Side Spin Serve – A Comparative View

The Hot Seat is a regular feature within each monthly edition of the ETI Network, where members have the opportunity to apply for a Hotseat and submit a video for review. The intent is not to criticize the volunteer, but rather to share my insights into simple solutions for common problems.

Further, seeing comparative examples will open your eyes to how these things look and feel, and ultimately how to improve them in your own game

If you are “only as good as your second serve” – and on that score note that Sampras credited his 7 Wimbledon titles to having the “best second serve in the game” – an actual quote from Pete – it truly follows that you must get that ball spinning to master the second serve – or really all serves for that matter

Take some time watching the video below.  Note the swing path and how the two examples diverge.  Then go out on court resolved to build your own version of this “wicked serve”

Be sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think

50 Comments

  • Peter cheng

    Reply Reply June 4, 2012

    Wow! The guy ‘s serve is really ‘wicked’ . I like it very much.

    Could you make a super slow motion of his serve ?

    Best regards

    Peter

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply June 4, 2012

      Peter – sorry – I filmed him some time ago – and though he is local – it is too much for me to film him yet again with another camera
      sorry
      Jim

  • Jack

    Reply Reply April 27, 2012

    Jim, I’ve just looked at this video for the first time and I think its brilliant. The two videos show clearly the different swing paths and you can actually ‘hear’ the sound of the man’s slice. Nice quick and low swing with lots of racquet speed. Nice serve.

    A couple of years ago I stumbled into the slice serve when I damaged my shoulder. Not wanting to stop playing my weekly competitive doubles game I fronted-up to play one night and told the guys that I was not able to serve normally but that I’d be serving side arm. I thought that I might be able to provide a tricky enough serve to at least get our side into the rally but I didn’t expect to win any serves that night. I think I lost my first serve but after that I won every serve despite serving much slower and with no topspin. I used my usual backhand grip and it produced a wicked slice that the other guys just could not get a handle on. It made me wonder why I bothered trying to serve so hard and with so much topspin when an easy to hit slice had my opponents tied up with balls sliding away from them or into their bodies. Its my go-to serve now when opponents start cracking back my best attempts at flat or topspin serves. Definitely a great serve to have in the arsenal to mix things up.

  • Cathie

    Reply Reply February 9, 2012

    Like this one too

  • Dan Dolsberry

    Reply Reply September 17, 2011

    Did you notice the sound the guy made – pssst. Also, the guys racket moved really fast. Reminded me of what I saw when I compared my serve with my sons. My racket looked like it was in slow motion by comparison.

  • amanda

    Reply Reply July 13, 2011

    I’ll have to try this to believe it. Seems easy…

  • J. Krishnamurthy

    Reply Reply July 8, 2011

    I have watched Djokovic win the Wimbledon trophy this year; the play with Rafael Nadal was neck and neck. While both of them exchanged points, one thing that struck me most – and a general point at that – is the need to research on why and how a player loses a point in a serve. Player A serves, Player B returns the ball; this goes for the third or fourth or even the fifth and sixth time but at the end one of them is unable to return the same way as he did earlier. Why ? Is it because of strain or tiresomeness ? or is it because the flight & bounce of the ball are diffeerent with each return ? It would appear that if only one researches on this and finds an answer, many of the failures in returning the ball can be overcome easier than otherwise. It is one thing if I strike the ball and get a point; it is another when I get a point because of the failure of the opponent to return the ball. There is difference in the quality of the point and the personal satisfaction it gives! I feel proud if I get a point on my own – not when my opponent gives it to me. This is where Djokovic got the points from Nadal and won.
    J Krishnamurthy

  • Bill

    Reply Reply June 27, 2011

    Thank you for your answer. The “swing path is slightly to the right of that (right) net post’ means my swing path is closer to my endline. This does help. I think I maybe guilty of tossing the ball to the left of the right net post (or closer to my opponent’s endline). This maybe why I am not successful serving sidespin down the middle of the T as often as I would like. Would you recommend jumping into the serve in that “low and to the right” direction?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply June 27, 2011

      Bill – jumping is an advanced technique – I am not in favor of it – and notice when the pros warm up they dont jump and hit it just fine – they are jumping not for power but to elevate the point of contact
      Jim

  • Bill

    Reply Reply June 25, 2011

    I want to follow-up on what you explained to Sanjeev. On the swing pattern for the sidespin serve to the AD court for a right hander, you write that it should be “further to the right, and in this case further to the right past the net post.” Does this mean toward my end line past the right net post? Or towards my opponent’s endline past the right net post?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply June 26, 2011

      Bill – hope this helps but hard to describe – as you face your opponent about to serve to the ad court, use the right net post (in front of you) for reference, and in this case the swing path is slightly to the right of that net post – does that help?
      Jim

  • Joannis Roidis

    Reply Reply May 19, 2011

    Excellent. Useful, as ever. Thanks

  • Sid

    Reply Reply November 16, 2010

    As great as it is to throw the toss a little right of your body (left for a southpaw), try to throw a little closer to the position of your flats and your kickers. Don Budge, Rod Laver, Bjorn, Johnny Mac, Ivan Lendl, Pete, Andre, Jim Courier, Michael, Stefan, Mats Wilander, even Serena all had this tactic.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply November 19, 2010

      Sid – yes at some point players try to find a toss location that allows all types of spin and placement – but that is a difficult task to master
      Jim

  • Fedja

    Reply Reply October 8, 2010

    With every low toss (and more importantly lower height of the contact point) you are loosing some clearance for your serve, so less of the service box is available to you. So, by doing lower side toss you are able to put a bit more spin and you also get a better angle side wise on the ball, but you are locked into one single type of the serve that you can do and good returner will be able to exploit that one. This would be especially exploitable when both players use the same side hand for serving, but it has more advantage when players use opposite hands. If you would try to go down the line from that side position, that server would not be as effective as it would be with the higher toss more to the middle.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply October 8, 2010

      Fedja – your comments are on the mark – but with a proviso – to my eye most servers have an overly high toss and a low hit – and it is entirely practical to lower the toss and serve tall (higher hit) by simply swinging the racquet continuously. Second, there is good evidence that the topspin serve places more strain on the shoulder and specifically rotator cuff – so I generally recommend the side spin. Finally, for anyone trying to build a great serve I believe the sequence is to master a fast swinging sidespin and then and only then build that rhythm into topspin
      best
      Jim

  • Fedja

    Reply Reply October 7, 2010

    Very nice analysis!! The one thing that I didn’t like in this example is that first serve is just a marginal slice serve and it has a lot more flat in it. That came from the ball being way too much on the top of her and a bit more to the left would make it much better in my book.

    For the second serve, guy is hitting the ball quite low, and I am wondering if ball being more to the right and higher, whether that would allow server to increase the angle of the server buy serving even deeper into the box, or just adding more power to the same serve placement.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply October 7, 2010

      Fedja – not entirely sure what you are getting at – but interestingly Vic Braden is an advocate of a low toss out to the servers right (if right handed) and I like that as well
      Jim

  • Bertrand Simard

    Reply Reply July 11, 2010

    As much as I have problems with the kick serve, the side spin as illustrated by the guy is a natural for me. I learned something watching this video. Before, I used to think that I missed my toss when I tossed the ball low and sideways. I used to hit it anyways and compensate for the bad toss. Now, I will accentuate it. Very good for me…and very bad for my tennis partners.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply July 15, 2010

      Bertrand
      and this guy PMac developed his feel for this serve with just such a toss – low and to the side
      Jim

  • Emrah

    Reply Reply May 3, 2010

    I do not know why but I cannot see the videos here… Any suggestions?

    Regards,
    Emrah

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 12, 2010

      Emrah – not sure what to say, this is a YouTube video, it has been on the site for some time, for better or worse it is one of our best examples of a side spin swing path. Though I am not our tech person on staff, this may be an issue with your computer. Hope you can see it
      best
      Jim

  • Sanjeev

    Reply Reply April 11, 2010

    Jim,
    This is a great comparison.

    I have a question about right handed player serving a side spin – would the racket swing point towards the right net post for both Deuce and Ad-courts ? Its clear that’s the case for Deuce court – I am not sure about the Ad-court.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply April 11, 2010

      Sanjeev – the sidespin swing path is always slightly off line and to the right of the ball flight or target line. So in the deuce court we often use the right net post as an approximate swing path. For the ad court the swing path would be further to the right, and in this case further to the right past the net post
      best
      Jim

  • tennisfan

    Reply Reply September 24, 2009

    Enjoyed the video. Tremendous difference in the two serves. GREAT RACKET HEAD SPEED for the gentleman. OUCH though. I think I’ll try the sidespin serve, at least a couple of times. I HURT my ROTATOR CUFF 15+ years ago, and had given up on serving. My daughter’s on the tennis team, and I want to serve to her so she can get more practice returning serves.

    Thanks again

  • tony

    Reply Reply August 18, 2009

    are you saying that you need different tosses in height for slice than flat or kick ?

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 20, 2009

      Tony – excellent question with a difficult answer. At the highest levels of professional tennis some of the players (not all) can hit sidepsin flat and topspin with relatively the same toss (which coincidentally goes ever so slightly in an arc from right to left) but for mortals yes the sidespin toss is generally more to the right (it can but doesnt have to be lower) and the flat toss is more above the server and the kick is slightly more to the left –
      my reference to the low toss out right for the server (right handed) is to get a feeling for an extreme sidespin which would then lead to something less extreme and more basic – but at the end of the day most servers do not spin the ball nearly enough, and this comparision was done to address that
      best
      Jim

  • Doug Hofer

    Reply Reply August 10, 2009

    Swinging off to the side is only possible if the ball is tossed there. The “hot seat” subject swung towards the target because that’s where she toss the ball. I’ve always believed that where you toss the ball is more important than the direction of the swing because everyone swings at the ball they tossed. Just my view but I love your content.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 11, 2009

      Doug – thanks for the note – my first coach Blackie Jones reinforced this concept about the toss – in his view we didnt swing at the toss but rather tossed the ball into the swing – that required different tosses for different serves (when we were learning) but at the end of the day the toss may be as if more difficult than the swing. Please keep in touch – I value your feedback – both positive and negative
      best
      Jim

  • michael

    Reply Reply August 9, 2009

    Thanks Jim
    I see the difference and will work on duplicating the motion of the guys serve.
    On another note, the demonstrators showed that commitment to the snap and follow-through are equally important on the 2nd serve as the 1st serve.

    Michael

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 10, 2009

      Michael – thanks for the note
      Jim

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 13, 2009

      Michael – thanks for the note. The side spin serve is both hard to master but so darn important – you have a great appetite for work on court – so consider applying yourself on this one –
      best
      Jim

  • Paul Fein

    Reply Reply August 9, 2009

    The instructional is excellent. I would also like to see a front view of the sidespin serve. That would be instructive.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 10, 2009

      Paul – thanks for the note, and a good idea, I am going to set up the tripod out in front today
      best
      Jim

  • DAVID.BAKER

    Reply Reply August 9, 2009

    SIMPLE.BUT.VERY.GOOD.INSTRUCTION

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 10, 2009

      David
      thanks for the note – I am trying to strike the “simple” note
      best
      Jim

  • David Bateman

    Reply Reply August 9, 2009

    great demo really useful makes all the difference! How about the same for the topspin serve ?

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 9, 2009

      David
      thanks for the note – and yes we will do these comparative views on many strokes, including the topspin serve. In the August edition of the ETI Network the Hot Seat will compare and contrast two backhand volleys (which to my mind is one of the most difficult strokes). But additionally, in the July edition of the ETI Network I did post a video on technques for the topspin serve
      best
      Jim

  • Jim

    Reply Reply August 7, 2009

    Timothy – this was simply an example from a feature in the ETI Network – and the chosen example was a lefty so we used a left handed model in the A-B comparison. There are, however, right handed examples in the July edition of the ETI Network under on court lessons, as well as with the Building the Serve Coursework
    best
    Jim

  • Jon Fausett

    Reply Reply August 7, 2009

    This is a very nice example of 2 very different slice serves. The woman uses a fairly high toss(the type advised by John Yandell) and tosses the ball to her right(both servers are left handed) and she strikes the serve in line with her head. The guy uses a toss way to his left and it is a rather low toss(a la Roscoe Tanner). The guy’s serve is a classic McEnroe type result staying low of the bounce and really running off the court. It would be much more difficult to return of the two.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 7, 2009

      Jon – thanks for the note, and speaking from personal experience his serve is extremely difficult to return from the ad court
      best
      Jim

  • Joe

    Reply Reply August 7, 2009

    Nice evaluation between the two servers. Can defintely see the difference between the two players. Thanks

  • Rich

    Reply Reply August 7, 2009

    Very instructive.Here is my problem in regard to the
    toss. My fingers do not want to let go of the ball
    therefore my toss often times is much much to low and this interrupts my service rhythm and I can not seem to find a solution to this hiccup.
    Rich

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 7, 2009

      Rich
      just a thought
      sometimes the prompt is for the arms to move in synch and at the same speed and sometimes an errant toss can be cured by allowing (not making) the racquet to swing much slower in its first stages which in turn smoothes out the tossing motion – if nothing else this is worth a try
      best
      Jim

  • Dave Gongora

    Reply Reply August 7, 2009

    Excellent, excellent. You really have captured the concept of the slice serve. That’s the way that Dennis Van Der Meer personally demonstrated it to me almost 25 years ago and and I still use it personally in my game that way. Now, teaching it the concept, that’s another story, but with your analogy, and perception, it gives me extra words to descibe the swing pattern and the toss pattern. Thank you..Dave

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 7, 2009

      Dave
      thanks
      turns out Dennis Van der Meer first worked for my coach Tom Stow, though in different era’s
      best
      Jim

  • Kottresh

    Reply Reply August 6, 2009

    Hi Jim,

    I see that that the toss is making a crucial difference in imparting the side spin and the angle.

    The second persons serve looks good but i think ca be anticipated by an experienced receiver . It will work well at the club level.

    At a very level of play, the player needs to work on disguising their serves like pete sampras & federer do.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 8, 2009

      Kottresh
      I agree with you on disguise, and on that front Federer and Sampras are and were the best – but that said before going for disguise players, including young tournament juniors, should develop an effective sidespin serve, in spite of the lack of disguise – and consider Rafa serves only sidespin, lets you know it is coming and simply challenges the opponent to “deal with it

      best
      Jim

  • Randy Becker

    Reply Reply August 6, 2009

    Great visual and words to follow along.

    Thanks.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply August 8, 2009

      Randy
      thanks for the note –
      Jim

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