How to Hit the Topspin Serve: Photo Lesson

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Introduction and Grip

Tennis Topspin Serve Introduction and Grip
(C)2009 Jeff Cooper licensed to, Inc.
The topspin serve is easier to produce than the other kick serve, the twist, but it's also easier to return. Both serves have generous net clearance, which makes them safe second serves, and a high bounce, which keeps them out of most players' favorite hitting zones, but the topspin flies more or less straight, whereas the twist curves to the receiver's right in the air and to her left on the bounce.
  • Most players use a grip ranging from Continental to Eastern backhand for topspin serves. To maximize spin, use the grip closest to the Eastern backhand (moving from Continental) that still allows you to make clean contact with the ball. Moving your grip toward the Eastern backhand gives you stronger spin, toward Continental easier contact.
  • Toss the ball so that it would drop just behind your head if you didn't hit it.
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Knee Bend

Tennis Topspin Serve Knee Bend
(C)2009 Jeff Cooper licensed to, Inc.
  • Most of your body's energy will drive upward to produce a topspin serve. A good knee bend prepares your legs to make their essential contribution.
  • Use your usual wind-up.
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Elbow Up, Racquet Down, Body Arched

Tennis Topspin Serve Elbow Up Racquet Down Body Arched
(C)2009 Jeff Cooper licensed to, Inc.
  • The legs have already driven upward, the knees have straightened, and the feet have lifted off the ground. The legs begin the kinetic chain that culminates in the racquet-head speed that delivers spin and power to the ball.
  • Elbow up, racquet down. Generally, the longer the racquet's path, the more time it has to build up speed. Dropping the racquet as low as possible maximizes its energy potential as you prepare to whip it upward.
  • Body arched, like a bent bow. As the body (bow) straightens, it contributes more energy to the kinetic chain.
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Kinetic Chain Moving Into Shoulder

Tennis Topspin Serve Kinetic Chain Moving Into Shoulder
(C)2009 Jeff Cooper licensed to, Inc.
  • At this link in the kinetic chain, the legs have driven upward, the body bow has begun to straighten, and the shoulder has begun to rotate upward.
  • Notice the 90-degree angle between the forearm and the racquet. The wrist is still relaxed, letting the racquet continue to hang downward. The wrist must be the last link in the kinetic chain in order to create the racquet head speed this serve requires.
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One Frame Before Contact

Tennis Topspin Serve One Frame Before Contact
(C)2009 Jeff Cooper licensed to, Inc.
  • Here, one frame (1/30 second) before contact, the racquet head is roughly two feet below the ball. This prepares for the essential element of all topspin strokes: brushing up the back of the ball.
  • The shoulder has completed its part of the kinetic chain, bringing the upper arm to vertical and transferring energy to the forearm, which is about to complete its part, as it has nearly straightened.
  • Notice that the forearm and racquet maintain their 90-degree angle.
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Point of Contact

Tennis Topspin Serve Point of Contact
(C)2009 Jeff Cooper licensed to, Inc.
  • This frame captures the later phase of contact, where much of the string bed has already brushed upward and slightly across the back of the ball. The elbow has fully straightened, transferring its energy to the wrist, which has virtually completed its part of the kinetic chain too, having been whipped upward by all of the forces from the legs, trunk, shoulder, upper arm, and forearm. The resulting racquet-head speed creates the heavy topspin that makes this serve both safe and more difficult to return.
  • The slight left-to-right brush across the ball doesn't produce any significant sidespin; this serve flies and bounces in a fairly straight line.
  • The point of contact should be slightly behind your head or, for some players, directly overhead, but not in front. The farther back you meet the ball--within reason--the higher your serve will fly and the higher it will bounce.
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One Frame After Contact

Tennis Topspin Serve One Frame After Contact
(C)2009 Jeff Cooper licensed to, Inc.
  • Here, one frame after contact, the wrist has bent past its straight position, and the wrist and forearm have begun to pronate. Pronation has been the subject of much attention and some controversy, but you don't need to think about it. It happens quite naturally as the consequence of the large forces generating the swing.
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Beginning of Follow Through

Tennis Topspin Serve Beginning of Follow Through
(C)2009 Jeff Cooper licensed to, Inc.
  • As the follow-through begins, the natural pronation is even more evident, and the feet have begun to return to the ground.
  • The right foot is less forward than it would be on a typical topspin-slice first serve at this point. The topspin serve uses less forward and more upward force.
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Following Through Initially to the Right

Tennis Topspin Serve Following Through Initially to the Right
(C)2009 Jeff Cooper licensed to, Inc.
  • The follow-through continues toward the right side. Some players actually finish on the right, but most find it more comfortable to finish on the left.
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Ball Clears Net Comfortably

Tennis Topspin Serve Ball Clears Net Comfortably
(C)2009 Jeff Cooper licensed to, Inc.
  • The follow-through is complete. The right foot will end up inside the court, but not nearly as far or as forcefully as on a typical first serve.
  • In this frame, the ball is clearing the net by roughly three feet, a nice, safe margin for a second serve.