In tennis, a big serve is vital, especially when it comes to propelling yourself up the world rankings – and Spanish ladies sensation Paula Badosa has it. Tactics are what will ultimately win the game, she says, but her cracking 122mph serve can’t help but attract attention.
RSNG asked her to share the technique behind it, along with the mindset and temperament developments that are the bedrock of her recent rise…
Creating The Serve
Success has been a steady climb up the ladder for New York-born Paula Badosa. Breaking into the top 10 at the start of 2022 signaled genuine promise coming to fruition for the late-developing 24-year-old. But how does she create her 122mph serve?
In short, it’s all to do with technique and timing. What it’s not about is trying to hit the ball as hard as she can. The principle is the same for many ball sports where, in Badosa’s own words, “when you know it feels like a feather, it’s the right contact.”
She tells RSNG: “In my early days I felt I really had to lean into and launch each shot – it’s the logical thing to do when you’re trying to maximize momentum.
“My coach at the time told me the concept of bouncing in the center of a trampoline with 50% effort, and bouncing towards the edges with 100% effort: you will still go higher in the middle. And that logic is transferred to the racket. The trampoline is the racket and you are the ball.”
Badosa says another key factor is in body rotation. The star, who has consistently stayed in the world’s top eight in 2022, will ‘turncoil’ back as if she is getting ready to throw a ball, then quickly snap forward to make contact at the apex of the ball toss.
“Because the ball toss is going slightly forward, it pulls me into the court. Coupled then with the body rotation and the fact I am going past my original starting position, I can generate really easily the speed for the serve.”
Making sure that the body is also in the right position at certain points is key. So, after making the ball toss, Badosa will make sure that her arm holding the racquet is parallel to the ground.
This is the optimum position that the forearm and the racquet should be in to maximize the ‘slingshot’ or ‘catapult’ action, then the racquet head flies towards the ball at contact.
By the way that I play on the court, I may well look like I am a fairly aggressive person
Badosa is amused at the reaction of those who watch her in tournaments. Competing as she does for Spain, the impression is that the star carries with her some sort of fiery Latin temper. Maybe in the past she would give that impression, but not so much anymore.
“By the way that I play on the court, I may well look like I am a fairly aggressive person, but that’s not the case, at all!” she laughs. “My game is positive and I channel aggression, but my attitude is away from those emotions.
“Like many Spanish players, I prefer to play on the clay surface and that may not suit a fast serve, as the ball kicks up, but playing big ground strokes from the baseline is another way I can get my power into the points.”
Badosa also admits having physical clout is only one half of the equation. “You’ve got to know when to serve big and when to hold back – sometimes we are so keen to look at technique that we forget about tactics, and I have always said it’s tactics that will, ultimately, win you the game.”
Her Recent Journey
At the beginning of 2021, Badosa sat in 70th position in the world, gaining 27 places through COVID-19-disrupted 2020. But fast forward another 12 months, and Badosa went into the Australian Open at eight.
Eliminated in the fourth round by 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys – who went on to reach the semi-finals in Melbourne – Badosa was seeded for only the fourth time in a Grand Slam tournament.
With only one quarter-final appearance to her name before this point – unsurprisingly, at the French Open on her favorite surface – the Dubai-based star will be looking to complete her breakthrough by pushing deeper and deeper into tournaments.
“I love to challenge myself – my physical play is good and always moving forward, and recently I have invested so much more into the mental side, also.”
If you beat yourself up, then the player on the other side of the net doesn’t have to
In winning a very tight final against Victoria Azarenka – who had previously won her 500th tour level match – at Indian Wells in 2021 (in the process clinching her first WTA 1000 final win), Badosa proved she can match the best.
“Let’s just say that final had come two years earlier or maybe more, I would not have kept my nerve or temperament. In fact, I may not have even reached the final. In the past I was super-critical of myself. I would be getting down on myself if I did something bad and, subsequently, I would make it easy for my opponent.
“If you beat yourself up, then the player on the other side of the net doesn’t have to! So, I suppose making sure that I have more to my game than just a serve is another thing I’ve improved on. The mental side is now much better.”
Not everything you try in anything you do in life is going to work – but sometimes it does and it can be magical
Badosa has consistently shown that she is a force to be reckoned with as she climbs further up the world rankings, but her coach Jorge Garcia – who was with her as a junior – helps her to realize her ambitions.
“Jorge encouraged me to go for it more and to not be afraid of trying things, so I think that’s been a big difference in my game. He always says that if you don’t try something, how can you know that it will not work?
“Of course, sometimes it doesn’t work – not everything you try in anything you do in life is going to work, but sometimes it does and it can be magical.”
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