So, good news! We're once again talking about simple serve tips, a series I've been doing here on the podcast. So far in this series, we've talked about where you should stand when you serve, how and why to use the continental grip on your serve, what service stance to use, what the qualities of a good serve really are, and how to hold the tennis ball when you toss. Today, we're focusing on the toss again. Specifically, we're going to talk about where to place your toss.
That Time I Volunteered to Drive Players Around
But before we get to that, I want to talk about a job I did for the last two weeks that I absolutely love doing each year. And you're going to see that this magically ties back into today's topic on the toss.
So what was this incredible volunteer job? Well, for the past several years, I have volunteered as a driver for the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships that are held here in Houston, Texas at the River Oaks Country Club. This is an ATP tournament and there are a lot of high level players who come in to play this. A friend of mine runs the Transportation Committee for the tournament. Several years ago, she asked me if I would be interested in driving and I thought that sounded like something very different from anything I'd ever done before so I said yes. And it just turns out that I love being a driver.
There are lots of volunteers who work at this tournament. There are other drivers. There are ushers. There are ticket people. And you can volunteer to work at any of these jobs. I always thought I would start out as a driver and I'll work my way into being an usher so I can watch tennis. But the truth is that I have just loved the driving. Because I get to drive players. I get to drive officials. I get to drive people who work for the ATP and are out on the tour going to the various tournaments. I get to talk to all of these people and, usually if someone gets into my car, I try to judge how amenable they will be to chatting with me. Almost everyone is so nice and is great and answers all of my questions and talks to me. It is a lot of fun. And the only time I have had anyone that I would say, not that they weren't nice but that they didn't want to talk to me, is I do try to follow along on my phone with what's happening when matches are being player. And if I know someone is getting into my car who just lost a match, I try to be more careful and not get into their personal space quite so much. Let them have their moment of quiet in the car before they head back to pack up and leave the tournament.
The Part Where I Name Drop Who I Drove and Saw
So some of the people I drove this year that you might recognize included Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla, and Fernando Verdasco. I saw the Bryan Brothers, I saw John Isner, Sam Querrey. I saw Juan Monaco who actually ended up winning this year's tournament. He beat Jack Sock who was last year's champ. I never saw Jack Sock just hanging around, I just saw him out playing tennis. I saw Donald Young, Carlos Berlocq, Mardie Fish out jogging. I think he was working with John Isner and Mardie Fish is also a past champ for this tournament. I was allowed to go in the press room this year. I emailed the guy who is in charge of PR for the ATP in advance and told him about Tennis Fixation and he was nice enough to let me go in the press room for some of the post-match interviews. So I got to go in for Sam Querry's interview after he won a match. And I got to see two of Feliciano Lopez's post-match interviews. And I got to talk to some of the people in the press room, especially Blair Henley who does reporting for Tennis Now. And I have a link to a YouTube video below that Blair did while she was there with Feliciano Lopez where they are trying to learn how to lasso because I guess the point is they're here in Texas and that's a Texas-thing. It's a cute video and it is a good example of the types of things these players are asked to do PR-wise while they are in cities playing in tournaments.
But How Does This Help Our Serve?
So, what does this have to do with the placement of your service toss?
Well, after I finish my shift driving, one of the perks and one of the real reasons I do this volunteer job, is I can go watch any of the matches that are going on. I can use my credentials to get in and sit in almost any seat in the stadium court or out on the back courts as long as no one is sitting there. I can then move if I'm in someone's seat. And I watched two full matches this year in which Feliciano Lopez was playing. Which is sort of unusual. I don't usually get to watch full matches because a lot of times I walk in and the match is already on-going or I have to leave because I have to get home to my family.
Feliciano Lopez and Tim Smyczek
But this year I was fortunate that I watched two full matches and Feliciano Lopez happened to be playing in both of those. He is a tennis player from Spain. He's played in this tournament several times before. Although honestly he is someone I don't usually drive. I think I took him to Starbucks one time. He may have his own car. Some of the players get cars themselves from the tournament so maybe he's one of those guys. He's not someone who is usually looking for a ride. He's currently ranked No. 23 and he made it to the semi-finals in this tournament. The match that I saw him play was a quarter-final match and he played against an American named Tim Smyczek.
Smyczek is an American and he's currently ranked No. 117 in the ATP rankings. And I got to see these two guys play against each other and I had a really great spot to watch them. I was sitting right at one of the baselines, looking across the baseline, so I was looking parallel to the baseline. Basically, I could see how they were serving. I was in about the third row and nobody was around me. I could see perfectly how they were serving. Now, Lopez is a leftie so when he was serving, his back was to me. Smyczek is a rightie so where he was serving, he was facing me. But with both of these guys, I could see their set-up on their serve. But the most important thing was their toss. I could really see their toss really well.
I should probably say here that Lopez is 6'2″ so he is tall, although he is not considered one of the tallest players on the tour. There was a kid there who was also an American named Reilly Opelka who is 6'10” who just had this amazing serve, largely because he is so tall. Tim Smyczek, on the other hand, is only 5'9″ and yet had a really incredible serve considering the height difference between the two of them.
The Most Perfect Service Toss I've Seen
What I noticed about Lopez's toss on his serve is that it was the most perfect toss that I have ever seen. I'm sure there are a lot of players on both the ATP and WTA tours who have beautiful tosses. But I've never been close enough to see one like this before. Lopez's toss would go up and that ball was not spinning at all. I could see the seams. I could see the writing on the ball. That is a quality that I have always thought was impossible to achieve. But that's exactly what Lopez's toss looked like. It really gave me inspiration to work harder on my toss, on that aspect of it, keeping it from doing all of the spinning that my toss currently does when it goes up. It was truly amazing and he did it again and again and again. His toss was incredibly consistent. It looked to me like it was almost always in the same place, same height and certainly that complete stillness, no spinning as he tossed it up. It was amazing to watch. I couldn't believe I was so close and I could see that.
And Smyczek's Different Tosses
Smyczek, on the other hand, when he was tossing for his serve, his ball did have a little bit of spin to it as it would go up. You could see it rotating. But the one thing I could really detect with his toss, and that's the thing I wanted to talk about today, was where he would place the toss. In other words, his toss placement, where the ball went up, the line that the ball followed up, was very different between his first serve and his second serve. He placed the toss in a different spot depending on which of those two serves he was hitting.
Lopez seemed like his toss was almost identical for his first and second serve. Maybe the first serve toss was just a little bit more into the court, maybe by six inches. But definitely with Smyczek, I could tell his toss, between his first and second serve, his first toss was definitely at least a foot farther into the court than when he would toss to hit his second serve.
Your Toss Should Go Up in a Straight Line
So what am I talking about? What does this mean? Because what Smyczek is doing is what recreational players like you and I are often told to do. And if you are not doing this, that's not a problem. But it is something to think about. And it may be something you want to work towards.
So the first thing about the toss that you want to be sure to remember is to toss the ball, when you're going to serve, toss up in a straight line. You do not want that toss to curve. You don't want it to be curving so that the ball is ending up going behind you or to one or the other sides, to the left or the right. You want it to be in a straight line.
Your Toss Should Travel Into the Court on Your First Serve
That does not mean that the toss goes straight up, perpendicular to the baseline each time. Where you place the toss, where it goes, can change depending on the kind of serve you hit. But by and large you want that toss to go up in a straight line. So it should go up smoothly, with very little spin a la Feliciano Lopez, and in a straight line.
Now here's where the placement may vary. As I said, your toss doesn't necessarily travel in a straight line up into the air perpendicular to the baseline. It may actually travel in a straight line that angles into the court, especially on your first serve. And this is what Smyczek's toss was doing. It was going in a straight line but it was going forward into the court.
The reason you do this is because by the time your racket actually comes up and makes contact with that ball, your racket will have moved forward, slightly in front of you and into the court. So the ball needs to be out there where the racket will meet the toss. This is if you're hitting, for your first serve, a hard, flat serve and you're not trying to put a lot of spin on it. In that case, you want that toss to travel up and angle into the court.
This Also Allows for Better Serve and Volley in Doubles
Now, besides the fact that that's where your racket is going to be so that's where the ball needs to be so that the racket and the ball come into contact with each other, this will also have the effect for most of us of carrying our bodies a little bit forward into the court. And in doubles especially, if you are trying to serve and volley, that type of toss will help you because it will carry you forward into the court. On the ATP tour, those guys are not serving and volleying. In fact, I don't think I saw anyone really serve and volley in singles for the matches I was watching. In doubles it might be another story although even there, at this level, there weren't a lot of serve and volley players.
I should say that I didn't get to watch the Bryan Brothers play. They ended up winning the doubles in this tournament.
But you, playing a lot of recreational doubles, you probably do want to be serving and volleying more and, by tossing straight but slightly forward into the court, the way Smyczek as tossing, that will help draw you forward. You can follow the ball into the court and towards the net.
A Different Toss for the Second Serve
Now on the second serve, Smyczek's toss went more straight up, more perpendicular to the baseline. It was actually a little bit forward but certainly not the one to one and a half feet forward that his toss for his first serve was. And this is because his second serve was a spin serve. Honestly, I can't tell you and it didn't help from where I was sitting, I can't tell you exactly what that serve was. If it was a kick serve. But he was definitely, and you could read his whole body, you could see he was putting spin on that second serve and so his ball toss was more straight up.
And you can imagine your racket motion when your first serve is hard and flat, your racket motion is more straight forward towards the opposite court. On your second serve, when you're applying spin, you are hitting more of an angle on the ball, you're swiping across the back of the ball. And so your toss necessarily is closer to you because your momentum on your racket is going to travel off to the side.
I really saw this so clearly when I was sitting there watching this match. I really was fascinated by both of these players, their tosses. Their serves were excellent and Smyczek had a great serve and he is, as I said, not a real tall player. In fact, when you see him he looks kind of small and he still had a fabulous fast, hard, flat serve and a really nice spin serve also.
The Takeaway – Vary Your Toss Placement
The takeaway for us is – there are different places that you can put your toss. You can have different tosses depending on what kind of serve you're trying to hit. And, while you may not be completely happy with your serve right now, this is one little tweak you might try that could actually do a lot to change your serve. The placement of the toss can really have an impact on the whole service motion and what happens next. I wouldn't say that I am necessarily the best server that is playing in the leagues I play in. Not by a long shot. And yet, I do try very hard to have a little bit different toss between by first and my second serve since I am trying to put more spin on my second serve. And it is something that when I do it, when I think about it and make myself really try to do this, it does help my serve, and on that first serve, it does help me serve and volley more.
So that is it! I highly recommend, if you have an opportunity to go to an ATP or WTA tournament, go! It is so fun. This tournament that I went to had very high-level players but it's a small tournament and there was lots of mixing with the crowd. You get to meet the players. If you can volunteer at a tournament like that, it is completely worth it. I'm sure I will go back and volunteer as long as I can. And I'll probably always drive because I love talking to people!
Let me know your thoughts on the tennis toss, the pros, tournaments, and the Simple Serve Tips series by leaving a comment below!
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE
Check out the other episodes in the Simple Serve Tips series:
- Simple Serve Tips: Where You Should Stand When You Serve – Tennis Quick Tips Episode 103
- Simple Serve Tips: How and Why to Use the Continental Grip on Your Serve – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast 105
- Simple Serve Tips: What Is The Right Service Stance For You? – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast 107
- Simple Serve Tips: What Makes a Good Serve? – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast 110
- Simple Serve Tips: How to Hold the Tennis Ball When You Toss – Tennis Quick Tips Episode 115
If you want to hear more about the toss, check out these previous Tennis Quick Tips episodes:
- Get a Better Serve with a Better Toss – Tennis Quick Tips Episode 14
- For A Good Serve, Hit A Good Toss – Tennis Quick Tips Episode 76
- Keep Your Tossing Arm Up – Tennis Quick Tips Episode 94
Here's that really cute video of Blair Henley and Feliciano Lopez trying to figure out how to use a lasso:
And here's a link to the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships website for more info on that tournament: U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships.
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