Deception on Serves: Using Semi-Circular Motion

By Larry Hodges

Many players, when serving, move the racket as rapidly as possible in a straight line through contact. With good racket speed and a grazing contact, you can get great spin this way--but little deception.

If you want to really fool your opponent – make him push way up in the air, go off the side, or block the ball into the net--you have to use semi-circular motion.

If the racket moves in a straight line, anyone with the eyesight of bespectacled bat can read the spin (with a little practice). However, if the racket goes through a semi-circular motion, your opponent (and the aforesaid bat) has to figure out whether you contacted the ball on the downward, sideways, or upward part of the swing. If you move the racket quickly and smoothly through this semicircular motion, your opponent will have trouble picking up the exact point of contact.

Semi-circular motion can be used in nearly all serves – both forehand and backhand serves. Depending on the serve, you will either start by swinging downward, sideways, and then up, or the reverse: upward, sideways, then downwards. Experiment with your most comfortable serves, and watch to see how top players do it.

With this semi-circular motion, you can get topspin, sidespin or backspin with the same stroke – all that changes is where in the stroke you contact the ball. If you contact it on the downward part, you get backspin; on the sideways part, sidespin; on the upward part, topspin.
You will be more successful in deceiving your opponent if, instead of serving pure topspin or backspin, serve sidespin-topspin or sidespin-backspin. Experiment on combining these spins, and learn to combine them with a pure sidespin.

I understand the theory of this but are there any videos showing this on youtube?

The problem is that world-class players do this so quickly, with such a short motion around contact, that it's almost impossible to pick up except in slow motion. I'll look for some tomorrow morning when I have time, and post here. Serves are the hardest thing to learn from video - it's much easier to teach in person where you can slow it down and exaggerate the subtle motions. 

Here's a 1:12 video that shows serves in slow motion. Even in slow motion, you have to watch closely to see the last second motion the racket goes through and see if the contact was down and sideways (backspin-sidespin), sideways (sidespin) or sideways and up) topspin-sidespin). It's easier to demonstrate this type of serve in person, where you can really show it step by step and exaggerate the subtle motions.  

Here's a 20 sec. video that shows slow motion of a pure sidespin serve. If he were to use the same motion but contact the ball on the downswing, it's backspin; if more on the upswing, it's side-topspin. Note how he also disguises the serve by pulling racket in opposite direction right after contact. 

In reply to by tmccann


I still can't get it. For backspin is it not neccessary to go under the ball.

Yes - with a downward and forward motion, contacting the ball underneath near the bottom. The very best servers can contact the ball so finely that they essentially hit the very bottom of the ball, with the racket parallel to the ground, and stroke straight forward. But until you are an expert, you have to contact with at least a slightly downward motion, with contact toward the back of the ball. 

Also can you do no-spin serves that way

Yes, by contacting the ball near the handle, where it isn't moving very fast. If done quickly, it'll look the same as if you contacted the ball near the tip, but with far less spin, if any.