Tossing the Ball for Serve

by Lisa Dodson

Do you have an inconsistent toss?

In this blog, we will describe some of the steps to achieving a consistent toss. 

If we break the toss action down into understandable pieces then we can better focus on integrating the toss action with with the rest of the serve . Here we will deal with the hand and arm as a focus for the toss.  We are not discussing body rotation or leg use.

As I see it, there are three important functions that the toss arm and hand provide. Of course, there are many more details to take into an account but first let's concentrate on these three elements followed by the details that make it successful.

First: The toss arm and hand place the ball precisely where it needs to be for contact
Second: The finish position of the toss hand and arm will hold the non-dominant side of the body up in a strong manner.  This sets shoulder angle (toss shoulder higher than hitting shoulder).
Third: After full extension of the toss arm is completed, it powerfully pulls out of the way. This enables the hitting side to swing with force. The faster the toss arm pulls, the faster the racket head can travel.

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Let’s examine some details of why this works:


Tossing the ball for serveMost players use the toss arm/hand to simply launch the ball up to hit.  They pay no attention to how they are holding the ball or to the position or direction the toss arm is moving. This is understandable since the main focus is on hitting the ball and getting it in the box and not on HOW it is done. 

►The ball is best held with the hand flat (this simply means that the fingers are not curled around the ball) with the thumb over the top. The wrist is laid down so that when the ball is released it will go forward as opposed to traveling in a forward-back arc.

►The hand is at an angle to the ground (with the pinkie slightly toward the ground)j.  When you look at the toss hand, you will see more of the ball to the left side of the thumb than to the right side of the thumb.

►The toss arm is straight at the elbow and wrist. This is one of the major difficulties with the toss. The hit arm and the toss arm have completely different functions. The swing arm is loose and whip-like while the toss arm is straight and has no flex. Our arms like to be balanced and doing the same thing on either side of the body. The massive difference in the tension and flexibility of the arms can be tough to conquer. They are connected but have two entirely different jobs.

trophy position for serve


►The toss shoulder finishes under the chin and finger tips stretched to the sky. The toss arm and hand must hold the body up in a strong position. This helps pull the chest and swing side up to contact point. Typically a player releases the toss, the hand stops at about 110 degrees and the hand comes down immediately. The hand should reach 180 degrees (0 degrees being at the ground). Exaggerate the height of the toss hand and take much longer doing it.  Then you will begin to understand what it feels like to hit “up” to a ball.

►The toss arm and the toss side of the body firmly hold the body up. It is the counter force to pressing the feet against the ground for “loading” of weight.

►Shoulder angle is achieved. The tossing shoulder sets substantially higher than the hitting shoulder. This will enhance upward drive to the ball with the legs and chest.


swing up to the contact point"Pulling” the toss arm out of the way for power is a foreign concept to most tennis players. Typically, the toss arm doesn't have a specific function other than getting the ball in the air.

►Completion of the toss sets shoulder angle. Next the toss elbow should immediately bend. Lead towards the ground with your elbow and the toss hand coming down the center line of the body. This will lift your chest to hit up.  If you keep the toss elbow straight it will simply pull you down.

►This movement is similar to “elbowing” someone sharply except your hand and arm are coming down from full extension. You’ve probably never done this but, come on … you wanted to once or twice in your life!

►The main point here is that pulling the toss arm (the front side of the body) powerfully initiates the swing.  Great force from the front translates to more speed and power to the racket head. 

In summary, great toss technique will directly affect power on the serve and add to your consistency. A powerful deliberate toss arm is key to creating racket head speed for power. You cannot create power from a racket swing alone. Start with the First element and make sure that you are producing the most basic of the toss movements. If you progress through the steps, your toss will be consistent and you will gain the fluid power that has otherwise been elusive. Start today to measurably increase the speed and power of your serve by practicing with the ServeMaster. Find the right ServeMaster for you at our website.

Do you want a faster and more consistent serve? Check out this blog: A simple answer to the “How do I increase my racket head speed" question?