The significance of the underarm serve in tennis

In the era of the baseliners, the humble underarm serves is slowly making a comeback. Call it a good tactic or something against the spirit of the game, it has become a regular feature in the sport. 

It is usually used when players stand far behind the baseline. A long high toss is instead replaced by a quick flick of the ball. 

Many of them have started using it in desperation to win points with minimal effort though they claim it is part of their strategy when their primary weapons are not functioning. 

Underarm Serves
Kyrgios doing one of his underarm serves      credits: Essentially Sports

One of the main proponents of the shot was Michael Chang who famously used it in the 1989 French Open against Ivan Lendl and went on to win the tournament. 

Even Lendl supported the use of underarm serves by saying that it is a very good strategy as it takes players out of their comfort zone. 

In recent times, the likes of Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Bublik, Sara Errani, and Monica Niculescu have started using it regularly in their matches with varying levels of success. 

While purists view it as an insult to tennis and consider it as disrespectful, backtracking baseliners are also to blame as they stand so deep leaving the forecourt wide open. 

The sport's biggest superstars, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have commonly agreed that the controversial underarm serve is not at all disrespectful and is an excellent tactic. 

Even Roger Federer tried something similar in the past with the SABR (Sneak Attack by Roger), which saw the Swiss move up into the court to return serves and take the ball much earlier than normal, sometimes on the half volley. 

Like any unique shot, it all comes down to execution and needs the practice to make it perfect. In many cases, players have been received with boos by the crowd for executing the underarm serve. Since it is a very cheeky shot, it is very difficult to predict. 

The thing which fans must clearly understand is that the underarm serve is in fact 100% legal in tennis and not against the rules. 

In the end, the underarm serve is a move within a game of cat and mouse and this tactical contest is the very essence of tennis where a player attempts to identify and exploit the limitations of their opponent's tactics. 

For players who regularly use trick shots, the threat of embarrassment is unlikely to be a deterrent. Matches are anyway won fair and square and if a player needs an underarm serve to gain a quick advantage, so be it. 

Featured Image Credits: Reuters 

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