On Court Player Towel

Speed Logo Zone Hat


Peace & Love T-shirt


Player to Player: Improving Your Service Toss

May 25, 2008 12:04 PM

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 DOESN'T WORK WITHOUT YOUR QUESTIONS, so please send any queries you’d like answered, or responses to other players' questions, to Player@USTA.com.



This week's question from The Mermy:

"I am considering buying a Prince O3 racquet and am looking for advice from other players who have used it. Does anyone have any thoughts?"

Please share your advice with The Mermy by emailing Player@USTA.com and include your name and hometown.

Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!

Last week’s question from Heidi
(Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question)

"Can anyone give me any helpful tips on getting my ball toss more consistent for my serve? My toss is all over the place (usually off to my right - I am a righty). For some reason, no one has been able to give me any solid advice that works on how to correct this. I am a 4.0 club player. Please let me know if you can help."


From Rebecca W., Hackensack, NJ:

I actually saw this on Sportskool with Brad Gilbert. He suggests sitting in a chair (more toward the edge) and tossing straight up. You should be able to toss and catch (with your arm extended) without leaning to reach it. It helped me with both muscle memory and to make sure that I didn't let my fingers interfere with the direction of the ball.

From Cristina, Denver, CO:

First off, relax your upper body. In general, when we struggle with anything, we tend to stress about it. Our bodies tense up due to frustration and the fear of failure. In the case of the serve, this can make us clutch the ball too tightly and can cause you to hold on to it for a fraction of a second too long, making the release of the ball erratic. The serve is like a throwing motion. We are essentially throwing the racquet without really throwing it. It should be like a lasso or a whipping motion, so loosen up that serving arm and shoulder.

Second, visualize a place to put a "box" for all your tosses. Face sideways. Imagine your upright body becomes 12:00 noon. Make a box for all your tosses at the 11:00 position to start. Then PLACE all of your tosses in the 11:00 box. Know that tosses are PLACED not tossed.

Third, know that the ball stops for a moment before it begins to come down. This is when you should strike the ball. Two things to watch out for -- if you're hitting it off the top of your frame, your tempo is too fast, and you will shank it. If you let it drop too close to your head, you will either hit it out or into the net. Learn what your tempo is by establishing a good routine at the service line. Learn to relax your body. Your serve will improve in time. And remember that if you can hit an overhead, you can hit a serve.

Last, but not least, visualize a serve that you would love to have. It's OK to visualize Roger Federer's serve. We can learn a lot from the guys, even though we're not as powerful as they are. Good luck, and believe in yourself!

From Ken L.:

The most important thing is to consider the ball "toss" as a ball placement. One should reach with the arm at around head height with a straight arm and firm wrist, then extend the arm down until the ball touches the leg.

Next, go back up with the arm and extend as far as you can reach. Then, just let the ball come off your fingers and thumb simultaneously. The motion upward should be at the same speed as the arm motion downward (like a putt in golf). That is the best way to control the height of the toss (and the distance of the putt). I don't advocate the long racquet backswing, either, as it seems to take away from the more important focus on the accuracy of the ball placement.

From Rick B., Shelby, N.C.:

When tossing the ball up, do not use your wrist at all. Instead, roll the ball off your fingertips. In basketball this is called a finger roll. This should put the ball in the same spot consistently.

From Bob C., Valley Stream, NY:

This may be too simple. What I do is use the net post as my guide; I toss up the post as if the post is 10' high. I use this from deuce or ad side. It helps me to have a guide every time, every toss. Hope it helps.

From Theo H.:

There are two easy and simple ways to make your toss ideal.

1. Hold a cup with water in your hand, then try to move your tossing arm up and down and see if the water will flow out. If you can succeed in doing this without water flowing out, at least your ball will be tossed straight up. You will find your wrist has some delicate/subtle movement while doing that. Without any wrist adjustment, no doubt the water will flow out.

This only indicates you can toss the ball straight up, but does not mean you can toss the ball to the proper point.

2. Use the edge of a room door or a high erected post, then take a proper stance with the door edge or the post, assuming this position is your favorite ball-tossing stance on the court. Hold a ball in hand, then get your hand up along with the edge or post, at the same time try to figure out the feeling of your wrist movement which you've mastered when raising up the cup that is full of water.

By using these two drills, pretty soon you can handle the proper toss. Actually, the height of ball toss should be under your careful consideration too.

Wish you a quick success in your serving.

From Mike H., Seattle, WA:

Try serving from a kneeling position!! This was first demonstrated to me by a tennis coach who used the technique to help teach getting enough topspin on a serve to get it over the net even from the lower level of a kneeling position.

In order to serve effectively at all when your legs are "taken away from you," you must -- among other things -- toss the ball well. Once you can toss the ball well enough from a kneeling stance to get your serves launched confidently and smoothly (I use a good pad to save my knees), and once you are consistently serving into the box from that position (it takes perseverence! and many baskets of balls!), you will find that your toss is much more consistent when doing a normal serve thereafter. At least that has been my experience.

From Susan, Stamford, CT:

I once had a similar problem. (I’m a 3.5 player and a righty.) I couldn’t toss very well with my left hand (the ball went all over the place) because I don’t have a thumb on that hand. It never bothered me all that much playing tennis, as I was more of a social player. However, when I started playing club and USTA tennis, my competitive side took over, and I was frustrated that my weak serve was hurting my chances of winning a match.

So, I went into training mode: For several months, I carried a tennis ball around with me. When and where I could, I practiced tossing the ball straight up and catching it with my left hand at 12, 1 and 2 o’clock. I worked on control by tossing it up -- one foot at first, then two feet, etc. I did it over and over and over again until it was perfectly straight, even touching the ceiling. That corrected my serve, greatly reduced double faults, and helped with placement too. Hope this idea helps!

From Will H.:

The service toss is perhaps the one movement in tennis that is the least explained in books, articles and in coaching. You have to start by understanding that the more exact/consistent you can make the same tossing movements, the higher your percentages will be in having the correct placement on each and every toss. The next thought -- you do not "toss" or "throw" the ball but rather "PUT" or "PLACE" the ball in the spot you have determined to be your "slightly higher" than hitting zone. I teach kids this methodology by first having them toss the ball through a (50cm) ring that is slightly higher than their outstretched racket height. After a few tries, it’s apparent this tossing is not easy, so I next have them "PUT" the ball in a hat that I hold a few feet to their front. I tell them to imagine they are trying to put an egg in the hat -- you wouldn't throw or toss it, you would put the egg in. This has always worked, and once this is achieved, teaching the service is much easier.

Follow the listed suggestions, and I'm sure you will correct your toss problems with practice.

1. Start with the ball on the end digits of your fingers -- two or three fingers and the thumb -- most prefer two fingers and the thumb. Its important not to hold the ball lower, as the ball tends to follow the contour of your fingers, and that is generally in a "behind the head, right or left type arc."

2. Find the release point that facilitates the straight up movement of the ball. Remember, you have to release the ball from your fingertips. Try opening your hand to release the ball so all your fingers lose contact with the ball at the same time.

3. Make sure your arm is straight, not bent at all. Try placing it against your left leg for consistency. Look up before you toss the ball, find the spot you want to put the ball in, and raise the arm up toward the right net post and release the ball.

I hope this helps. I could write more but this should get you started.

Scott H., Riverside, CA:

The task in front of you is to learn how to release the ball with just the tips of the thumb and first two fingers. To get accustomed to how this feels, hold two tennis balls in your hand, but only toss the outer one.

Second, stop thinking of this task as a ball "toss." Instead, make it a ball "placement." Release the ball as slowly as you can, while still getting it to the correct height, which, by the way, is six to 12 inches beyond the end of your fully extended racquet.

From Marie S.:

Practice your service toss while sitting in a chair. If you need to get up out of the chair, toss is again and again until you learn exactly where to toss it (for each type of serve) so that you can catch the ball without getting up from the seated position.

From Bill F., Brookings, SD:

Here's an exercise that has helped me. While lying flat in bed or on the floor, take a tennis ball and practice tossing the ball up to the point where it just grazes the ceiling. This is a lot harder than you might imagine. Unless you toss the ball straight up, you won't be able to catch it on the return, and if you toss too hard, it will come back faster. If it's too hard at first, use a beanbag or Hacky Sack-type object. This exercise will quickly show whether your toss is consistent and will soon lend you some control.

From Bill S., Pittsfield, MA:

You're a good player who has received lots of advice, so my guess is you're trying too hard. You might try distracting your mind by thinking of the toss in a new way.

Perhaps it is not a "toss" but a "lift." The path your hand takes is as vertical as possible, and the ball leaves your hand because your hand won't go up any farther.

If you find it difficult to move your hand vertically, go in the house without your racket, put the ball in your "lifting" hand, and stand next to a high shelf, turned sideways as if you were serving. Lift the ball up vertically to the shelf. What's different about your motion? Perhaps your arm starts more relaxed or more bent before it extends. Good luck.

From Alvin C., Hartsville, SC:

Most ball-toss problems are due to the point where you release the ball. Do remember that your arm is like a windmill instead of an elevator; it goes in a circle instead of up and down. As such, make sure that the point where you release the ball is right at about eye level and your arm is straight out. This keeps the ball from going forward or backwards, as in the case of releasing too early or too late.

The second problem is due to the way your hand is holding the ball. Do not hold the ball with your palm up. When this method is used, the tendency is for your fingers to roll, your wrist to twist, your elbow to bend and your arm to rotate. This causes you to lose control of the ball. Make sure that you hold the ball in your hand like you are holding a glass of water. This keeps all your joints together and your arm to straighten, allowing you to keep the ball where you want it.

You mentioned that your ball is too far to the right. This is not necessarily bad. The conventional way of teaching serves is to toss the ball above your head. Well, this is not very practical, since you are not hitting the ball with your head but instead with your right arm that extends out from your right shoulder. As such, I teach that the toss ought to be about a foot or so to your right. This enables you to naturally rotate your body and extend your right arm out to hit a serve. I have often heard that you are unable to create spin when this method is used. Well, it is not true, since spin is created by brushing the ball with your racquet, not by bending your back. I have also found that my players have reduced back problems when this method is used.

From Walter R., Tucson, AZ:

You can improve the consistency of your toss by keeping your left elbow fully extended (for right-handed players) and keeping your thumb off of the ball. The ball should rest in your fingers and not in the palm of your hand. It is best to have a rhythm to the toss and not a jerky motion. I like to bend my knees and push up while tossing the ball, which encourages a rhythmic action. You can practice the motion using a target, like a high ceiling to get a feel until it becomes second nature on the court. Stay loose and have fun!

From Keith F., Rancho Cucamonga, CA:

I will share what worked for me. With the palm facing up, hold the ball between the thumb and first three fingers. Do not squeeze the ball. With the elbow locked and palm up, raise your arm, with moderate speed, above your head and hold the position like you are the Statue of Liberty. Allow the momentum of your arm speed to “take” the ball out of your hand. The ball should have an underspin rotation. If the toss is not high enough, increase your arm speed. To work on toss placement, use an old CD. Make a good toss without hitting the ball. Mark the spot with the CD. Now you practice tossing and serving with the racket, but not hitting the ball. You want the ball to land on the CD each time. DO NOT GET FRUSTRATED. In time you will almost never make a bad toss.

I hope the tip works for you like it did for me. I went from a 3.5 player to a 4.5 player. And most of my opponents claim I should be ranked higher because of my serve.

From Juan N., Indianapolis, IN:

Here is how I practice the toss. Put your racket in the floor, in front of you and a little bit to the right, about one racket size to the right. Start by trying to get the ball hitting the strings of the racket once, then three times, and then consistently. It is not as easy as it looks. I hope it helps. I am a 4.0 myself.

From Anne W., Gwynedd Valley, PA:

I was taught to stand with my left foot pointed toward the right net pole and then toss with my left arm, also pointed toward the net pole. You're using the pole as a guide so you're always tossing the ball at the same angle. Hope this helps.

From Mike W.:

Hold the ball as you would hold a glass with water. Keep your arm fairly straight (do not bend at your elbow). Start your arm upward and open your hand above your head.

Try the movement slowly with a full glass of water, and do not let any spill. (This keeps the hand level, or you will get wet).

From Karl K., Greene, NY:

This probably isn't the answer you want to hear, but my ball toss ceased to be a problem after I learned to juggle. I found that when I could juggle well enough to keep two bean bags going with my left hand alone, the ball toss was a breeze. It's a lot of work learning to juggle just to improve your toss, but hey, juggling is pretty much fun, anyway.

From Katalin P.:

Your elbow on the tossing arm should be locked. That will force you to release the ball straight up into the air above you, so where you stand will determine where the ball will go. Also, if your knees are slightly bent, your body will sort of be anchored, and you will not lose your balance. These two things helped me a lot.

From Julian, VT:

I have good basic toss techniques (ball not touching the palm, straight arm, etc.), but when my toss starts to come apart, it is usually because I am losing my focus during the toss, thinking about how I am striking the ball and where I want to place the serve, not to mention the score. So I resolve those three things before I toe-up to the line, and then just focus on the toss: quieting my body (not making it immobile) and envisioning my toss. I imagine my hand descending and ascending as if it were inside a perfect, smooth column, and delivering the ball straight up inside that column, where I watch it "land" softly on top of the column... and that's where my strike point is. If I can just focus on those simple mechanics, I trust that my racquet arm knows when to deliver the racquet face on time.

From Cheryl L., Kirkland, WA:

I, too, was having problems until Dan, one of our tennis professionals, suggested that I leave my tossing arm straight as I guide the ball up. He mentioned that the toss is really not a ball toss at all; it is more like your arm is guiding the ball up. Once I started guiding the ball with a straight arm, my toss became very consistent. I hope this helps you.

From Rob M., Coronado, CA:

I know exactly what you mean. I’m a 4.0-4.5 and former college player and have been plagued by the same errant, inconsistent ball toss. I tried all of the remedies, from holding the ball like a snow cone or fingertips or palm, to shortening the downward motion of my arm to using the Vic Braden "baseball pitcher" toss, where you bring the ball back with the racket in a somewhat semi-circular motion (a much more natural motion but a little more difficult to master if you've been using the standard "arm aligned with the net post" toss).

After years of much frustration, I may not have found the secret, but what has dramatically helped my toss is to lower it -- and lower it a lot. Lowering my toss from near two-and-a-half feet to around one-and-a-half feet has worked wonders. My toss is no longer apt to go way over my left side/shoulder (I'm a right-hander), and it has made my serve much more fluid and has eliminated the "hitch" you might develop if you toss the ball too high and have to wait for it to drop before hitting it.

Finally, it may help to concentrate on thinking of your left arm as just a mechanism to "lift" (not toss) the ball and allow the release to take place at eye level. Hope this helps.

From Dave S., Houston, TX:

It is impossible to accurately diagnose without seeing your toss. That being said, try these suggestions; it should help you.

First of all, I assume you have the correct grip and stance, being a 4.0 player.

1. Relax before tossing, take a few breaths, hold ball lightly with thumb and two fingers;

2. In a slow, yet deliberate motion, hold ball out from your body in the direction of your left toe; drop your arm slightly, then raise your arm slowly upward, releasing the ball gently when your hand approaches its maximum height. Toss the ball with enough force for it to reach approximately to the height of your contact point and continue following through with your hand after releasing the ball. The ball should not spin if released correctly; in other words, do not let the ball roll off your finger tips.

3. Ideally, you will be able to catch the ball with the same out-stretched hand (that is if you don't serve it - haha) without taking a step.

4. Repeat the above hundreds of times until your toss is perfected. You are on the right track, as a good toss is the necessary pre-requisite for a good serve.

From Donald W.:

Many players have "right or left" ball drifts on the serves for a couple of reasons ... common reasons are how they hold the ball (in the palm vice fingertips) or the arm motion has a sway in it (hand starts at 7:00, goes up towards 3:00, and ends up at 11:00).

Some suggestions:

1. It's really hard to see just what is happening with serves sometimes ... things happen so fast. A thing that works is to have someone film your service motion toss with you hit the ball. Re-look at it in slow motion to see what hand movement is (including ball placement in hand).

2. If it's the ball placement in the hand, try putting two balls in your hand. This forces one ball in the palm and the other (the one you release to hit) up and into your desired position, your finger tip. NOTE make sure palm is facing up through entire movement/release.

3. If it's the hand movement problem (7 to 3 to 11o'clock), maybe try a "thigh-to-sky" release. This will simplify the toss and make the movement straighter and aid a more direct ball flight path.

*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 more "Player to Player" topics and advice



Print Article Email Article Newsletter Signup Share
USTA Membership
Learn More or Login
Learn More or Login
Newsletter Signup

Copyright 2017 by United States Tennis Association. All Rights Reserved.

Online Advertising | Site Map | About Us | Careers | Internships | Contact Us | Terms of Use | Umpire Policy | Privacy Policy | AdChoices

Connect with us! Facebook-38x39 Twitter-38x39 Youtube-38x39