One of the most important elements of the serve is the ball toss. The toss is the foundation of the serve and even though it seems like an elementary step, it could very well be the difference between your serve being a strength or a liability.
The 3 keys to a good serve toss are placement, height, and consistency. When you master these three elements of the toss, you will be able to create a repeatable service motion around it.
In order to practice your ball toss, I recommend using film of your service motion. You may feel that the toss is in a similar spot every time, but looking at the film of your serve may tell you otherwise.
If your toss is in the wrong spot, it will be difficult to find any consistency on the serve. There are two elements of placement that you should be focusing on: left to right, and front and back.
Left to Right
When judging if the toss is in the correct spot right to left, I look at a player from the back. I generally look for one thing from this view: if the toss looks like it would land on the player’s head if he let it drop, the toss is in the correct spot. Watch below as I hit a kick second serve, but the toss would be landing on my head if I didn’t hit the ball.
Generally, if your toss is too far to the left or right you will have a hard time getting that “pop” on your serve. I find that when players toss the ball directly over their head, they can hit any type of serve with good speed.
Front and Back
When judging if a toss is too far in front or too far behind a player, look at film facing the player along the baseline. The toss may vary slightly for this depending on what kind of serve you are hitting, and that is fine because it is harder for an opponent to read the variation from front to back.
The toss should always be in front of the baseline whether it is a first serve or second serve. For second serves, I like to bring it back a touch closer to the baseline so that I am able to get under the ball more. For first serves, your toss should be about 6-18 inches inside the court depending on your height, motion, etc. Here is a video for reference.
The height of your toss is another important aspect of the serve that is fairly easy to master. Tossing the ball too low will result in lack of power, while tossing the ball too high will make it harder to time the contact.
Height Variation for Different Serves
The height of the contact point varies slightly based on what kind of serve you are hitting. If you are hitting a kick serve, you want to let the toss drop a split second so that you can get up the back of the ball.
For a first serve, you want to get the height of your contact point almost as high as your arm and body will allow. Hitting the ball from the highest point possible will give you more pop in the long run. More leverage means you will be able to hit the serve bigger as the net becomes less of a factor.
Getting the Height Right: Not too High, Not too Low
As you can see in the videos, the toss isn’t too high or too low. When the ball is hit my arm is almost fully extended. This tells you I have the toss high enough.
While a high toss is very important, having your toss too high can lead to mistiming. As the ball is coming down, gravity is causing the ball to speed up. Obviously if the ball is speeding up as it is coming down, it will be harder to time.
A good visual I use to get the best height on your toss is to get the toss to rest on a shelf. Imagine that there is a shelf resting right where you are going to make contact. Your goal is to get your toss to land on the shelf without bouncing on it. In theory, this should get you to toss the ball without dropping too much before contact, but high enough so that it gets up to the shelf.
Watch below as Martin Redlicki of UCLA tosses the ball in a perfect spot. You can see that the ball drops only a few inches before contact is made.
A consistent toss is essential to a good serve. If you watch the top players in the world, their toss only varies slightly. Consistency of the toss is important for players at all levels because it leads to repeatability. The serve is the most repeatable shot in tennis because it is fully in the player’s control.
Don’t overthink this: it is very simple to create a repeatable toss. The three keys to this are fluidity, light fingers and practice.
First, fluidity with your arm avoids a “jerky” motion. Stay relaxed and get good extension upwards with your tossing arm.
Secondly, toss with your fingertips rather than the palm of your hand. A lot of people try to toss the ball like they would throw it. Remember, you don’t need to create power with the toss, only control. Using your fingertips will lead to more control.
Finally, practice makes perfect. Your toss isn’t going to magically get better. Watch your toss on film so that you can get it perfect enough to feel confident in a match.
Remember: Achieving consistency takes time. There is no penalty in tennis for catching your toss and starting your motion over again. It is important to recognize when your toss is wrong so that you can correct it, so don’t be afraid to catch your toss.
The toss is what starts the service motion, so a poor toss will lead to a poor serve. Honing in on getting the proper height, placement, and consistency in your toss will allow you to build a powerful serve around it.
Everyone’s toss will vary a bit, so use the information in this article as a guideline. If your toss is a couple of inches left or right of where mine is, that’s ok. Everyone’s motion is different, and it’s most important to keep the motion fluid. That being said, hopefully you were able to find some good information here to improve your serve!
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