Can You Serve Underhand in Tennis? [Everything to Know]

Tennis, a beloved game played around the world, has captivated audiences with its intense rallies, strategic play, and diverse serving styles.

One question that often surfaces amongst both casual and serious players revolves around the legality and usage of underhand serves.

This article aims to address all these queries.

The Legality of the Underhand Serve in Tennis

One of the main questions asked is “Can you serve underhand in tennis?”

The short and direct answer to this is yes.

According to the official rules from the International Tennis Federation (ITF), there is no specific requirement for the serve to be delivered overhand.

Therefore, an underhand serve in tennis is legal.

The rulebook states that the server must start with both feet behind the baseline, and the ball must be hit into the diagonal service box on the other side of the net.

However, there’s no stipulation about whether the serve should be overhand or underhand, which confirms that you can do an underhand serve in tennis.

The Underhand Serve: An Overview

An underhand serve in tennis is a serve in which the ball is hit below the waist level rather than tossed up in the air and struck overhead.

The server’s arm motion is generally low-to-high, with the racket head starting below the waist and brushing up the back of the ball at contact.

The History and Usage of the Underhand Serve in Tennis

The underhand serve, while not common in modern professional play, has been employed strategically by several tennis players.

Michael Chang famously used an underhand serve at the French Open in 1989 during a crucial moment against Ivan Lendl.

More recently, Nick Kyrgios has used the underhand serve to catch his opponents off guard.

Using an underhand serve can have several strategic advantages.

It can disrupt an opponent’s rhythm or exploit their position if they stand very far behind the baseline.

However, it’s also sometimes seen as unsporting or disrespectful, leading to its limited use in professional play.

Kyrgios Underhanded Serve

Nick Kyrgios has done it on several occasions.

Nick Kyrgios – Underarm Serve Compilation

Most famously to Nadal in 2019 at Wimbledon.

Nick Kyrgios serves underarm to Rafael Nadal in Wimbledon 2019 match

And even faked doing it to Djokovic, which got him to step forward…

Nick Kyrgios – Underarm Serve Compilation

How to Execute an Underhand Serve in Tennis

Executing an underhand serve in tennis requires finesse and timing.

To serve underhand, stand behind the baseline and hold the racket using an eastern or continental grip.

The ball should be dropped from the non-dominant hand and hit after it has risen to its highest point.

The swing should be low-to-high, brushing the back of the ball to generate topspin.

Comparison with Other Sports

In comparison to other sports like volleyball and badminton, the rules regarding serving are different.

In volleyball, underhand serves are legal and often used by beginners.

In contrast, in badminton, the rules explicitly state that all serves must be executed underhand.

In the sport of pickleball, similar to badminton, the serve must be underhand.

This rule differs significantly from tennis, where players have the option to serve either overhand or underhand.

Different Types of Serves in Tennis

While the underhand serve is an important tool in the arsenal, tennis features a variety of serving styles.

The four most common types of serves in tennis are the flat serve, the slice serve, the kick serve (or topspin serve), and the underhand serve.

Final Thoughts

Though underhand serving in tennis is entirely legal, it is not often used in professional play due to its perception as a disruptive or disrespectful tactic.

However, when used strategically and respectfully, it can be a legitimate and effective tool to vary play and keep opponents guessing.

Knowing how and when to use all the types of serves available – including the underhand serve – can broaden a player’s tactical capabilities, leading to a more nuanced and versatile game.

FAQs – Can You Serve Underhand in Tennis?

What is an underhand serve in tennis?

An underhand serve in tennis is a type of serve where the player swings the racket below the waist instead of over the head.

The ball is gently tossed into the air and the racket makes contact under the waist height, pushing it over the net into the opponent’s service box.

Is an underhand serve legal in tennis?

Yes, underhand serves are completely legal in tennis.

The rules of tennis do not specify how the ball must be struck, only that the serve must be hit from behind the baseline, before it bounces and into the diagonally opposite service box.

How many serves do you get in tennis?

In tennis, a player gets two opportunities to serve legally for each point.

If the first serve is unsuccessful (goes out or hits the net and does not land in the correct box), the player can attempt a second serve.

If both serves are unsuccessful, it’s called a double fault and the player loses the point.

How to do an underhand serve in tennis?

To perform an underhand serve, you start by holding the ball in one hand and the racket in the other.

The ball is gently tossed into the air and the racket swings forward to make contact below waist height.

The goal is to get the ball to cross over the net and land in the diagonally opposite service box.

It’s important to disguise your intention and maintain good ball control for a successful underhand serve.

Is it common for professional players to use an underhand serve in tennis?

While legal, the underhand serve is not commonly used in professional tennis.

It can sometimes be seen as a surprise tactic to catch an opponent off guard.

Notable examples include Michael Chang’s underhand serve at the 1989 French Open and Nick Kyrgios’s use of the technique in more recent matches.

Can you serve underhand in other racket sports like volleyball and badminton?

In volleyball, underhand serves are allowed, especially for beginners. In badminton, all serves are essentially underhand.

The shuttlecock must be hit from below the server’s waist level in a flat trajectory.

What grip do you use to serve in tennis?

The most common grip used for serving in tennis is the continental grip.

This grip allows players to hit a variety of serves including flat, slice, and kick serves.

It is sometimes referred to as the “hammer grip” because you hold the racket as if you were about to hammer a nail.

Where do you serve the ball in tennis?

In tennis, the server must stand behind the baseline, between the center mark and the sideline.

The ball must be served diagonally, landing in the opponent’s service box on the opposite side of the court.

What are the four types of serves in tennis?

The four types of serves in tennis are: flat serve, slice serve, kick (or topspin) serve, and underhand serve.

The flat serve is generally the fastest but least spinny; the slice serve has sideways spin causing the ball to slide off the racket; the kick serve bounces high and is often used for second serves; and the underhand serve, while less common, can surprise an opponent or be useful if the player has a shoulder injury.

Does a tennis serve have to be overhand?

No, a tennis serve does not have to be overhand. While overhand serves are the most common, underhand serves are also legal.

The choice between an overhand and underhand serve will depend on the player’s strategy and sometimes physical comfort or necessity.

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