrown in the trash heap. In other words, if you can't hit the lower tossed serve and can't teach it then I agree that you shouldn't hit it and and shoudn't teach it; however, don't give up on the quest to figure it out and throw the idea in the trash can.


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