Where you stand to serve

Watching the Wimbledon grass wear out for the server’s spot made me think about Emmoconflicting advice I got from my Newk Camp Coach Roy Emerson on where you should stand while serving a singles match.

Emmo says a server in a singles match should “hug the center line” (in both the deuce and add courts); so that you can better serve down the middle and over the lowest part of the net.

But if you noticed the grass-wear patterns on center court Wimbledon, you would see it is at least two-three feet AWAY from the center stripe. I would assume that is so the server can get a better angle wide when he wants to.

For me, I tend to hug the center when I have the opponent’s backhand down the middle (deuce court for righties) and stand a foot or two off to get a slightly better angle in the other court. Any insights on this one?

3 thoughts on “Where you stand to serve

  1. I think you should learn to be flexible in where you stand, to give the returner a different look from time to time. Here’s why:
    * standing in the center gives you the shortest distance path over the low part of the net to the returner, taking away reaction time from the returner. That’s a real advantage for a hard server.
    * standing out wide gives changes the geometry angle to give you the longest possible service box to land in going over the low part of the net,
    * It is harder to change the direction of a ball than simply block it back in a straight line, so serving from out wide and serving even wider forces the returner to hit over the higher part of the net into a smaller piece of the court while changing the direction of the ball as well. It also takes him well off the court, leaving open court in front of you for your next shot.
    Being flexible gives you more options to win the game.

  2. George, I think where you stand to serve depends on a lot of things, including whether the receiver is right handed or left handed, whether you are playing singles or doubles, whether the receiver has a better forehand or backhand, where you intend to place the ball on the serve (irrespective of whether the receiver favors one side or one stroke over another), whether you intend to serve a hard flat one or a slice or a kicker, whether you plan to stay back and have a baseline rally after serving or expect to charge into the net for a serve and volley, and — perhaps most overlooked — just to give the receiver a different angle or a different direction that the serve is coming from than what he/she has seen before in the match to keep the receiver off balance.

    This is way too complicated of a question to answer simply, but my rule of thumb in serving is to try to be like a good baseball pitcher and to always keep the receiver guessing. I never want the receiver to be able to predict what I am going to do next.

    So, in singles, my general rule is to stand just to the right of the center line when serving to the deuce court IF the receiver is right handed. This gives me the easiest possible line to serve into the receiver’s backhand up the middle. But IF the receiver is left handed, then I usually start out standing about midway between the center line and the alley when serving into the deuce court because that allows me to put “righty” slice on the ball and hook one wide and sweeping to the receiver’s right (i.e., my left) — away from the lefty receiver’s backhand. Of course, if the receiver — righty or lefty — has a better backhand than forehand, then I will adjust and stand in a different spot to favor whatever serve I want to deliver. In instances where the receiver is just plain good at receiving on both the forehand and backhand sides, then I may adjust to still another spot in order to get the best possible angle to serve a slice right into the body of the receiver.

    BTW, I think the sliding serve into the body may be the most overlooked serve in the amateur ranks. If I am serving to a righty in the deuce court, for example, I will stand maybe 3 feet to the right of the center line and aim a slice right at the service T to hit this one. If I hit the ball properly, it will have a fair amount of sidespin moving from my right to my left — it need not be hit all that hard to be effective — and the sidespin will cause the ball to lunge into the left hip or so of the receiver right after the bounce. At that location, most receivers will not be able to move quickly enough either to their right or left to hget out of the way of the ball to hit a full out backhand or forehand. The usual response is to try to “push” the ball back — sometimes on the racquet frame if the receiver attempts a forehand, often with the elbow leading significantly if the receiver attempts a backhand — and this sets up an easy put away for me on the next shot, if the ball comes back over the net at all.

    The serve into the body is also a particularly useful serve to employ against a player who has a huge forehand and who likes to run around the backhand to wail on big forehand returns. I recently used it to good effect in playing a USTA singles league match against a very good player in the US from France who had basically beaten everybody else in our singles league with what amounts to a nearly world class forehand. I took the first set from him in a tiebreaker using this serve where essentially the only points that I won from him at all were sliders into his body. He did manage to adjust to what I was doing, however, in the second and third sets and ultimately won the match.

    As for where I stand when serving into the ad court, I have used up enough space with the long explanation above so I will simply say that it varies in a manner similar to where I stand for a deuce court serve, albeit I stand in different locations for different reasons. I would not want to give away too many of my serving secrets because, as you know, the rest of my game is pretty much crappy and the only advantage that I usually have against anybody is with my serve. 🙂

    – Marty

    Marty: Tks for the good comments. Are you saying that you regularly change positions during a singles match? geo

  3. To answer your question George, I have been known to move around a lot while serving in some singles matches, whereas in other matches I don’t move from one basic spot on each side at all. It just depends on the match, and who I am playing. Generally speaking, if I am holding serve fairly easily by staying put in one spot, I will do so — although I will still try to mix up my serves in terms of where I place them, what kind of spin I hit, etc. But that often does not work against a stronger player. So when I am playing stronger players, generally speaking, I do move around more than I probably do against weaker players.

    This does not mean that I necessarily move around a whole lot in singles matches anyway. I would say that, generally, I move much farther away from the center line in doubles than I ever dare to try in singles. This is because it is far easier to get passed when you are out of position in a singles match than when you are playing doubles. In singles, moving too far away from the center of the court opens up an up the line shot for the receiver on the opposite side from where you are standing. For that reason, I try not to venture too far from the center line in singles — unless I am supremely confident that I can hit an ace or just hit such a strong serve with the angle that I have opened up that I am willing to risk being passed.

    An example of this is, on the deuce side, sometimes I will move quite a bit right toward the alley when serving to a righty who has an especially good forehand return. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but many righties who return well off the forehand are used to moving better to their left, and not to their right, when returning, so they can run around a backhand and smack a huge forehand return up the line (to the right handed server’s backhand). While the tactic is risky, and while I really need to serve an excellent serve to get away with it, sometimes I will purposely move to my right to serve against such a player into the deuce court. I will then try to hit a relatively flat “inside out” serve (sort of like Pete Sampras used to hit, or at least that is my role model) that bounces in the service box close to the alley and that moves away quickly from the receiver’s forehand after the bounce. I will try to get as much pace as I can get on the ball. (A good wrist snap helps with the extra pace.) If all goes well, the receiver, who is not as adept moving to his right to hit a forehand as he is in moving to his left, will send me back a weaker than normal return. I have even aced some guys with big forehand returns with this tactic because they are so used to nobody ever serving to their forehand that they have no idea how to react when somebody does so.

    Again, it is risky, but if I happen to be serving well that day I may try this once or twice just to see if I can win a few cheap points. Once that happens, then I know I am getting into the receiver’s head with my service delivery and he will be thinking all day about this and whether I might do it again. It tends to cause the receiver to lose focus, if anything, even if it does not draw outright mishits on his returns. If the tactic does not work with one or two serves, or even if it does work, then I may abandon it for a while and either not use it again during the match or use it as a surprise serve to be employed when I think I have a “throwaway” point on my serve later in the match — like when I am serving at 40-15. Sometimes in the latter situation, even if this tactic did not work earlier in the match, it will work in that situation as a surprise because the receiver is simply not expecting this.

    I should also mention that sometimes I find that a particular player can groove his returns better when I stand in one spot than another spot. Obviously, I learn from these kinds of observations as the match goes on and, when I make this kind of observation, I am usually careful about either not standing in the precise spot where he can get the best groove on his return or, if I stand there at all, then I slow down my delivery (but not necessarily the pace of my serve) to increase my concentration and I pay particular attention to serving the ball harder and/or with more spin if I remain in that location.

    Still another movement tactic that I have employed on occasion is not to stand directly on the baseline but, rather, to move behind the baseline anywhere from 1 or 2 inches to as much as 6 or 7 inches. I don’t do this because I am worried about foot faulting, necessarily, although I have also done this for that reason in USTA sanctioned events where there are line judges or roving referees and there is always the possibility that I may shift my feet a bit too much and touch or go over the baseline before I hit the serve. Rather, I will occasionally use this tactic to hit a heavy kick serve. I find that, with my delivery, I often hit my kick serve a few inches past the service line when I try to put maximum topspin on the serve. So, to counteract that effect, I just move back a few inches behind the baseline when I hit such a serve and it has the effect of moving the bounce point of the serve a few inches closer to the net — and hopefully on or just inside the service line. I will generally not do this when serving slices or flat serves, however, because, as you know, I am not all that tall and I feel I need to be as close to the net as possible (but not on or over the baseline) to get the maximum downward angle on slice and flat serves from the apex of my toss.


    – Marty

    Marty – Good stuff! tks geo

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