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  1. #1

    Underhand Serve--Underhanded?

    I am a male 3.5 doubles player. Or at least I was, until I had rotator cuff surgery on my hitting arm eight months ago. I was recently cleared to play again but told that serving normally and hitting overheads risked a setback. I played a few sets using an underhand serve (a little dink side spin), got creamed, and decided to forgo competitive tennis until I could serve normally again, which might be never. On a whim, I began researching the underhand serve to see if anyone had suggestions about making it more effective.

    I couldnít find much, but I found enough to encourage me. 5.0 college players with shoulder problems have competed successfully employing a variety of underhand serves. After practicing a little, I used several (other than side spin) in a friendly match last weekend: the forehand topspin (with surprising pace), initiated from 10 feet back of the baseline; the flat lob and the topspin lob, also hit from 10 feet back and both reliable; and a forehand drop shot.

    My opponents knew these serves were legal and were played because of the shoulder injury. But one person who had difficulty returning service lobs left the court muttering, ďThis isnít tennis.Ē Part of it was that he had few options when returning a serve high bouncing to the baseline; also, he had trouble seeing the serve because I was lobbing it into the sun. Purposely, I admit.

    Iím 70 with a bum shoulder. Even if Iím able to serve normally again, I wonít be able to match the pace of the underhand topspin serve I can deliver. In addition, I believe the lob serve to be a formidable weapon: players up to at least 4.0 will not find it easy to smash overheads coming down near the baseline after the bounce. Mix the flat and topspin lob serves with side spin left and right, throw in a backhand or forehand drop shot, start them all at the same distance from the baseline, disguise them, and who knows? So Iím thinking Iíll keep using the underhand serve even when/if Iíve fully recuperated.

    Almost everyone knows itís legal. Ethical? I donít think ethics come into play. Iím not so sure about the etiquette of the underhand serve in competition, especially when itís done by choice, not necessity. I wonder about the reaction when I play a 25 foot high lob serve into the sun in my first USTA match. Will it appear bush? Will my opponents think Iím mocking them? Should I care? Should I warn opponents ahead of the match to expect whatís coming so it doesnít seem like a trick?

    Thoughts?

  2. #2
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    Re: Underhand Serve--Underhanded?

    This has been me. I just let people know I can't serve overhead so don't expect it. This also means I can't hit overheads at the net so that gives them an easy winner if I come to net. I think it should be a totally legit shot anyway, I don't know why it's frowned upon. It's totally fine to disguise a drop-shot during a rally!
    ďI put in the work and wanted it so badly but this guy is the best for a reason. He is such a complete player ... maybe I'll just punch him or something, I don't know.Ē - Andy Roddick

  3. #3

    Re: Underhand Serve--Underhanded?

    Do you practice these serves during the warm-up? If yes, I'm not sure you need to warn your opponents since they would learn this during the warm-up. I don't think it's an etiquette issue - we all have certain styles of play or shots that give us problems - part of the game is adjusting to the opponent's game/strategy. My son used to hate hitting with me because in his words, I didn't hit the ball right (no topspin). That was just the way I learned, but he hadn't learned how to adjust to the lack of topspin. I did play against an opponent in a league match that served underhand due to previous injury - easier to deal with than an opponent who has a more typical service motion and throws in a quick-serve or underhand serve specifically as a trick tactic. Good luck!
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  4. #4

    Re: Underhand Serve--Underhanded?

    Personally, I think USTA league players will be very vocal about this if you continued to serve underhand after you had recovered--it does seem kind of bush league. That said, it's legal and deliberately annoying your opponent is a tactic that some choose to employ. However, I also don't see how this could be a consistent winning strategy for you. Are you rushing the net right after your serve? Even if the balls were coming to me that high, if you were serving 10 feet behind the baseline, I would dink or dropshot everything so that it would barely drop over the net.
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    Re: Underhand Serve--Underhanded?

    Well, by the time the ball gets to you, he/she would be back in position. I feel like I would try to step up and take this on the rise though. I HATE try to generate pace off a lob near the baseline.
    ďI put in the work and wanted it so badly but this guy is the best for a reason. He is such a complete player ... maybe I'll just punch him or something, I don't know.Ē - Andy Roddick

  6. #6

    Re: Underhand Serve--Underhanded?

    "Are you rushing the net right after your serve?"

    With every variation, I do what I did when serving normally: follow the serve about 3 feet into the court, hit the return deep and angled (ideally), then move to just above the service line, in position to handle a shot to me or a lob over my partner at the net. Especially with the lobs, there's plenty of time to come into the court after serving.

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    Re: Underhand Serve--Underhanded?

    Oops! I missed that this is doubles. Yeah, I would definitely take your serve on the rise and put it right at your partner if they try to stand at the net It wouldn't take much pace at that range.
    ďI put in the work and wanted it so badly but this guy is the best for a reason. He is such a complete player ... maybe I'll just punch him or something, I don't know.Ē - Andy Roddick

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