This basic tennis maneuver to start every point seems simple; but there are a lot of moving parts to consider. The action is dissected in great detail by former Dartmouth tennis coach, Chuck Kinyon.
Not One Size Fits All
For the serve toss, the moving parts of the arm alone: shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers pose a significant challenge. The chain progression from the feet up, bring about another obstacle to getting the ball in just the right position to take a swing.
I don’t believe there is one simple solution to this difficult task. Everyone is a bit different in how they approach the task. You certainly need to start by developing a ritual to help consistency. When watching the pros, you see many different routines. It is entertaining to watch and if possible slow down the action to see what is actually happening.
Correcting a Problem
If you are struggling with the toss, I feel that it is important to take out some to the complex movements and concentrate on getting the ball in a good position to hit. To begin, get the feet in a comfortable position to be well balanced during the movement. For a righty, set up with the left shoulder and racquet pointing toward the right net post. Hands and arms should be relaxed and in your normal ready position.
To practice, start by tossing the ball with no swing so that you can catch it without moving the feet. The tossing arm should travel almost along the baseline. Sounds easy, but not so for most! You should be able to go through this motion 10 times in a row before being allowed to take a swing. The next task would involve the upward swing at the ball but limit the movement of the feet completely (be still). This will test whether the player has control of their body during the toss, or do they move to wherever the ball toss happens to be placed.
Where to Toss?
This will depend on the skill level of the player serving. If their feet are still, I believe the toss, if not struck, should come down and land on the brim of a player wearing baseball cap.
Where should your feet go during the toss? There seems to be two ways to proceed. One is the system where you extend up to the ball and your back leg swings around into the court as the racquet contacts the ball. The second is the body jumps up over the baseline landing in the court on the left leg. This second method is now the preferred by today’s pros and may require the toss to occur further in the court depending on the athletic stature of the player.
The next question would be where should the toss be when struck in relation to the body? I believe that Roger Federer and most of the great servers can toss the ball in relatively the same place and hit a variety of serves. This is important so that the spin and placement of the serve is not given away prior to the server contacting the ball. The analogy of the baseball cap holds true for this judgement. I do understand that if you toss the ball further to your right (right hander) you can spin the ball out wide to your opponent’s right. Likewise, if you toss the ball a bit to your left it is easier to spin the ball out to your opponent’s left. But I maintain that the more you don’t give away what is coming the more effective your serve will become.
“Fault” to Catch Toss
Even though I told players many times that if their ball toss is not in a good place catch it and start over. There is no penalty. I agree with Brad Gilbert and others who say I don’t believe a pro player should need to do the toss/catch routine. Once the ball is in the air the player should be required to take a swing. We are always looking for ways to shorten matches and this would be a simple way and add another challenge to the depth of our game.
Chuck Kinyon is one of the best known college tennis coaches in the country, having served as director of tennis for Dartmouth for 30 years.
One added thought from George: I believe the fingers should be taken out of the equation on the toss… either the ball sits in the palm or is held by the thumb and index finger when tossing.
What are YOUR thoughts on the mechanics of the serve toss or possible rule change?
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