The tennis ball rose into the air and for a brief moment – like the ball on top of a roller coaster – all was quiet. And then, bam, the racket, whipped through the air, contact and action began.
Serve is the only moment in tennis when the human hand, not the racket, determines the direction and position of the ball. And that makes starting with a good toss so essential to winning.
“You have full control of the serve and so the pitch is a key component,” says Craig Boynton, who coached John Isner and now coach Hubert Hurkacz, who climbed from 35th to 9th in the rankings in 2021 as his service results improved.
Aryna Sabalenka, ranked second in the women’s tour, noted in an email that “without a consistent pitch, you can’t have a consistent serve.”
The toss may be the most underrated aspect of a player’s game for pros, says ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert. It’s even bigger at the club level for recreational players, where many players lose control, often use their wrists too much, bend their elbows, or let their arms drift. “If you lose control on the toss, you lose your serve,” he said.
Jimmy Arias, tennis director for the IMG Academy, says the ideal is to hit the ball in that split second when it stops moving at the top, but doesn’t have a perfect pitch.
Sabalenka and Taylor Fritz, ranked 23rd on the men’s tour, said in recent years they’ve started to throw the ball higher as they learn to use their feet to push off more, creating greater height and force.
“You want to maximize the height that you make contact with the ball on the serve,” explains Sabalenka. “As I get stronger, I can crouch and jump with the ball more. That allows me to bounce the ball a little higher.”
Boynton says that some big servers, like Andy Roddick, have faster movements and therefore lower toss speeds, while many Europeans learn the longer motions require more time and speed of the toss. higher. “Height is determined in part by the duration of your movement.”
Sabalenka says players have their own ideal toss. “It takes a lot of practice to figure out what works best for you, your body, your particular movement, and your timing.”
The goal, says Arias, is to find a movement and throw it where the player is neither rushing nor waiting. “Serving is all about rhythm, and the throw determines that.”
Among the current players, Denis Shapovalov, Alexander Zverev and Federico Delbonis have notable high throws. “Delbonis threw it on the moon and had to wait another five minutes for it to land, except that he believes that when nerves are stressed at critical moments, the higher the toss and the longer the wait,” says Arias. can create problems.
Shapovalov, who changed approach several times, and Zverev were both frequently hampered by doubles or two serve errors.
“Zverev has to drop it, but can go to the lower ball to hit his second serve,” suggests Gilbert, which will speed up Zverev’s movement and help solve his problem. that.
But it would be a radical change, which may be necessary for a club player or someone at grassroots level, but this is rarely the case in professional leagues. At that level, players don’t split up for isolation practice. Fritz even laughed at the question. (To perfect his pitch as an adult, Gilbert would do it while walking to school and sitting in a chair. “If you had to get off your chair to catch the ball, your pitch would move you.”)
While Boynton says he believes in overhauling a club’s or youth player’s pitch and letting them practice it separately from serve, he’s not going to make major changes at the professional level.
“For the pros, it’s all about timing and the rhythm of all these moving parts,” he said, adding that last year he worked with Hurkacz to not let his wings fall. The tossing hand increases speed, which helps create a larger and more stable serve.
Redoing a professional’s throw can be “very dangerous,” says Arias, but adds that if it works, the results can be dramatic. He points to Marin Cilic, who didn’t reach his potential until his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, replayed Cilic’s serve in 2013. Ivanisevic, the all-time number two on the percentage of first serve points won, let Cilic throw the ball farther. front (and slightly lower). In 2014, Cilic US Open champion.
A good throw is not only a matter of height but also a matter of position. Gilbert says that an “elite throw” hits the point from where you can make your topspin, flat serve, or slice.
He said Andy Roddick, Pete Sampras and Serena Williams were the dominant servers in part because “every pitch was perfect” and they hit the ball at 12 o’clock, without drifting sideways so it was impossible to read before contact. (Arias practiced with Sampras “a million times,” but couldn’t read his serves.)
“You need to throw it in the same place all the time and not give away where you are serving,” Fritz said, adding, “I will just move my throw for the sun.”
But 56th-ranked Jenson Brooksby says that while a throw has to be in the right area, he doesn’t strain to hit perfection. “There are some minor flaws,” he wrote in an email.
Sabalenka and Fritz say the top players disguise their serves well, but Brooksby says that on the men’s tour, Roger Federer is the best. Boynton also praised Nick Kyrgios, while Arias said Novak Djokovic was underrated, explaining that he shortened the returner’s reaction time by throwing the ball further out in front of him.
“If you could teach a long jumper to throw the ball all the way to the service line, what would it be like to hit the serve? [a player at the net] Arias said.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/15/sports/tennis/service-toss-ball.html Service Toss Strategy and Importance