The serve is one of the most important strokes in padel, as it allows the player to reach a position close to the net when putting the ball in play, starting the point in an advantageous situation.
However, there is an alarming shortage of work that analyses technical and tactical aspects of the serve in padel (Sánchez-Alcaraz et al., 2020), even though this stroke has been considered the most important performance indicator in racket sports (Gillet et al., 2009).
The serve represents approximately 10% of the total number of strokes in a padel match (Torres-Luque et al., 2015). Considering the short duration of points in padel (10-15 seconds) and the low number of strokes per point (between 8-10 strokes), this first stroke in padel can be decisive (Courel-Ibáñez, Sánchez-Alcaraz, & Cañas, 2017; Courel-Ibáñez & Sánchez-Alcaraz, 2017).
In addition, the serve provides the possibility of taking the initiative in the point, as it allows the player who serves to reach the offensive position of the net before his opponents, with the corresponding advantage that this entails (points scored at the net represent around 80% of the total, and winners score 34% more points than losers in this offensive zone) (Courel-Ibáñez et al., 2015).
With respect to the advantage of the servers in the point, a recent study established that, as more strokes are made in the point, the percentage of points won by the serving partner decreases, establishing that, in men, from the 12th stroke of the point the advantage of being a server disappears, being in women from points with more than 7 strokes (Sánchez-Alcaraz et al., 2020). In addition, the gender comparison showed that men win more points in a service situation than women (Sánchez-Alcaraz et al., 2020).
However, this percentage of points won by the serving partner decreases as the match progresses, being significantly lower in the third set (Ramón-Llin et al., 2021), probably because of fatigue on the server, who is the player who travels the longest distance per point in professional padel (Ramón-Llin, Guzmán, et al., 2021).
This serving efficiency is conditioned by the tactical position used by the players (Ramón-Llín, Guzmán, et al., 2021). In this sense, the serving partner has adopted two types of tactical positions (traditional and Australian). The traditional position shows the server’s partner on the opposite side. In the Australian position, the server’s partner stands on the same side as his partner (Figure 1).
Both positions have tactical implications whose main goal is to occupy and maintain during the game the side on which each player is a specialist. The results of the studies showed that players win a higher percentage of points on serve when using the traditional tactic versus the Australian tactic, especially, moreover, in the third set (Ramón-Llín, Guzmán, et al., 2021). The results of this study showed that the use of an Australian strategy will force the server to travel further and faster towards the net than when using a conventional strategy and that, at the time of the return, he/she is at a greater distance from the net than when using a traditional tactic (Image 1).
Image 1. Tactical serving positions (traditional and Australian) and analysis of the distance travelled and the distance to the net of the server (Ramón-Llin et al., 2021).
Bearing these factors in mind, it is necessary that, AT A TACTICAL LEVEL, the players take into account a series of variables that allow them to serve with better guarantees and maintain the initiative in the game, such as:
- Direction: With regard to the direction of the serve, we can classify the trajectory of the serve into serves to the glass, serves to the centre and serves to the “T”. It has been observed that more than 60% of the serves were directed towards the glass or side wall, with the aim of making it difficult for the rest of the opponents (Sánchez-Alcaraz et al., 2020). The advantage of serving to the glass lies in the greater number of errors by the returners, due to the bounce of the ball on the side wall and the very presence of this element (Lupo et al., 2018). In addition, serving to the glass allows more time to reach the net than when serving to the centre of the court. Serving to the T causes a greater movement of the opposing player and the creation of free space in the area of the double wall, which could lead to a second delivery after the serve to this area, creating a complicated situation for the opponent. Finally, serving over the opponent’s body is a third option, which usually generates uncertainty in the receiver about the type of stroke to make, due to the infrequent training of this type of return, and the need to move the body away from the direction of the ball before hitting (Sánchez-Alcaraz et al., 2021).
- Depth: This is considered an important aspect when it comes to serving, as serving deep (near the backwall), especially in the area of the glass, makes it more difficult for the receiver to return, due to the presence of the side wall and the backwall glass and the doubt about the bounce of the ball near the baseline (Lupo et al, 2018).
- Speed: This can be considered another factor to consider when serving. Varying the speed of the serves makes it difficult for the opponent to adapt to this situation. We must consider the distance we have to cover and our level or state of fitness, because, as noted in the previous point, the faster the speed of the serve, the faster the speed of movement we must have to reach the net in a favourable situation (Ramón-Llin et al., 2013).
- Serve side: The side of the court from which the serve is made influences the direction of the serve. Thus, on the right side the service directions were more evenly distributed, while on the left side 70% of the serves were directed towards the glass. It should be considered that this is the side where most of the games are usually defined, a fact that could change due to the incorporation, in 2020, of the “golden point” rule in the professional circuit (Sánchez-Alcaraz, Muñoz, et al., 2020). Furthermore, these data may be influenced depending on the laterality of the players (right-handed or left-handed), so future research should take this variable into account in the study of statistics related to the serve (Courel-Ibáñez & Sánchez-Alcaraz, 2018).
As a PRACTICAL APPLICATION of this work, it is important to take these data into account in order to include exercises in our training sessions adapted to the data presented in this article. In this way, it would be interesting to include global exercises in which limitations or conditioning factors are included in the task that favour the performance of certain serves or plays that begin with this stroke, such as:
- Limited number of strokes. An extra point is awarded to the serving partner if he/she wins the point before the nth stroke.
- Maintain the net. If the serving partner manages to maintain the net and, in addition, win the point, he/she gets an extra point.
- Serving tactical training: traditional or Australian. The serving players are forced, by the coach or by the opponents, to start the point with one or the other tactical training.
- Serve to the side wall. The serving partner scores a point if the ball, after a correct serve, touches the side wall, regardless of whether he/she subsequently wins or loses the point.
- Serving from different places. The serving partner will have to vary the location of the serve, positioning the server closer to the side wall on some occasions and, on others, closer to the centre service line.
- Serve with different trajectory parameters. The server will have to serve to a different direction each time. The same could be done with the rest of the trajectory parameters.
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