Interestingly, club players underestimate the toss and treat it cavalierly, resulting in repeatedly not having the same ball toss placement to get a groove on.
Since the serve is launched from a static start, it’s important to find a pre-serve rhythm, particularly with regard to your tossing arm itself, which is your non-dominant least-used limb (unless you’re gifted ambidextrously).
This rhythm is achieved by developing your own signature “ritual,” which first includes ball bouncing with the toss arm-hand — no, please, do not copy the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s take on this — with two, three or four bounces being sufficient to create off-arm relaxation.
It also includes a synchronized, whole body rocking movement aimed at both the tossing arm and racket arm, with the ball-in-hand resting against the racket strings closest to the throat of the racket. Think of the 1-2-3 poolside dynamic used by two individuals tossing another into the water.
Once the toss is in motion, it should finish high with full extension prior to releasing the ball for optimal control (see image). The tossing hand should only be lightly finger-tipping the ball and positioned in a neutral, anatomical position — the same way in which it naturally hangs by your side — not palm up. Tosses that are released with minimal spin are the easiest to direct.
Also notice that my racket and shoulder have simultaneously reached a fully loaded position: cocked and ready to dip and hit. Forget that antiquated “scratch-your-back” cue taught back in the day that screwed up thousands of serving motions.
You can also see that, in concert with the toss and racket-shoulder loading, my legs are engaging to create upward drive and explosion to the ball, right along with a hip-shoulder coiling-up at the very same time.
With all these moving parts it just might be prudent to take a few practice serves from both sides before starting your match. Taking those practice serves day in and day out will, plain and simple, make you a better server. Oh, and by the way, part of the process is losing that f.b.i. baloney.
Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Club. He can be reached by email at JB1tennis@comcast.net, by phone at 941-626-0097, or through his website JakBeardsworthTennis.com
Photo courtesy of Shaun Ondak Photography