Tennis Tips & Instruction:
How to Hit Spin Serves
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Tennis Instruction - The Serve Toss

I believe perfect tennis service is about forty per cent placement, forty per cent speed, and twenty per cent twist.

— Bill Tilden

Once you have mastered the basic tennis service stroke to the point that you can reliably "throw" a serve into the proper service box, it's time to find out about putting spin on the ball. In fact, you already do put spin on your serves. All you need to do is get the ball spinning faster and learn to vary its axis of rotation at will.

The sooner you get the feel of brushing the back of the ball with your racket strings, the better. So, don't be afraid to experiment.

There are five types of tennis serve: the flat, or cannonball, serve and four types of spin serves:
·the slice serve  
·the topspin serve  
·the topspin-slice serve  
·the (American) twist serve.  

There are two types of kick serve:
·the topspin serve  
·the twist serve  

You can tell the server above left is hitting a topspin serve. Maybe an American twist. How can you tell? By the ball toss. It's over her head, so she's bending back to look up at the ball. And her feet are already so close together that you can tell she isn't going to get much forward lean.

The ticket to serving with spin is the toss.

But I thought you're supposed to try to hit every serve from the same toss.

No. Unless your toss is much higher than necessary, you needn't hit all serves from the same toss. For, by the time the receiver can read your toss, the serve is on its way.

If you are getting burned by a receiver anticipating your serves, it is probably because of a clue you give before the toss. For example, a friend I used to practice with always telegraphed her intent to slice a serve wide to the deuce court on me. These were beautiful serves that drew me way out wide of the court to reach them and should have been aces. Especially against me. I liked my big forehand so much that I favored my backhand with impunity. In fact I tantalized her with my wide open forehand corner.  
But she never got one past me . Why? Because she had a bad habit. Whenever she was about to serve wide, just as she began lifting the ball, her eyes shifted to glance out of the corners of them at her target. That quick glance at her target was quite noticeable, because the wide corner of my deuce service court is at a very sharp angle from someone facing her right on the deuce side of her own court. She had to look out of the very corners of her eyes to see it.  
So, I got this warning before the toss, just as she began to raise the ball. That gave me plenty of time to get over there and steal from her what should have been an ace.  

Trying to hit all serves from the same toss is a trade-off high tossers (like Pete Sampras) have to calculate. That high toss gives the receiver time to do something about what he learns from the toss. But if you try to hit all serves from the same toss, you are hitting no serve from its optimum contact point. Doing so limits the possible angles of attack you can get on the ball. It takes more gymnastics to, say, lean around to the right for slice or lean back and to the left for topspin and twist.

Many pros think they hit all serves from the same toss, but few actually even come close to doing so.

My advice is that if you have a high toss, fix your toss. It is causing you other problems too (like lower consistency and wind problems). Then you won't have to worry about giving anything away with your toss.

Mastering Spin

Mastering spin is just a matter of increasing your natural spin, controlling it, and being able to vary it at will. If you have a fairly good service motion, slice and topspin serves aren't hard to learn. Don't worry about your grip. Use a
Continental grip if you can do so comfortably. If not, use an Eastern Forehand grip. Do avoid any more "western" grip though. For now, just let a comfortable grip evolve. I'll put a word about grips at the end for those concerned about it.

If you are new to the topic of spin, you may wish to visit the Operation Doubles Tennis lesson
Spindoctoring Your Serve first. It describes each kind of spin and how the ball behaves. It also tells you what each kind of serve is good for.

tennis instruction diagram on placement of service toss for each type of serve


Then let's take a heading. The diagram at left is an opening summary of this lesson. Give it the once-over to see where we're headed. At the end we'll re-view it to tie everything together.

Relative Placement of Service Toss

How to Hit a Slice Serve >>>

Jump to:
·How to Hit a Slice Serve  
·How to Hit a Kick Serve  
·How to Hit a Topspin Serve  
·How to Hit a Twist Serve (i.e., the American twist serve)  
·How to Hit a Flat Serve (i.e., the cannonball serve)  
·Serving Grips & Tips.  

Good luck on the tennis court!

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This page was last updated on 10/21/2007.