How To Master Tossing The Ball In Tennis

This article takes a deep dive in to one of the most important parts of the tennis serve - the ball toss.

The serve toss is a critical part of the tennis serve, yet most players and coaches don’t work on it nearly enough as they should. 

Most tennis players spend more time working on their service motion than they do the toss. This is unfortunate because you cannot hit a good first serve without an accurate ball toss, no matter how much you practice.

The result? A lot more double faults and missed serves, which instantly puts the tennis game in jeopardy.

Let's discuss how every player can stop hitting bad tosses and quickly learn to master a tennis serve toss that is effective and accurate, resulting in more points won! 

The significance of a good serve toss

Your toss, like your serve posture, is critical to creating an effective serve. The most fundamental reasons why the serve toss is vital are consistency, precision, ease, and force.

Serve consistency

One of the most important aspects of a successful tennis player is consistency. Your ability to hit a consistent serve is partially reliant on your ability to repeat the same serving motion.

If your serve toss is inconsistent, poorly placed, or not at the suitable height, it makes it difficult to repeat the same service motion, which may result in an inconsistent serve.

Precision

Like consistency, an accurate serve begins with a well-placed toss that allows you to repeat the same service motion, again and again, to send the ball exactly where you want it to go.

You may find it much more challenging to place your serve precisely if you don't have a suitable ball toss.

Ease

After years of repetition, a well-placed toss will also help your body stay relaxed, calm, produce power, and avoid injury.

Force

Your toss can help you reap the benefits of the energy stored in your trophy pose and service motion.

If you don't set your toss correctly, you may end up overreaching or crowding yourself, making it more difficult to speed through the serve motion to generate power.

3 Technical components of tossing the ball

1. The joints of your arm and the ball toss

When you're not tossing a tennis ball for your serve, your arm joints are pretty handy.

Joints allow your arm to move freely and provide a range of motion.

When it comes to your serve toss, though, it's critical to prevent movement inside certain joints to attain consistency.

Four basic portions of your arm have joints:

  • Shoulder
  • Elbow
  • Wrist
  • Fingers

If you allow all of your joints to move freely throughout the tossing motion, more moving parts increase your margin of error.

However, we may simply address this by removing movement from our elbow, wrist, and fingers, allowing our shoulder to do the task.

Set your feet in the proper serve posture, then position your tossing arm out in front of you, about in line with your front foot, palm facing up.

Maintain a straight elbow and wrist while moving your arm up and down with your shoulder.

Avoid locking your elbow and wrist by flexing your forearm or bicep because the tension in your arm will make it challenging to achieve fluidity throughout your shoulder and the service action.

Instead, keep your throwing arm straight and limit motion in your elbow, wrist, and fingers so that your shoulder is the only joint responsible for the toss and functioning as a lever.

2. Taking the lead with your elbow

A common issue with players' throwing motions is that they perceive it as a swinging motion rather than a lifting motion.

It's a minor distinction, but it can have a significant impact on the outcome of your ball toss. The good news is that there is a simple solution!

Visualize directing the throwing arm using your elbow while tossing the ball. It can assist in envisioning a thread tied around your elbow, lowering your arm from that position.

Leading with your elbow allows your tossing arm to smoothly transition from a swinging motion to a smooth lifting motion. It also has the additional benefit of keeping your tossing arm straight and removing that joint from the movement.

3. The proper way to grip the tennis ball

Like with the rest of your tossing motion, the idea is to keep the movement of the tossing hand to a minimum so that you can perform your ball toss consistently every time.

To do so, gently hold the tennis ball in your fingertips, which removes your finger joints from the equation while also assuring that nothing comes in the way of the ball when you release it from your hand.

When holding the ball, we recommend using three or four fingers. This should offer you a secure enough grip while limiting the number of touchpoints on the tennis ball, thereby reducing unwanted movement or contact during the release. You'll probably have to experiment with each to figure out what feels right.

The hand and wrist of the tossing arm will be in the same position at the start and end of the toss.

How do you toss serve?

Place your feet in the proper serve posture and just relax.

Bounce the ball in front of you a few times with your weight slightly forward on your front foot, releasing any tension in your hands, arm, and torso.

If you are a right-handed player, place your arm & hand loosely on your left thigh. The opposite applies to left-handed players.

Hold the tennis ball softly in your fingertips and move your hands into the ready position, with the ball lightly touching the front of your tennis racquet.

Begin progressively shifting your weight to your rear foot.

Move into your trophy pose as your weight hits your back foot.

Drop your hands together, and then use your shoulder to lift your tossing arm to the sky. Keep your tossing arm extended and lead with your elbow.

Most people move their tossing arm far too quickly and almost certainly lose control of the ball. On the other hand, the ball will not have enough lift if the tossing arm is raised too slowly.

Open your hand wide to release the ball once your arm reaches the top of your head.

Allow your dominant arm, holding your racquet, to swing back like a pendulum behind you and then continue up behind your head as your tossing arm swings higher.

Bend your knees so that you have a full bend by the time your arms have finished the service motion.

The release point of the ball toss

You'll likely locate the proper release point of your toss as you release the ball for your toss, but if you're curious, the perfect release point for your serve toss typically falls between eye level and the top of your head.

If you release the ball at a height lower or higher than the top of your head, your chances of an accurate toss are reduced. You can get away with a few inches of variance, but anything more puts you at risk of not being able to toss accurately.

It's best to release the ball at the same height on each serve toss. If you can reduce the randomness of the ball toss, your toss will improve exponentially.

That release height guarantees you're not releasing the ball too early, which can make it difficult to place your toss precisely, or too late, which can also contribute to an inaccurate serve toss.

Toss height

Your serve toss height has a significant impact on your ability to execute a quality serve.

Everyone's serve motion is unique.

Some people require more time to hit the ball, while others require less.

One thing is sure though if you release the ball lower or higher than optimal height, your chances of tossing accurately are pretty reduced.

Proper height of ball tosses

Once you've mastered your service motion and can smash a good serve, you'll know whether you need to toss higher or lower – or whether the peak of the toss is precisely correct.

If you're rushing to hit the ball, you're probably tossing too low and should toss a little higher. Tossing the ball too low or allowing it to drop too low before serving makes it tough to generate any power-hitting your serve.

If you appear to be losing momentum in the trophy pose, you may be tossing too high. Tossing lower may be preferable in this case.

While a high toss is essential, having a too high toss might lead to missing the ball. Gravity causes the ball to accelerate as the ball drops. If the ball is speeding up as it falls, timing will be more challenging to hit the ball.

The higher you toss the ball, the more likely it will be affected by the wind. A stiff breeze can derail even the best-executed toss, so bear that in mind as you discover the toss height that feels appropriate for your tennis game.

Height for first serves

For a first serve, you want your contact point to be almost as high as your arm and body will allow.

Hitting the ball from the highest possible point will provide you with more pop in the long run.

As the net becomes less of a concern, you will be able to strike the serve with greater force.

Kick serve height

The height of the contact point varies slightly depending on the type of tennis serve you hit.

If you're going to hit a kick serve, you should let the toss descend for a split second to achieve a  better contact point.

Toss placement

Most people come in different body shapes and sizes, and the ideal toss location varies slightly depending on the type of serve you're hitting, so the exact or perfect toss location can vary.

It will be challenging to achieve a consistent toss on the serve if your toss is in the wrong location. Consistent toss placement varies between the different types of serves:

  • Flat serve
  • Slice serve
  • Kick serve

Flat serve placement tosses

At the peak of the toss, your ball should land inside the tennis court around 12-18 inches in front of you and about 6 inches to the right of your tossing arm's shoulder.

You want to get the ball in front of you so that you can push up and into the court throughout your motion, which will help you accelerate and produce force during your serve.

The ball is about parallel to the shoulder of your tossing arm.

Remember that the location of your toss should allow you to swing through your flat serves comfortably. If the action doesn't feel natural, you'll most likely be limiting your flat serve's ability to generate power, and you need more practice.

Slice serve placement tosses

A slice serve toss should be put about in the same location as a flat serve toss. Many players may toss the ball more to the right (if you're right-handed) since generating spin from the side feels more natural.

However, the vast majority of the spin will be caused by the angle of your racquet when it makes contact with the ball. As a result, you shouldn't have to toss the ball any further to the right to generate the sidespin that propels the ball out wide.

The positioning of your slice serve toss will help you increase the angle and also generate more spin.

As with flat serves, the tennis ball is approximately 6 inches to the right of your tossing arms' shoulder.

One advantage of having a toss that looks nearly indistinguishable for your flat and slice serves is that it makes it more difficult for your opponent to predict where you're hitting and want to land your serve.

If you exaggerate your slice serve toss location by moving it further to the right to generate even more slice, you risk revealing to your opponent the intended placement of your serve.

This is called telegraphing your serve, which refers to the practice of "showing" your opponent where you intend to hit the ball.

Kick serve placement tosses

When it comes to your kick serve, you'll want to situate your tosses within the court around 6-12 inches out in front of you but also somewhat behind you.

If you toss the ball for your kick serve and let it fall back to the court, you want it to land roughly above your head or slightly behind your head.

Keep in mind that "behind you" does not refer to the fence's direction. Assuming you're in the proper serve stance, you'll toss the ball roughly parallel to the baseline.

Using this toss with a kick serve lets you accelerate up and into the tennis ball to generate maximum topspin.

Topspin enables you to smash the ball forcefully while providing a considerable margin of error. The ball will travel further across the court and above the net, but the topspin you generate will ensure it falls in the service box.

With just enough topspin, you'll also accomplish a "kick," in which the ball bounces upward after making contact with the court, giving rise to the term "kick serve.”

A good kick will have enough topspin on it so that the ball bounces up and out of your opponent's strike zone, making it difficult to return.

Tossing drills

1. Drill for tossing height

One of the most common questions many players ask when learning to toss correctly to deliver a good serve is how high they should toss the ball. The ideal toss height is approximately 2-3 feet above your tennis racquet's maximum reach.

This drill will allow you to develop a more consistent toss height on any court surrounded by a fence.

Set up your height indicators

In this initial stage, you'll want to indicate the appropriate fence height with two tennis balls. Stand next to the fence with your racquet in hand to accomplish this. At your maximum reach, raise your racquet and touch it against the fence.

Next, have your friend grab the step ladder and set it next to you so they can climb and stick two balls in the fence—the one approximately 2 feet above your greatest reach and another around 3 feet.

Take your tennis posture and position yourself

You'll want to position yourself against the fence immediately beneath the two balls you placed in the fence now that you've marked it.

Position yourself in your serve stance, with the front of your left foot about 1-2 feet from the fence, with your racquet in hand and a spare tennis ball. If you're left-handed, do this in reverse.

Toss the ball to hit your target

Next, practice your toss such that it falls about between the two balls you've placed on the fence.

With each practice toss, ensure that you utilize the proper toss technique and your trophy position.

Allow each toss to fall back to the ground, then reposition your feet in the proper serve stance and toss again.

2. Nailing the toss pose

One of the difficulties that players experience when tossing the ball is not fully extending their tossing arm into the air and prematurely dropping their arm and head, leading to a poor toss.

The purpose of this drill is to assist players in practicing their tossing motion while keeping their arm high and their heads up.

Establish your posture and position yourself

Position yourself along the baseline at the center mark, holding your racquet and a spare tennis ball, and take your serve stance.

Toss the ball

Toss the ball while maintaining your full trophy position.

Concentrate on extending your tossing arm up and releasing the ball, but envision a thread linked to your wrist that pulls your arm up in the air towards the sky.

Fully extend, take a moment to pause with your arm raised high, head up, and body in trophy pose.

Concentrate on keeping your tossing arm fully extended, moving in the correct direction and your chin up, and repeat in the same way, 20 times.

3. Precision and consistency drill

It might take a long time for players to establish consistency and precision when learning how to toss the ball for their serve. This drill is excellent for beginners since it will help you create a more consistent and precise toss. Here's a rundown of how to do this drill!

Drop tennis balls in your basket.

The first step is to fill your basket or ball hopper halfway (or less) with tennis balls.

If the basket is too full or too empty, the ball will likely bounce out; therefore, filling it midway will keep the ball in place.

Position your basket

Grab your basket, position yourself along the baseline near the center mark, set your serve stance, and place your basket 12-18 inches in front of your left foot and 3-6 inches to the right.

If you're left-handed, reverse this.

If you don't have a basket, simply arrange your racquet or a spare racquet on the court such that the head of the racquet is where the basket would be.

You can also use a small container or bucket; all you need is a reasonably sized target for your toss.

Take a tennis posture and position yourself

After you've placed your basket, grab a tennis ball and position yourself in front of it.

Set your serve stance again so that the basket is around 3-6 inches to your right.

Toss the ball in the fourth step

Finally, with a ball in your hand, toss the ball up in the air and try to get it to land in the basket.

Use the full toss action and technique that we discussed above in this article.

This drill can be modified in a variety of ways

You might start by standing stationary in front of the basket, or you can incorporate the entire trophy pose.

If you're a novice, it can be beneficial to perform this drill without your racquet for a bit to develop a feel for the toss and practice your technique.

Consider including the whole trophy pose once you've gotten used to it because your toss will be very different standing still versus moving your entire body.

Final thoughts

If you play tennis, your toss is a pretty big deal!

It’s essential to focus on your toss because it is the beginning of a service motion that will lead you into building a powerful serve. 

A poor toss can be improved with time and patience, so don’t let it stop you from playing your best game.

Most players never improve their toss because they don’t follow the fundamentals of good tossing techniques. For those in this position, start by refining your height placement and consistency for your swing.

Remember, top players like Roger Federer and John Isner practice their game, and practice makes perfect!

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