Tennis Underarm Serve (Complete Guide)

In tennis, serving is arguably one of the most critical components of the game.

Players often focus on power and speed, overlooking other potentially effective serving methods.

One such technique is the underarm serve.

This article will delve deep into the underarm serve, a unique serving style that has gained recognition and controversy in equal measure.

What is an Underarm Serve?

An underarm serve is a type of tennis serve where the player hits the ball underhand.

This technique differs from the traditional overhand serve where the ball is thrown upwards and hit with a lot of force.

Underarm serves are typically slower and offer different types of spin, such as the under spin, making them unpredictable and tricky to return.

History of the Underarm Serve

Historically, underarm serves were more common, especially in the early days of tennis.

In those times, the game was more about finesse and accuracy than power.

The underarm serve began to fall out of favor as tennis evolved into a faster, more powerful sport.

However, in recent years, serves coming in underhand has seen a resurgence among some professional players looking for a strategic edge.

Famous Underarm Serves in Professional Tennis

Perhaps one of the most famous instances of the underarm serve was during the 1989 French Open.

Michael Chang, battling fatigue and cramps, used the underarm serve to disrupt his opponent, Ivan Lendl, eventually winning the match.

More recently, Nick Kyrgios, an Australian professional player, has also used the underarm serve effectively, sparking both controversy and admiration.

Despite its strategic benefits, some in the tennis community view the underarm serve as a form of disrespect or gamesmanship.

The Advantages of the Underarm Serve

Underarm serves can catch opponents off guard, disrupting their rhythm and timing.

Given its unusual trajectory and potential spin, it can be difficult to return, especially if the opponent is standing far behind the baseline.

The underarm serve requires less physical exertion, which can be advantageous in long matches or for players struggling with injuries or fatigue.

The Technique of Underarm Serve

The underarm serve technique begins similarly to the overhand serve.

Players start by bouncing the ball a few times and positioning themselves facing the service box.

However, instead of tossing the ball high into the air, they let it bounce once on the court before striking it underhand.

The racket should make contact with the ball at a low point, approximately knee height, and follow through to generate spin and control.

A successful underarm serve typically requires a lot of practice to master the timing and placement.

Practicing the Underarm Serve

To practice the underarm serve, start by focusing on the ball toss and contact point.

Aim to consistently bounce the ball in the same spot each time, and make sure your contact is clean and precise.

Gradually work on adding spin to the ball and directing it towards different areas of the service box.

Remember, consistency and control are more important than power when it comes to underarm serving.

The Underarm Serve in Today’s Game

In modern tennis, the underarm serve is slowly becoming more accepted as a legitimate strategy.

Many professional players have started to incorporate it into their game to diversify their serving options and catch opponents off guard.

While some still view it as unsporting or disrespectful, most agree that it adds another layer of complexity to the game.


The underarm serve, once considered a relic of the past, has found its place in the modern game of tennis.

It serves as a testament to the evolving nature of tennis, where strategic diversity and unpredictability can often tip the scales in favor of the brave.

FAQs – Underarm Tennis Serve

1. What is a tennis underarm serve?

A tennis underarm serve is a serving technique in which the player delivers the ball with an underhand motion, rather than the traditional overhand motion used in most serves.

Instead of swinging the racquet above the shoulder, the player swings it below the waistline, generating a lower trajectory for the serve.

2. Why would someone use an underarm serve in tennis?

There are several reasons why a player might choose to use an underarm serve in tennis.

It can be an effective strategy to catch opponents off guard and disrupt their rhythm.

It can also be useful if the player has difficulty with the more common overhand serve due to physical limitations or injury.

Additionally, the underarm serve can be employed as a tactical variation to mix up the pace and spin of the serves.

3. How do you perform a tennis underarm serve?

To execute a tennis underarm serve, follow these steps:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, facing the net.
  2. Hold the tennis ball in your non-dominant hand.
  3. With your dominant hand, hold the tennis racquet at the grip with a relaxed grip.
  4. Position the racquet behind you, swinging it backward.
  5. As you bring the racquet forward, swing it underneath the waistline, making contact with the ball at a comfortable height.
  6. Keep your eye on the ball and try to direct it over the net and into the desired service box.

4. Are there any specific rules regarding the underarm serve in tennis?

The underarm serve follows the same rules as any other serve in tennis.

The server must stand behind the baseline and hit the ball into the opponent’s service box diagonally across the net.

The serve must clear the net and land within the boundaries of the service box.

The server must also avoid foot faults by keeping at least one foot behind the baseline until the ball is struck.

5. Is the underarm serve considered a legal technique in professional tennis?

Yes, the underarm serve is a legal technique in professional tennis.

There have been instances where professional players have used underarm serves during matches, surprising their opponents and winning crucial points.

It is a legitimate and strategic option within the rules of the game.

6. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the underarm serve?

Advantages of using the underarm serve include:

  • Surprise factor: Opponents may not be prepared for an underarm serve, making it harder for them to return effectively.
  • Variation: The underarm serve adds a different pace and spin to the game, which can be useful in keeping opponents off balance.
  • Injury prevention: For players with shoulder or arm injuries, the underarm serve can be a less physically demanding option.

Disadvantages of using the underarm serve include:

  • Limited power and speed: The underarm serve typically generates less power and speed compared to an overhand serve, making it easier for opponents to attack.
  • Predictability: After using the underarm serve a few times, opponents may start to anticipate it, reducing its effectiveness.
  • Perception: Some players may feel that the underarm serve is less respectable or sportsmanlike, although this perception is changing.

7. Can the underarm serve be effective against skilled opponents?

Yes, the underarm serve can be effective against skilled opponents, especially if used strategically and sparingly.

Skilled players are often accustomed to facing powerful serves and may not be as well-prepared to handle a well-placed and tactically executed underarm serve.

However, it’s important to note that the underarm serve should be used as a variation rather than a primary serving technique against highly skilled opponents.

8. Are there any professional players known for using the underarm serve?

While the underarm serve is not as common in professional tennis, there have been notable instances where players have utilized it.

For example, Nick Kyrgios, an Australian professional tennis player, has occasionally employed the underarm serve during matches, surprising his opponents and gaining an advantage.

9. How can I practice and improve my underarm serve?

To practice and improve your underarm serve, consider the following tips:

  • Start with short distances: Begin practicing the underarm serve from a shorter distance to focus on accuracy and control.
  • Gradually increase the distance: As you gain confidence, gradually move back and serve from longer distances to work on power and depth.
  • Focus on technique: Pay attention to your swing path, contact point, and follow-through to ensure proper execution.
  • Incorporate variation: Experiment with different spins, speeds, and placements to keep your opponents guessing.
  • Seek feedback: Have a coach or experienced player observe and provide feedback on your technique to help you make necessary adjustments.

10. Can the underarm serve be used in doubles tennis?

Yes, the underarm serve can be used in doubles tennis.

In fact, it can be particularly effective in doubles as it can catch opponents off guard, especially if they are standing farther back to return a potentially more powerful serve.

However, as with any serve, it should be used strategically and in moderation to maintain its effectiveness.

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