Tennis Serve Toss For Flat, Top Spin And Slice Serves

Sep 02

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The correct service toss in tennis is crucial for hitting flat, top spin and slice serves with accuracy, comfort and power.

The tricky thing about the ball toss, though, is the consistency of placing the ball in the right spot.

So, where do you need to toss the ball for different tennis serves, and how do you improve your toss in the most natural way?

 

Service Toss For Flat Serves

The ball toss for flat serves needs to be inside the court and somewhere between the head and the shoulder of the hitting arm.

Ball toss for a flat tennis serve

Ball toss for a flat serve

This instruction is only a rough idea – you need to experiment to find the best toss for your serve by making small adjustments.

Do not stick to the theory – always experiment and listen to your body.

Do you feel comfortable, and are you able to generate power with little effort?

Service Toss For Slice Serves

The ball toss for the slice serve in tennis is almost the same as the toss for the flat serve.

Ball toss for a slice tennis serve

Ball toss for a slice serve

You may want to exaggerate the toss when you’re learning the slice serve by tossing the ball even more to the right (for right-handers) or even more forward.

That will force you to hit the ball from the side and make it spin more on the vertical axis so that you can get a better feel for the slice.

But eventually, you’ll find out that the toss is basically the same as when serving flat – the difference is more in how you hit the ball.

When serving flat, you hit it from behind, while you hit it from the side when serving slice.

Service Toss For Top Spin Serves

When serving top spin in tennis, the ball needs to be tossed slightly behind the back but still inside the court.

Ball toss for a top spin tennis serve

Ball toss for a top spin serve

The contact is not as inside of the court as it is on flat and slice serves, as your main goal is not to generate the most force forward but to create a lot of upward momentum so that you can impart good top spin on the ball.

Make sure to delay the rotation when serving top spin serves because that allows you hit more upwards.

The common misconception mentioned in the video is the idea of tossing the ball behind your back.

That is true only when the body is already rotated and ready to start the upward swing.

So, “behind the back” in this case is actually parallel to the baseline and NOT behind the baseline.

Here’s a comparison of ball tosses for flat, slice and topspin serves from the back perspective:

Comparison of ball tosses for flat, slice and topspin serves

Comparison of ball tosses for flat, slice and topspin serves – side view

And from the back view:

Serve toss for all types of serves - back view

Serve toss for all types of serves – back view

Same Toss For All Types Of Serves?

There are some great servers on the pro tour, like Roger Federer and Milos Raonic, who are able to hide their serves behind the same toss.

Here’s a video of Roger serving and below you’ll find a comparison of two tosses – one of slice and one of a flat serve…

 

Roger Federer ball toss for slice and flat serves

Roger Federer ball toss: left is a slice and right is a flat serve

As you’ve seen, the toss for the flat and slice serve is almost the same once you reach a higher level of serving, but to hit the top spin serve from that same toss requires years of practice and very good hands.

The reason Roger Federer can serve even a top spin serve from the same toss is that he is not looking for a big kick serve .

It is obviously possible to hit a top spin serve from a toss that would typically allow you a flat serve, but you cannot impart very heavy spin.

So, those serves that are being disguised are typically quite fast, and the ball doesn’t spin that much. The spin is used simply for safety above the net but not for kicking up from the ground.

Roger Federer ball toss for a topspin serve out wide

Roger Federer ball toss for a topspin serve (Image from fuzzyyellowballs.com)

When Roger opts for a kicker out wide (on the ad court), the toss is visibly more behind his back, and it is easier to read.

The same transparency can be seen when he opts for a high bouncing kick down the middle to the deuce court .

There’s only one catch – it IS POSSIBLE to hit down the middle from a toss behind the back, and you can actually trick your opponent with the toss by leading them to believe that you’ll serve a kick serve out wide when in reality you serve down the middle.

In summary, there’s theory regarding the tennis serve toss, and there’s reality on court.

Sticking just to theory will not allow you to find the ideal contact point for your serve.

Start with theory, but then experiment and listen to your body to determine whether you’re able to serve with comfort and power.

If not, experiment with the toss in all directions until you find that ideal ball placement.

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17 comments

  1. Thank you for the lessons. They are helpful :-)

  2. As always great stuff. Got to tell you, I really am getting comfortable with the “feel the ball” over the net concept on ground strokes. I am almost automatically programming in the height and then the distance while i am stroking the shot, and completely forgetting about mechanics. Incredible feeling to see the success. Thx buddy!

  3. OMG, now I finally understand the whole behind the back toss on the top spin serve!!! I always thought it was supposed to land, like you say, behind the baseline. I feel a bit stupid now, but coach really should have explained it better. The wrong toss really messed up my serve (first and second) for a long time until I finally gave up on the idea of tossing behind the back/baseline and just stuck to my first serve mechanics on both serves, just slowing down (a lot) for the second serve, which made it very weak!!!

  4. Wonderful video. It is very helpful.

  5. Ignacio /

    I particulary really liked this one. Keep them coming! which stance do you prefer on the serve?? legs together or plataform stance with legs apart from each other??

    • Thanks, Ignacio. I prefer the platform stance – legs more apart and just driving upwards.

  6. Michael /

    Hi Tomez,

    Through the years, I have learned to make a ball toss that goes vertically straight up and down, but as I watch Federer’s toss, the ball actually travels in a parabola from right to left. Is this something that I should follow?

    Michael

    • Sharp eye, Michael. Yes, the ball travels in parabola although it’s not that distinct with the toss for the flat or slice serve.

      But it is more pronounced when tossing for the top spin serve because you need to ball slightly behind the back. (of course when already rotated)

  7. Good stuff.

    I was, at first, going to disagree, as the title of the article was leading me to believe that several different tosses were being suggested, but in the photos, the toss is virtually identical in a left/right, ‘opponent’s view’, but what changes is front to back – harder for an opponent to read, which is correct.

    When I was very young, I trained with, at the time the world’s fastest server, Butch Walts’ dad, Ken Walts. He taught me ONE toss for 3 serves, and practicing with his son made me a believer. Not only did Butch hit 140’s on his serve, it was unbelievably hard to read (and mishits could loosen your fillings – trust me!).

    Today, still playing Open and ITF and ITA tennis, I’m often told after matches that my serve is very tough to read, combined with the pace and kick.

    In addition, I read a study that was done with a laser and computer, working with Mardy Fish. It was found that he was placing his toss, every time, within a 1″ to 2″ (2.5 to 5cm) sphere.

    Cheers!

    • Thanks for sharing, RH, very interesting!

      • Arturo Hernandez /

        It’s funny because I never thought about the fact that it would be hard to read if it was simply not as in front. The way I was taught was to toss over my head. But I have also read that some players simply position themselves differently for a kick serve by moving below the ball more for a kick serve.

        I have never consciously tried that but I wonder if that makes any sense.

  8. Good video, can’t wait to try to top spin with my Sons when we hit tennis court.
    A question not relate to tennis.
    What model of Camera you are using to take the slow motion video?

  9. I was watching Kohlschreiber v Tipsarevic yesterday and noticed a very odd tossing action from Kohlschreiber. He’s doing extremely well this year, so I guess it must be working well for him, but any thoughts on why Philipp has decided to employ this new toss? My thinking is he’s just cutting out what is really an unnecessary drop of the tossing arm and therefore increasing the accuracy and consistency of his toss and therefore serve. Wasn’t Dementijeva doing something similarly funny before she retired.

    • Here’s a link to Kohlschreiber’s toss:

      Yes, he really shortened the tossing motion – interesting observation…

  10. Hi Tomaz,

    What’s the best way to create consistency in the toss? In this video you talk mainly about finding the correct placement, but once you’ve identified it, controlling the toss is obviously still a problem. Any tips?

    Thanks! Zach

    • Hi Zach,

      The first step in getting a consistent toss is knowing exactly where you want it. It’s NOT technique of the toss but rather knowing exact placement which you can imagine as a box above and in front and slightly to the right of you.

      Step two is just trying to toss the ball into this box without much thinking of how you wanna do it, assuming the basics of tossing technique is there: straight arm, tossing together with the backswing, no use of wrist and fingers.

      Step three is massive repetition and patience. :)

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