The Tell-Tale Toss

The tongue tells the tale

You choose to serve wide or down the middle; but your opponent seems to always be in the right spot to hit their return.  Ask yourself: Does where you toss tell the receiver where you will be serving?

Son Tells Father

My tennis playing Savannah son was down for a visit in June and we were hitting some tennis balls; and he observed that I was “telling” where I intended to serve in the deuce court by where I placed my toss … off to my right when I was going to slice wide and more over my head when I wanted to go down the middle.

Practice Drill to Correct

At Newk’s camp last year, American doubles specialist Rick Leach had us do a drill (that I believe Pete Sampras’ coach had him do).  We weren’t allowed to predetermine where we were going to serve; but rather, Leach stood next to us, and at the top of our toss, he would yell “Middle!” or “Wide!” … and that is where we had to serve.

You can actually do this exercise yourself on the practice court: just toss the ball and you decide where it will go at the top of the toss.

The Tell-Tale Tongue

A great tennis story was told by Andre Agassi after he retired.  He said when Boris Becker served, he would stick his tongue out in the direction of his intended serve!  Andre said he never told him of this “tell” until after they both retired.

How about YOU, do you have a “serving tell” that you give or can read?

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9 thoughts on “The Tell-Tale Toss

  1. I like to believe that I’m not signaling to my opponent where I’m going with my serve whether it’s my tongue or my toss George . Before serving, I pick out a spot in my opponents service box and “hit where I’m looking”

    Jim (First Responder), sometimes, “where you are looking” is a service tell! thanks, george

  2. Hate to say it, but the only thing my ball toss would reveal is that the server (me!) needs a lot more practice on his ball toss. Happy 4th to one and all, and stay safe.

    Scoot, that is actually a problem with trying to read someone’s toss that is all over the place! thanks, see you tmw. george

  3. Where one serves (places) a serve should have nothing to do with where the ball is tossed. It’s accomplished by the angle of the strings at contact and the wrist rotation just prior to the snap makes this happen. I tell most people to toss at a clock face between 12:00 and 1:00 (obviously 12:00 and 11:00 for lefties). Anywhere between should work out fine. For topspin kick serves toss closer to 12:00. Slices work best a bit more towards 1:00 for righties. But the point is, it varies very little. And it’s virtually undetectable at the pro level and by accomplished servers.

    Alan, where we “should” toss the ball isn’t always where we DO toss the ball. thanks for the good input. george

  4. An observant returner often picks up server tells. These include ball toss, court positioning, and grip changes. You probably played against a 4.5 club pro from Somers during your Ct. days. He had a 110+ mph serve and was incredibly accurate. We played weekly for a decade and he never aced me. Six months out of the year we would play on the lightning fast Enfield indoor courts. If he follows this site, I’m going to give away my secret today. Said player had a grip change for his slice serve which he always hit to a right handed player’s forehand side. When he dropped his racquet at the start of his motion, he would show you the edge on his slice serve and the string bed on his flat serve which he always hit to your backhand. Once he tossed the ball, I would head to where his serve was going and be there when it arrived every time…

    Harry, great observation! (think i left before he joined the group) thanks, george

  5. George,
    When I step up to the line to serve, my toss stays the same for the flat, slice, and kick serves that I use during a match. By using one toss helps to disguise your intentions from your opponent. Through practice, a player can deliver decent serves using different contact points on the ball. Imagine a ball with a clock face. By striking the ball at 1:00, you can deliver a flat serve. By hitting across the outside from 9-3, you hit a slice. And hitting up across the left side from 7-1, you produce a kick serve. With practice, any player can deliver their serves with one toss. Keeping my opponent(s) from reading my serve intentions is key to my serving variety and in helping me or my team hold service.
    Happy 4th of July.

    Glenn, great examples! thanks, george

  6. I had never been consistently successful of hitting that deuce serve flat for a winner and one day recently probably by accident I tossed it way forward and pretty high for an ace. Then I figured out I could repeat it but the opponent didn’t seem to be able to detect it maybe because I toss it in the same direction. Being able to alternate that serve with a down the middle or body serve has dramatically helped my serving. Luckily my Filipino opponents here don’t get your newsletter so I am safe with my new secret.

    Dave, i promise not to tell them! thanks, george

  7. Actually I just had to add from my friend Steven Yellin”s book, “The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes” which is incredible insights on keeping the mind quiet during a match. It’s pure science proved many times by a Dr. of Neurology. One of the many instances when it becomes huge is on return of serve. To explain when one is thinking too many thoughts when the ball comes to him , the Pre Frontal Cortex does not allow the signal to reach the crucial fast twitch fluid muscles and allow them to be accessed. When is thinking heavily about where the ball is going to be served it overloads that part of the brain and the heavier stronger muscles take over and disallow fluidity. The absolute perfect example of this which everyone has experienced is when a rocket is served but the receiver immediately recognizes its going out and just for whatever reason rips it back for the greatest return of their life. That is exactly what is happening. Amusingly when Spike read the book, this was the part he got the most out of. Just pure reacting is the most natural way to return ideally especially since the stress has been eliminated from the guessing process and the Quiet mind takes over effortlessly.

    dave, the basic message: just DO, don’t think. thanks, george

  8. George: It is a medical fact that the beer tastes better if you win! Rambo

    Rambo … no question about it! thanks, george

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