Analyzed by John Yandell
"No one has ever been able to teach me a kick serve," Alan told me when we scheduled his video analysis at my court in San Francisco. He felt sure he could do and had no idea why he wasn't, as he was an athletic 4.5 level player.
I told him that the so-called "kick" serve was not somehow a different serve, but actually a relatively small variation on the first serve motion so we needed to look at his overall serve technique to see what the limitations might be there.
I was pretty sure what the high speed video would show because I had seen the issue with so many players—usually something to do with the racket drop. If the racket drop position isn't great, that affects the racket path on the way to the ball, making it come too much from the left, limiting the critical topspin component.
When that's the case, there isn't some magical change that can somehow allow a player to hit a "kick." To this point, Alan had never seen himself in high speed video, and what he saw was I think a revelation to him.
Although his drop was better than many players I have filmed, it wasn't close enough to full to optimize his basic motion. It happened too far away from his torso to really allow him to hit up to the ball on the right path. We could see this is both in the angle of his racket at the drop and then of his arm in the upward swing, coming too far from the left in the last few frames before contact.