A few weeks ago while studying professional footage to develop our “Technical Guidelines” section for TennisGate we struggled to come up with a clear answer the following question: Should the eyes be at contact on the serve?
As a big proponent of keeping your head up and eyes on the ball as long as possible, I thought this was a no brainer, every pro is definitely looking at the ball at contact. But my partner challenged me, arguing that many players look away shortly before contact because of the natural movement of the spine. He argued that in golf they found out that instructing players to keep their eyes on the ball through contact was causing many neck injuries due to the unnatural position of the spine as the head tries to fight the momentum of the body, and that as a consequence the new teaching guidelines instructed players to focus on watching the ball ascending after contact.
Since we could not reach consensus we decided to investigate, analyzing some of our professional footage.
After our first few videos I thought I had the argument won. Berdich, Tsonga and Li Na were obviously looking at the ball at contact, but then things got interesting especially after Wawrinka’s and Dimitrov’s videos where they were clearly looking away from the ball.
At the end, our study yielded three groups: eyes at contact, eyes not at contact and not defined, which challenges my usual “keep your eyes at contact on the serve” as one of my frequent teaching guidelines.
Of course this is not a complete study and several questions remain unanswered: Are all the players trying to keep their eyes at contact but failed to achieve their goal in the particular clip we viewed? Is it easier to achieve this when hitting a particular serve? For example: Is it easier to keep your eyes at contact on a flat serve than on a kick serve because of the position of the toss? Is it possible that there is an advantage to moving your head in the context of everything else that a player like Wawrinka is doing?
What is the acceptable range in terms of moving the head before contact?
We will have to tackle these questions in the future, and although I am still a huge proponent of eyes at contact I will compromise a bit and say that for now the correct advice can probably be summarized as follows:
“When serving keep your eyes on the ball and your head still as long as possible, without fighting the natural movement of the spine.”