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Consistent tosses essential for serving

Tennis tips

August 25, 2010
By JAK BEARDSWORTH, Special to the News

C’mon. How difficult can tossing the ball to serve be? As it turns out very, and frustrating too. It’s not as easy as it looks to place the ball in precisely the optimal striking position every single time. And, it’s vitally important, much like being in the right place at the right time is for all other shotmaking.


    First, it’s executed with your non-dominant arm.


    Second, it’s not even remotely close to a natural throwing motion since it’s, so to speak, upside down. Only bowlers — no, not the cricket kind — and softball pitchers can relate somewhat, but those are still dominant arm motions.


    Schooled players utilize pre-serve rituals primarily to ready their toss. That very relaxed, slow, rhythmic swaying back and forth in a small range of motion prior to launching the serve — the ball pressed lightly against the strings with the racket arm right in synch — functions as a toss rehearsal. Analogous in the same way Mom and Dad get in synch before tossing little Joey into the swimming pool from the deck: one, two, three go.


    Keep in mind that the ball-in-hand position is not palm-up as so many seem to think. It’s best more anatomically neutral, or in the natural position at which your arm/hand hangs by your side.


    Additionally, aggressively enveloping the ball completely in your hand is not going to work very well. Instead, hold it softly in your thumb and fingertips — as if an egg — and release it with as close to zero spin as possible by opening up your hand, versus rolling it off leading to uncontrollable spin.


    The release point is at the very end of an extended range of motion that’s both upward, outward and moving away from the body. This technique reduces how far the ball has to travel off your hand, resulting in greater control. It also drops, or “loads,” the hitting shoulder to initiate effortless serving power.


    The height of the toss should coincide with how high you can comfortably reach upward with the racket.


    Serve tall. Tour players tend to toss a bit higher since their rotational coiling-up is greater, and takes longer than the average club player who typically zeroes in on striking the ball right at its apex. The professionals, with their higher tosses, actually make contact as the ball is descending. 


    The optimal distance in front is equal to one’s tossing arm’s length to facilitate moving forward into the ball, eliminate the jammed-up “alligator arm” serve, create a good energy chain, and enable more efficient ball watching.


    Regarding the right-left positioning of the toss it should be “centered,” or lined up in the path of your forward-moving hitting shoulder, give or take a little either way. Experiment.


    Difficulty tossing is encountered by the “hookers” and “hot potato flingers.” The hookers  begin with a completely locked tossing arm only to have it “hinge-in” at the elbow, sending the ball too close to the body. Keeping the arm relatively close with a bent elbow in the ritual stage will result in a natural outward, straightening movement as the ball is released.


    The flingers hurriedly release the ball too prematurely — at about the halfway position of the upward range of motion — leading to unreachable tosses too far in front and a complete loss of rhythm.


    Good serving is not possible without consistent tossing. Learn to take care of yours.


    Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Resort. He can be contacted by e-mail at   jb1tennis@comcast.net, by phone at 941-626-0097, or through his website: www.jakbeardsworthtennis.com.   

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