Ever notice that when watching a pro match, the server tends to bounce the ball multiple times before they hit their serve?
Outside of habit, there’s a reason for bouncing the ball.
Ever notice that no two players have the same pre-serving routine or bounce the ball the same number of times?
There’s technically no reason for that, but it’s their individual tennis serving routine.
If you’ve watched enough pro tennis, you’ve seen that rituals abound on the tennis court and especially with the serving routine.
Why do Players Bounce the Ball?
There’s one perfectly good reason for it – to check the quality of the ball.
Standard tennis balls are pressurized, and so they have a bit of gas (usually nitrogen) in the center of the rubber core inside the ball.
In pro matches, tennis balls are switched out after every seventh game to ensure the consistent quality of the ball. Pros hit the ball hard and some points can go as long as 25 ball strikes.
For some context, Wimbledon goes through more than 50,000 tennis balls in the course of the two-week tournament
They also bounce the ball for routine… the ritualistic side of things.
Pro players can be superstitious and have many routines and rituals on the tennis court.
How Many Times to Bounce the Ball?
You only have to bounce it once or twice to know the ball is behaving correctly.
After you’ve played enough tennis, you know how they’re supposed to bounce and feel.
Maybe it’s a bit different when you’re on a different court surface (grass vs. clay), but the principle remains the same.
While you don’t have to do it when you’re alone, there’s nothing wrong with getting in the habit of bouncing the ball a few times before you serve to be sure there isn’t anything wrong with the ball.
In Addition to Tennis Serving Routines
From serving to just some interesting things that pro players do, routines can be some of the more entertaining parts of tennis.
For some, rituals are calming. The routine nature of bouncing the ball 5 times for a first serve and 4 times for a second serve lets your mind and body get into a rhythm.
If you want to develop your own ritual, go for it.
The following are just a few of Nadal’s habits for every match he plays.
1. Walks on the Court with a Racket in Hand
No real reason to do this but he just saunters onto the court and walks with a single racket in his left hand. It’s always his left hand. He has a bag full of 5 additional rackets, but one is always out in his left hand.
This is one of his many rituals.
2. Doesn’t Step on the Lines
When it’s time to change sides of the court, some players just don’t step on the lines.
There’s a ton of videos of this; it’s not just one specific pro player that does it, but Nadal is one of them.
One theory is that this practice has something to do with respecting the boundaries of the court. Who knows why?
3. Makes the Umpire Wait
This is another Nadal-specific thing (he’s a really good example of rituals) and it’s rather rude.
Nadal waits for the umpire to be ready to start and only then he does his warmups while making everyone else wait for him.
I don’t like the impact on the other people on the court, but I think it’s him trying to minimize the time between warmups and actually starting the match so he remains as loose as possible.
4. Net Jumping During Coin Toss
This has to be some psyche-out move, but it’s when you just jump at the net right before the coin toss in a pro match.
Maybe the player is amped up, trying to freak out their opponent, or it’s a way to warm up their hips.
No matter the reason, a number of players do this at the net before matches begin.
5. Dries Off After Every Point
Reaching for the towel between every point whether it’s January or July.
It seems like the player just wants to feel refreshed and ready to go when the next point is being raised, but for some it’s an absolute ritual.
Before Nadal crosses by the net to get to the other side in a changeover he stops in place and lets his opponent cross first.
It’s just a weird little thing that he does and that’s all there is to it.
Nadal has a lot of odd habits; this is just something that perhaps makes him feel like he’s more in control of the situation.
7. Excessive Adjustments
There’s a ton of pros who are guilty of this but none more than Nadal.
When he steps to the service line he has an absolute routine.
- He pulls his underwear out of his butt, touches his left shoulder, then his right shoulder.
- He touches his nose, his left ear, nose again, right ear…
- Nadal does all of this while bouncing the ball with the racket in his left hand.
Obviously his ritual works for him as he’s an incredibly consistent server.
For this observer, I find it all to be very annoying and distracting to watch.
Is There a Reason to Have a Ritual?
If you want to look at it with an open mind, there are a few good reasons to have a ritual in place. Let’s just jump through some of the quick points regarding it.
There’s something in psychology and therapy where performing an action that can help keep you grounded in the moment.
This is perhaps the biggest reason to have your own routines.
You can only imagine how nerve-wracking it would be on break point in a major tournament with cameras and a grandstand of people surrounding you.
Settling into your serving routine makes things seem more normal and not so tense.
Grounding yourself is a technique used to calm yourself during times of anxiety, panic or extreme stress.
Pro players likely use this to calm any anxiety.
Some players use routines to elevate their focus.
This could be a certain song to hype them up before working out or a specific action that helps them get ready for work.
Whatever the thing is that you have to do, it’s supposed to be a positive trigger to get yourself going. Focus is important, but it’s usually not easy to just switch gears and be immediately focused.
Routines can send a message that it’s game time.
Should You Have Specific Tennis Routines?
This is all about personal preference.
Can you flip into focus mode without really having to try?
Focusing isn’t easy, and if you find it difficult to get in that mindset, then you should consider creating your own positive triggers and routines.
Determine Your Best Strategy
Are you going to pick up any of these pro serving rituals and routines or are you going to establish your own?
Being aware of the bounce of the ball is important, but some other tennis serving routines can get a little out of hand.
Tennis matches can be stressful so be sure to develop routines that suit you – especially for serving and returning.
It might look funny to others, but your comfort and ability to calm yourself matters when it’s GO time!