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February 27, 2013

Great Tennis Servers Use the Same Toss Every Time... Except

A recent meme, driven largely by TV commentator Justin Gimelstob, is that as he puts it, "Great servers use the same, identical toss on every serve." GImbelstob seems to say this repeatedly during every match he announces. 

There are problems with this, other than the grammar. It is simply wrong.

The technique he describes is certainly not wrong. There are servers that try to do this, notably the great Pete Sampras, and using the same toss for every serve is a legitimate approach taught by many tennis professionals. I've done the drill where you throw the ball up and the pro yells which serve to hit when your racket goes back. Worth trying. The idea is that you disguise your serve, giving the returner less time to react.

But to say every good server does this is obviously wrong. Roger Federer does not, nor did Jim Courier, nor Henri LaConte, nor does Serena Williams. In fact the majority of top touring pros don't. 

If you don't believe me, here are a couple of quotes (by memory) from experts:

* Jim Courier: "I used two tosses, regular and kick serve, but I could hit a flat ball up the T out of a fake-kick-serve toss to keep people honest."

* Darren Cahill: "Roger Federer has multiple service tosses."

* Heni Laconte (whom I picked because of his 'slap serve', I'm paraphrasing because his English is like my French <g> ), from a Tennis Channel video: "I hit the ball right at the peak, giving opponents no time to react. If I want to hit more spin, I bring the toss back, like this. But it's hard to see when the ball moves back" (as opposed to moving the toss from side to side). 

Finally, in this photo you can see Milos Raonic hitting two service aces from the deuce court. As you can see, the toss for the wide serve (on the right) is further toward the baseline, or not as far into the court as that for the flat serve up the T (on your left). . Below that is another photo ... 

AaaaBallSmallTennis copyThis post is a part of my series: "A Skeptic's Guide to What 'Everyone Knows' About Tennis

Milos Raonic Serve Impact Point ©jfawcette
Milos Raonic Serve Impact Point ©jfawcette


Here, we see a different kind of example. Many players place their toss less into the court on their second serve, in order to impart more spin. Here, Tommy Haas, who normally does that, does the oppsite, throwing his toss well into the court on a serve-and-volley move, behind a second serve. In spite of the forward location he hit plenty of kick-twist (do not try this at home <g> ). 


Tommy Haas Second Serve Forward ©jfawcette
Tommy Haas Second Serve Toss well in front ©jfawcette




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