Is the "Trophy Position" really the trophy position?

Written by David Hodge

Remember that first tennis trophy you won? Think back. It seemed mammoth. You weren't sure how you would actually fit it on your shelf next to your other worldly belongings. They all had the same construction – base with an engraving like mine “MDJTA Inc. 1993 Pennant Mens Doubles Champions D Hodge & B Hodge”. Yes, they failed to put the “e” in doubles but I only noticed that after the euphoria had died down decades later! On top of that base were tall columns of the cheapest gold embossed plastic made. It is one trophy I've kept, a memorable title with my father, Bob. But this isn't about the story that has grown to be my epic triumph at a small tennis club in the country as a kid. It is about what stood atop that base and column that is referred to incessantly in clinics and private sessions by coaches all across the world. On the apex of that trophy, sitting gallantly, like a golden god, was the iconic serving man.

V3I1-David Hodge-1He represented success, league standings, past triumphs, and everything that was cool about the skin tight short shorts of tennis' yesteryear. He has been coveted, presented, mimicked, frozen, used and abused throughout tennis history. He's got more gold draped over him than Andy, Serena, and the Bryans put together. But what has stood the test of time more than all that, is that position. The trophy position. Mid swing, mid flow, casually held as if he were waiting for a bus. 

I sense that recollection on your face now. 

This phrase ‘Is the trophy position really the trophy position’, has been uttered so many times to unsuspecting hackers that most people have been numbed by the reference. Technically should we, as tennis professionals, still be using it at all? The serve is basically a throwing motion, fluid and loose. So to freeze a rigid moment in that fluidity can be confusing to even the most coordinated youngster. We will call it mid swing or preparation phase and move on. 

V3I1-DavidHodge2Let's take a look:

And if you don't want to take my word for it, how about a lesson from these two guys on the left? You may have seen them before! I won't waste space introducing them. Two of the best servers statistically of all time (and they did some other stuff pretty well too).

  • He has little knee flexion. Ideally his back knee flexion would measure 110+/-10 degrees, so he won't be able to use ground force reaction (GRF) to begin the summation of forces required to create power. Remember this mould would have been created a long time ago when serves were predominantly used to start the point, not end it!
  • His toes are facing slightly different directions meaning GRF will be impeded. For efficiency sake keep your toes facing the same direction to keep your muscles working together.
  • He demonstrates a “foot back” technique. Foot back and foot up technique have both been effective on tour.
  • Hip tilt is present based on the waist band of those trendy shorts, but the left hip is unlikely to have crossed the baseline plane as it should (unless he's committing a sneaky foot fault!).
  • Shoulder tilt is present. The first separation angle is present between hip and shoulders on the vertical plane.
  • His shoulders are rotated slightly further than the hips creating a second separation angle around the twist axis or horizontal plane. His little plastic muscles of the trunk are now pre-stretched.
  • His tossing arm is extended (but I can't remember the last pro I saw keep the second ball in the hand!).
  • His hitting arm is elevated slightly above the line from shoulder to shoulder extended. i.e. his right elbow is not in line with his right and left shoulders. 
  • His right elbow is at 90 degrees.
  • There isn't any wrist lag evident.
  • Grip would have to be eastern to allow the racquet face to be pointing in that direction considering the wrist position. Ideally you would keep a continental grip although we now see some eastern grips on serve e.g. Tsonga 
  • And hair nicely coiffed and slightly breeze blown...ok, I'm getting carried away.    

So overall, the trophy position has a lot of the characteristically good positions for a solid serve but they are under utilised. This again would be consistent with the serves use when this position was created. Nowadays, the serve is such a dominant weapon, especially in the men’s game, that the nonchalant server is virtually extinct. My advice to the trophy man would be:


  • Increase knee flexion to the required degree
  • Whatever stance used, once planted, keep toes facing the same direction.
  • Increase hip extension into the court, which should increase shoulder tilt from the side view
  • Increase shoulder rotation around the twist axis when compared to the hips.
  • Get rid of that ball in the left hand!
  • Keep the right elbow at 90 degrees but relax it slightly to bring it in line with the shoulder tilt.
  • Relax the wrist, allowing it to lag through the preparation phase.
  • Experiment with a continental grip. With the above changes you just may like it.
  • Get an up to date haircut and save on some products ok!

The Topline Trophy shop doesn't exist anymore behind the old car service station that shared an intersection with 2 pubs and a church. It's hard to outlive a pub or church in my hometown! But if the trophy shop was still there and those serving men on those trophies could talk, I'm sure they would want to be melted down and re-shaped to match the modern masters.