As is the case with most issues in your tennis game, your serve can be improved with very basic fixes. In this week’s tennis tip, we want to take a look at your ball toss, and give you a few simple tips and drills to make your ball toss repeatable, and your serve more consistent.
Importance of the toss
The ball toss is the motion that initiates your serve, and seems so simple at the outset, that most recreational players don’t recognize it’s massive importance. You may have heard that in order to hit a kick serve, you want to toss the ball a little further behind you, and for a slice serve you want the ball out in front of you and a little bit to the outside. While this is true in most senses, before you should be experimenting by throwing your ball toss all over the place to hit different serves, you need to make sure that you have a repeatable, consistent toss, so that you can make solid, consistent contact with your serve. It is also important to note that, unlike the idea of moving your toss all around, you can hit every type of serve from the same toss position. Take Pete Sampras, for example. Pistol Pete is widely recognized to have the best serve of all time. A major reason for that is his ball toss was in nearly the exact same position for every single serve he hit. His consistent toss enabled him to make solid swings at the ball every time he tossed it up, not to mention he was able to disguise what type of serve was coming better than anyone in the history of the game. If Sampras didn’t need to toss the ball all over to execute different serves, then why should you?
Use your fingertips!
Pick up a tennis ball, and toss it up as if you were about to hit a serve. You don’t need a racket, and you can even do it in your house. Look down at your hand right before you are about to toss it up. How are you holding the ball? Chances are, the ball is settled down in the palm of your hand. There is your first mistake. By holding the ball in your palm, you bring your hand and fingers into the toss too much, leaving a much greater chance that your toss won’t end up where you want it to as it rolls off your fingers. Now, try again, and hold the ball in your fingertips, so that no part of the ball is touching the palm of your hand. This is how you should hold the ball before every toss. By taking your hand and fingers out of the toss, you will be able to toss it much more consistently, and in the right spot.
Cup of water drill
You want your service motion to be smooth, not jerky. In order to practice this, next time you get on the court, fill a paper cup about two thirds of the way full, and head to the baseline with your racket. Hold the cup in your toss hand as if you were about to take a drink, and set your racket as if you were ready to serve. Now, move forward with your service motion. Practice the “down-together, up-together” motion. At first, this may be difficult to execute your service motion holding the cup of water instead of the ball, and not spill the water. That is because as your arm straightens toward the sky, you may be too “jerky.” Keep practicing this. When you are able to go through multiple service motions, extending the cup of water to the sky without spilling, you will have successfully smoothed out your motion. Keep practicing this, it takes time for your muscle memory to take over, but once you can consistently deliver a smooth toss, you will be in great shape to drastically increase your serve percentage.
Another very common drill is to place a racket on the court next to the toe of your front foot. The handle should touch your toe with the strings pointing out almost perpendicularly to the net, slightly off to the side. Practice this one with a racket in your hand. Your service motion should be exactly as if you are about to serve the ball, only after you toss it, don’t hit the ball. Let it bounce. If your toss is in the right spot, when the ball falls out of the sky, it should bounce off the strings of your racket sitting on the court. This one is very easy, and you can practice it for a minute whenever you step on the court. This will also create the ever-important muscle memory crucial for every great server of the tennis ball.
Practice whenever, wherever!
Unlike most tennis drills, you can practice your ball toss wherever you want. If you are serious about improving your serve, keep a tennis ball with you whenever you can. If you have a minute at your desk, while you are watching TV, or even while cooking dinner, stand up and practice your toss. Standing in place, with or without a racket, go through your motion, toss the ball up in the air, and leave your arm extended to the sky. If your ball toss is good, the ball should fall right back into your outstretched hand.
Take these tips to the court (or your family room,) and watch how rapidly your serve improves. Let us know how it goes in the comments section!