6 June

A summer of serving: Part two, the toss and where to stand

Our back-to-basics guide to the serve continues with a look at how to set yourself up to get the ball in play. Preparation is the key to success and a good serve begins well before you hit the ball

 

Where to stand

As the server you must start each point with both feet behind the baseline, but your position on the baseline will depend on whether you are playing singles or doubles. In both forms of the game you should consider where you need to stand to be able to get the return back. 

In singles make sure you can cover the whole court following the serve, so standing closer to the centre mark rather than the tramlines is generally the way to go. In doubles the court is bigger but your partner covers half of the space  - that means serving from nearer the tramlines typically works better. From this wider position, you can also take advantage of the better angle for hitting a serve out wide.

SERVICE STANCE

There are two main types of stance when serving:  

1. Platform Stance

The feet remain apart and in the same position throughout the service motion. 

Pros...Simple, easier to transfer weight from back to front foot and maintain consistency. 

Cons... Need to adjust body position slightly for deuce and ad court.

2. Pinpoint Stance

The back foot is brought up to the front foot so the feet are together when you hit the ball. 

Pros... It's possible to obtain more explosive speed and power and easier to move forward into the court. 

Cons... Harder to time the serve, control the ball toss and makes a foot fault more likely. 

There is however no right or wrong stance to use, with the professional's adopting both the platform (e.g. Federer) and pinpoint (e.g. Berdych) stance successfully. Our advice, give both a try and see which feels most natural. 

RITUAL

The serve is the only shot in tennis where you have complete control so establishing a routine or ritual prior to starting your service motion ensures you take your time and are fully focused before each point. The ritual you adopt is completely up to you; it could be bouncing the ball three times, breathing in and out or even adjusting your whole outfit!

The Ball Toss

Don't hit it unless you love it!

The ball toss is an often-overlooked phase of the tennis serve, but it is vital in developing consistency and accuracy.

Now many players do change their toss depending on the type of serve they’re hitting i.e. flat, slice or kick, however this does give the returner the opportunity to read the serve and prepare appropriately.

To keep an element of suprise behind your serve and therefore make it more effective, it is best to practice hitting all serves from the same ball toss, as you will see the pros do. 

So how do you toss the ball in the same spot every time? Here's five easy tips to help you along...

  1. Hold your tossing arm out in front and roughly in-line with your front foot with your palm facing up 
  2. The ball should be on the ends of your finger tips so it's easy to release
  3. Lift your arm up, using only your shoulder for the movement so your arm stays straight
  4. Release the ball at eye level, opening your hand completely
  5. Keep your eye on the ball from start to finish

Height

How high should the ball be when you hit it? Bear in mind you will be hitting the ball with your racket arm fully extended. The simple answer is it should be the height that feels good for you! (If you are off the ground when you hit the ball you will be able to gain valuable height. If your are less athletic in your approach you won't have this advantage.)

When you toss the ball, you are looking to give yourself the best opportunity to consistently place the ball at that highest point. If your toss places the ball too high, you will have to wait for it to start descending and that adds acceleration and an extra degree of complication (in windy conditions it will be even harder to control).

So your toss should aim to place the ball at (or just above) the highest point that is right for you. Some have described this as the action of placing a ball on the top of a wall just out of your reach.

When you release the ball, it is a neutral action - you aren't imposing spin or direction on the ball, just releasing it from your fingers so it can continue its upward trajectory as it finds your preferred hit point.

Given high-enough ceilings, practicing the toss (catching the ball on your racket hand) is the kind of homework you can do indoors whenever you have a moment.

There is of course one exception to the advice above - the underarm serve. The ball needs to be hit before it hits the ground (without bouncing) but aside from this the ball toss and motion is up to you. 

And always remember you don't have to hit it, if it doesn't feel right! Just let the ball fall on the ground, catch it in your hand or your racket and start again.

Main pic Anna Chakvetadze toss by Charlie Cowins via CC