Absolute Improvement: Strategy for your second serve.
The topspin or “American twist” is a stroke many players struggle to master. With limited options, a weak second-serve leaves players vulnerable to hitting double-faults or being attacked by the returner. The American Twist is the most reliable to use as a second serve. It allows the server to apply topspin with the confidence to land the ball in the service box, similar to a topspin forehand or backhand.
Here’s how to master this weapon:
- Use the Continental or Eastern Backhand* grip. Make sure to aim high over the net, allowing spin on the ball to drop it into the service box.
- Toss the ball above and slightly behind your head so you can hit up on the ball (use your legs to move up towards it) to generate spin.
- For a right-handed player, impact should occur at 7 o’clock on the ball and aiming out towards 1 o’clock, which generates the combination of topspin and a reverse slice spin. When the ball hits the ground, it bounces high and kicks to the right.
- After impact, the racquet should finish towards the right-hand side of the body.
Stefan Edberg often used the American twist to establish good net position. Topspin travels slower through the air, compared to a flat serve. With ample topspin on the ball, the serve will bounce high for the returner, allowing the server more time to get to the net. This gives the serve-and-volley player the opportunity to hit a high volley (pic below) to finish the point early or set up for an easy smash on the next shot.
The American twist serve allows the server to control the point by hitting either a volley or big forehand with the second shot, if they stay back after the serve, The combination of mixing serve-and-volley tennis with staying back will keep the returner guessing whether to hit at the feet as their opponent approaches the net or strike it deep if they stay back looking for the big forehand. Either way, it will force the returner out of their comfort zone with the server continually applying pressure.
When playing doubles, the topspin serve also allows the server to establish good net position by aiming at the backhand of their opponent. The server’s partner can get into good position and poach the return since the serve will produce a high bounce from the topspin.
For the past twenty years, David Lewis, a native of Auckland, New Zealand, has coached top juniors and professionals around the world including Marina Erakovic, ranked as high as No.49 on the WTA world tour. The Ivan Lendl IJTA focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation.
*The Continental grip is obtained by placing the base knuckle of the index finger right on the second bevel. The Eastern Backhand grip places the base knuckle of the index finger and heel of the hand on the first bevel.