Catching the Toss

One tennis thing I am not good at: catching a bad service toss!  I rarely stop my service motion to catch a bad toss; and instead, chase it wherever it is … which usually ends up with a service fault.

Advantage Server?

If you have ever played against someone who has an erratic service toss and frequently catches the ball and restarts the motion, you know how frustrating it can be on the receiver.

Not only frustrating, but it can create a disadvantage to the receiver who sees another bad toss, expects the server to catch it, and is not ready when the server decides to hit THAT one.

And since I try to “somewhat” squat down when at the net and my partner is serving, if he is a toss catcher, that squat can last a looooong time.

Commissioner Brad Gilbert

If tennis pro turned TV announcer Brad Gilbert were in charge, he would make the errant service toss being caught a service fault.  He believes the serve motion starts with the toss of the ball.  What do you think?

How about YOU … are you a service toss catcher or chaser?  And how do you like playing against them?

Know someone who should read this?  Send them a link and if you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at

My Book: if you’d like to get a copy of “Senior Tennis”, just click on the link on the upper right of this web page to go to, look at the list of places under “My Book” on the bar above, or ask me what clubs are carrying it!

15 thoughts on “Catching the Toss

  1. It can be very annoying George depending on the frequency! Thankfully, It happens very infrequently with my own toss. Curious to see what others have to say on this!

  2. I think Brad Gilbert is trying to fill empty air time !

    Dave, and he does that very well! thanks, george

  3. I remember Brad Gilbert saying that. I disagree because, while I don’t think I’ve ever watched a pro match when one or both of the players didn’t catch at least one toss (sorry mate) and re-fire, it doesn’t slow the game down very much at all. I tell my students that, if the toss isn’t within a reasonable range of where one should toss, opt not to swing at it. Unless you do it repeatedly it shouldn’t make your opponent(s) grimace. We’re not robots. And we have to deal with the sun and/or wind. Let’s apply Brad’s rule…Match point US Open. Player has match point or faces match point. Ball is tossed and a gusty wind grabs hold of it (yeah those swirling winds in that stadium) and makes it nearly impossible to hit a decent serve. Do we want to see a match affected or decided that way?

    On a related topic – the serve clock. Rafa is called for not starting his motion before times expires…again. Point penalty! The umpire claims he hadn’t started into his motion. Rafa argues “Hey when I tug at my shorts I’m starting my motion!” I think it shouldn’t be determined (subjectively) as to when a player has begun his/her motion but instead when the ball is struck. That way there can be no question about it.

    Alan, i agree that the wind and being human can result in the occasional errant toss and should be tolerated (I should catch more of my own!). By the way, all Rafa has to do is toss and catch the ball to stop the time clock! thanks, george

  4. I’m a catcher, probably since I don’t often toss errantly. I tell my students to be as selective about the tosses you hit, as you were about the people you dated when you were single!(One of my ladies said that was a bad example for her, TMI, but I digress!)
    I think there could be a compromise. Since there is now a clock on serving in the pros, they could allow as many tosses as you need before the clock runs out. A habitually bad tosser would be required to start the process with more time on the clock in order to actually hit a good toss.
    At recreational levels, there could be a limit on the number of tosses caught per point or game, but that would require extra bookkeeping. I don’t think that totally eliminating the ability to catch a bad toss is necessary.
    Just some random thoughts.

    Steve, see Alan’s comments on Rafa and the time clock. thanks, george

  5. I tend to toss errantly and I get that it is frustrating for the receiver. When I do it, especially if it is more than once, I usually apologize, but the alternative to catching a bad toss is for me to screw up my serve and potentially double fault. Don’t want to do that either. Heck, some of my tosses are a couple of feet behind me and I could not hit them if I wanted to.

    Personally, there are a whole slew of changes I would like to see to speed up the game and make it more interesting:
    1) One serve not two
    2) Once you toss the ball you have to hit it
    3) Let serves are live

    But none of that matters. The rules are what they are and they say you can have as many tosses as you want.


    David, i am also in favor of playing Let serves. thanks, george

  6. I rarely catch an errant toss unless it’s really bad. The others, I use as a way of varying my serve spin & location.

    Jeff, good to hear from you … yes, sometimes a bad toss can result in a good serve! thanks, george

  7. After decades of playing, I suddenly had trouble with my previously automatic and unconscious toss. After a couple of years, I realized that old age arthritis in the neck prevented my seeing the ball.
    Once I decided to get my head up BEFORE tossing, the ball returned to going where I was looking, and problem solved.

    Rick, and then you have the crazy “no look” service toss of young American Kenin! george

  8. I’m with Brad Gilbert on this one. A caught toss should count as a fault. If your toss is inconsistent, you should practice on your own time (not mine). I’ve seen repeatedly caught tosses cause the receiver to raise a hand, call time, and step “out of the box” in reply (a common strategy to deal with overly deliberate pitchers in baseball). This can get both contentious and absurd.

    Joe, not a bad idea… i might try it! thanks, george

  9. George, I share your inability to catch the errant toss….why is it that we can’t do that? Some people have no problem doing it, and I’m sincerely jealous of them! And…it doesn’t really have anything to do with how good or bad a player you are.
    Very frustrating!!@#$

    John, i also don’t understand why i do it, nor how to correct it. thanks, george

  10. George, I believe two things lead to an ineffective toss. How you hold and lift the ball are key for me.To reduce tension in my tossing arm, I use a lightly gripped ball in the fingertips and keep my palm sideways (like holding an ice cream cone). I raise the tossing arm from the shoulder, keeping my wrist and elbow joints relatively quiet during the toss. This helps keep the toss under control. It’s quite a distraction when opponents have erratic tosses all over the place. Mindful concentration is then required by the receiver to stay focused. When I teach beginning players, many struggle to coordinate both arms. Getting both arms to move in time is critical to developing a motion without any hitches. And hitches lead to bad habits. The ball is in your hand and you have the opportunity to make the first impression on the point.

    Glenn, that is the ball grip i also use, which is USUALLY reliable. thanks, george

  11. I would disagree w/Brad G…..I like a little flexibility on my ball toss, and whether to hit it or catch it. Can be annoying if it happens 2 or 3X in a row, but otherwise, no big deal. Errant ball toss not nearly as annoying as 10-15 ball bounces before the serve!

    Scoot, Mr. Djokovic should read this! thanks, george

  12. Tennis is losing ground to Pickleball and other pursuits because of how relatively slow it is.
    While I’m conservative in how people should behave on the court I quite liberally would like to see some adjustments. These would be:
    1. Count it as a serve once the ball leaves the tosser’s hand (no second chances on tosses).
    2. Count it as a serve if the ball hits the net cord and drops into the service box.
    3. Make it mandatory to start the succeeding point within 25 seconds.

    I think we tennis pros have done a disservice in advising players to “not swing at a bad toss.” Too often these players have become obsessive on their toss, and hurt their own performance by adding the pernicious function of evaluating their toss. We might simply tell our students to not swing at an outrageous toss, but even that would be cured if there were a rule against catching the ball after releasing it.

    Spike, practicing what you preach, i do not remember you ever catching a toss. thanks, george

  13. This happened in a district match a few years back. The guy caught the ball on average 2-4 tosses with every serve. It was a very unfair advantage to the server. I personally think there should be a certain number you get each game, set or match. After that number is used up it is a fault for every toss caught after the final number has been exceeded.

    Mike, the concept is good; but the enforcement would be tough… who is counting? thanks, george

  14. I feel like I am always in the minority on this, but tennis players can be awfully short sighted and judgmental at times. I have an issue — it turns out it is a physical handicap — that causes me to have to catch a lot of tosses. It only got severe in the last few years. I never really had this problem before.

    In March of last year (2019), the day after St. Patrick’s Day, I had a health scare. I won’t repeat it in detail because I have mentioned it before. But I basically suffered temporary blindness while working on my computer, and I had to be rushed to the hospital because of a possible stroke. It turned out what I had suffered was not a real stroke, but a so-called “mini stroke” or TIA. No permanent damage. And, no, this was not the issue with my toss.

    But while I was in the hospital, a CT scan and and MRI revealed that I had, indeed, previously suffered a real stroke — a so called “silent stroke” because I did not have major symptoms — because there was evidence of it in the motor control section of my brain, in the right hemisphere. In other words, it was pretty much in the location that affects the fine motor skills of my left arm and hand. That is, my tossing arm. At that juncture, I started putting two and two together and I realized that my tossing issues had started to develop sometime in the prior year or so — just about the time I recall having a prior episode of feeling a bit out of it and feeling some sensation of loss of a slight loss of coordination in my left hand.

    So, I asked my neurologist about it and, while nothing is certain, when I described the time frame a year or so prior that I had started to experience issues with my service toss that I had not had severely beforehand, he told my it was “probable” that the tossing issues were a manifestation of the prior silent stroke. In other words, that episode resulted in me developing a slight physical handicap that shows up in my service toss.

    So, needless to say, it makes me a bit miffed when I hear other players, or someone like Brad Gilbert, advocate for imposition of some kind of “rule” that would award an opposing player a point each time that I might have to repeat my toss. I am not doing this because I am happy about the situation. I am not doing it on purpose. I am sorry if receivers may get distracted when this happens to me. But please just get over it. There are a lot of other distractions on a tennis court that we can also complain about (birds flying, sudden car horns, people walking and talking nearby, etc.) but we do not. Why pick on another player who cannot help it?

    Marty, ok, you are excused. But i do know one senior tournament player who, i truly believe, tosses and catches on PURPOSE to throw the receiver off. Thanks and be well my friend. george

  15. Here’s my off the cuff compromise on your toss subject. If you toss and catch on your first serve, it is a fault. If you toss and catch on your second serve, no fault. Nobody likes the inaction of standing around watching double faults and not being able to use your planned return.

    Also one of my doubles group, John, and I meet early, warm up, and play a set of singles before our doubles. We started a bit late so did your recent drill with one serve and 30-30; and played a set in under 10 minutes that I lost 7 to 5. We did start at 30 all getting only one serve. It turned out to be way in the receiver’s advantage.

    Dick, your “off the cuff” idea sounds like a compromise. You would think the returner would have a big advantage; but mine was 5-5. thanks, george

Comments are closed.