Bouncing the ball before serving
June 1, 2010 7:01 PM   Subscribe

What is the tactile function of bouncing the tennis ball on the service line?

Something to do with feeling out a rhythm that carries through to the toss, I intuit, which in turn carries through to the stroke. Is there more sound thinking behind it? Any pros skip this ritual?
posted by Municipal Hare to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The balls' bounciness changes over time. Bouncing it on the line lets you better time the toss.
posted by null terminated at 7:04 PM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: Can you elaborate on what timing a toss involves, and how bounciness affects that part of the serve?
posted by Municipal Hare at 7:21 PM on June 1, 2010

Imagine kicking a very fully inflated soccer (or beach or whatever) ball. Now imagine kicking a flat one. Very very different behaviours.

The tennis players are checking that the ball bounces how they expect it too so that it performs predictably during their shot. They will reject a ball on occasion if it doesn't 'feel' or act right on the bounce as you can't hit a repeatable and accurate shot if the ball is an unknown quantity.

You don't see this rejection so much in the major matches as the balls are so regularly changed in order to retain a consistency of ball quality, but it happens every now and then.
posted by Brockles at 7:29 PM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's probably partially also mind-clearing ritual, like bouncing the ball a few times before the free-throw, or the wiggle before the golf swing.
posted by ctmf at 7:39 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Somewhat related, previously
posted by true at 8:00 PM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: Great answer, Brockles. Leaving aside the slim chance of holding a dud, are pros bouncing it on the line to develop a finer and finer sense of how the ball's current bounciness will interact with their envisioned stroke? Or is there more ritual to it, as ctmf suggests? Sorry if this is getting pedantic.
posted by Municipal Hare at 8:28 PM on June 1, 2010

I think it's just the routine / ritual. Pro's get new balls every few games, and they are handled by the ball kids, so the chances of getting a crappy ball are slim.

(p.s. it's the baseline where they do the bouncing before serving, the service line is the line halfway in the court before which a serve must bounce.)
posted by trialex at 8:45 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (P'oh!)
posted by Municipal Hare at 10:45 PM on June 1, 2010

Best answer: It starts out as a way to confirm that the ball is good enough to bounce approximately right. Then it becomes a way to confirm that the ball sounds right. Then it becomes a thing that a player has always done before he or she serves, and he or she has been playing a lot of tennis. And when a player gets to that point and is good at it, then you'd be amazed how much unthinking ritual there is in every single movement that a player makes. A lot of high-level tennis coaching is concerned with how to change one tiny thing in one tiny move that a player makes without undoing the entire rest of that chain of movement that has brought the player to a very high level.
posted by Etrigan at 1:22 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Preparatory Routines in Self Paced Events, (Google Books) from the Handbook of Sports Psychology.

Virtually all athletes who are involved in sports that contain brief self-paced events, such as serving in tennis, putting in golf, and performing free throws in basketball, have preperformance routines, either taught or developed intuitively...Routines that were only briefly performed before action execution were found to assist performers to be more accurate and consistent in their respective tasks.

Unlike the other examples mentioned here, a tennis serve also involves a direct opponent. In that case, a pre-serve routine has the added advantage of making the server's behaviour, stance and action for different kinds of serve look as similar as possible so it's more difficult for the opponent to 'pick' the serve.
posted by Jakey at 2:10 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Think, too, of the batter taking his several air swings as he faces the pitcher about to throw. The repetitive activity helps with focus.
posted by yclipse at 4:40 AM on June 2, 2010

Response by poster: I'm much clearer now thanks to these great answers. Heroic find on the book, Jakey. The element of disguise hadn't occurred to me. Like the series of automatic motions a pitcher goes through.

An inverted case would be Michael Chang's daring bluff against Ivan Lendl in the '89 French. He couldn't hide the change in stance and rhythm, but it's masked in part by fifth-set fatigue. Then he cuts short with his racquet what would be another pre-toss bounce.
posted by Municipal Hare at 5:35 AM on June 2, 2010

I played tennis in high school and we used balls from a big basket and some of them were duds. If perchance you were blessed with a new can of balls for the match, you still bounced them because they would bouce different than the used balls in practice. It is also very ritualistic.

As far as how it relates to the toss, If the ball is dying, you need to hit it harder. For me personally, if a ball was dying, I would focus more on placement on the opponent's side of the court, since i knew i wasnt going to get as much zing off the raquet for speed. If I had a fresh ball, I could usually just hit it fast enough that it would give the opponent difficulty just reacting in time.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:42 AM on June 2, 2010

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