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Player to Player: Consistent Service Toss

July 16, 2012 10:14 AM
Have a question? Receive advice from your fellow tennis players!
Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For and Offering Advice on the Sport They Love
Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.

Player to Player:
This week's question from Joe:
My tennis practice strokes are 100 percent different than my tennis match strokes. Mentally and physically, I tend to "freeze." What is the key to allow myself to produce the strokes I know I have and be able to do it in competition?
Please share your thoughts by e-mailing Player@USTA.com, and include your name and hometown.
Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!

Last week's question from Ted
(Please note: There is no need to send additional responses to this question.)
I am having a hard time getting a consistent toss for my serve. Can anyone give me any suggestions?
Player Responses:
Bill S., Pittsfield, Mass.

I have a similar problem and just asked a pro at tennis camp. He had me make two adjustments:
1) My elbow was bent throughout the toss. The pro told me to toss with a straight elbow.
2) I was holding the ball at the base of my fingers. The ball tended to roll up my hand with unpredictable results. The pro told me to hold the ball with my finger tips, and simply open my hand at the top of my toss.
I'm still having a little trouble timing exactly when to open my hand, but my toss is already a lot more consistent.
Barbara E.

Hold the ball as if it was an ice cream cone, and toss it at what would be 2 o'clock on a clock face - was one of my beginner tennis lesson tips from Bill Osaki!!!

Sonia C.

The toss will depend on the speed level you are looking for or have worked to. As you toss it and keep it ahead of you, imagine it staying at a diagonal to your forehead. Your speed and placement will vary as you get comfortable with aiming for spots on the service court.

Larry C.

Position yourself by the curtain as if you were serving. Bring the toss up so it goes up and down the curtain to reinforce the muscle memory, and you'll see your toss improve dramatically. For added challenge, lay a racquet on the ground so that if your toss is proper it will land in the center if the racquet head. See how many times out of 10 you can hit the target.

Ernie R., Montgomery, Ala.

I heard some years back Chris Evert say she pretends like she's pushing the ball up a tube. I employed this tip and found it really made my toss more consistent. Why does it seem to work? You are removing the arc from your toss and substituting a straight-line motion. Now the release point doesn't become as critical to the trajectory. Have someone who uses this technique watch you push the ball up the tube to ensure you are doing it correctly. You start with a break in your elbow and end with the arm straight.

Allan Shweky, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Don't think of tossing or throwing the ball up. Think of lifting the ball, and don't release the ball until your hand passes your head. Think of your hand as a plant that is growing out of the ground, and as your hand passes your head (plant breaking through the ground), you open your hand, as a flower opens reaching upwards towards the sky. There will be little spin on the ball, which will keep the ball in a consistent line.

Coach Leonard, Concord, Calif.

The service toss can be an issue for any playing level. You can even witness this with the players on tour. I often compare doing a service toss to putting a golf ball. Both require a relaxed and smooth motion. Neither should rely on much of a hand drop (for the toss) or backswing (on the putt). The priority for both is to have a long, yet slow finish to reach the intended target. Proper extension of the toss arm and long finish is due to correct speed used during execution. Tossing too quickly will cause the hand to halt abruptly prior to extension, causing the wrist to flip. Putting too hard can also create an abbreviated "bunting" finish, causing the infamous "yips." Watch the pros serve. Count how many seconds it takes for them to toss and serve. The majority will take two seconds for the toss and racquet up, one more second for the upper body forward pivot, and the fourth second for the racquet drop, snap and follow through. It's a great serving exercise and warmup. Count 1, 2, 3, 4 as you serve. Do this enough times, and you'll find yourself getting 6 before your opponent does.
Here are more fixes for the toss:
1) Bounce the ball. Whether it's Novak or Serena, all the pros bounce the ball prior to serving. There is a good reason why. They are bouncing the ball in the same area in which they will pivot and strike. Commonly this is shoulder-width away from the body. Once they have a comfortable and consistent bounce, they turn the wrist over and lift and extend the arm.
2) Good start makes a good finish. I often see novice players hold the ball against the strings of the racquet just prior to serving. This will cause the toss to start fully extended, forcing the server to arc the ball back to the racquet. It is much simpler to start with the ball against the open area between the handle and the lower area of the face.
3) It takes two. Don't toss from your palm. Toss using your index and middle fingers. Remember, you toss using two fingers. No control with your palm. A good drill is to practice your toss by holding two tennis balls. This will create a more natural motion. Just focus on making the "V" for victory sign with your toss hand.
4) No a fence. A common error on a service toss is found by straightening the toss arm by dropping the toss hand down, forcing flipping-back action through the wrist. If the toss arm swings to the side, practice by standing with your serving arm closest to a fence. The fence will stop a wide service toss, blocking the toss hand to go wide. If tossing too far forward is the issue, face the fence with your lead foot against the fence. The toss hand is now limited and will reinforce tossing parallel to the fence.
5) Yes you can. My favorite fix that I have my players do involves using a tennis ball can. Hold the can upside down with your toss hand. Place a tennis ball on the can bottom, resting on the dimples of the base. Now focus on lifting the ball nice and smooth. You'll develop a more consistent toss motion by naturally slowing your motion. Be sure that the lift is complete by extending the can all the way up. For more of a challenge, I have them do the same movement but use an open tennis ball can full of water without a lid. I tell them to imagine that you're toasting your opponent.
Pete Sampras once described being in the zone as "relaxed focus." That's a nice way to explain the service toss, also. It was difficult for Roger to break your record. I still remember when breaking your serve was just as tough.
*Please note that any advice given out in this forum should in no way be confused with actual medical advice. Before starting any new exercise regimen or altering your existing one, we strongly urge you to consult with your regular physician.
Click here for USTA.com's Player to Player Archive.


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