Serving After the Tiebreak

The other day, one of my tennis buddies said to me, “Let me ask you this question because you know more about tennis than I do…”

I’ve lived long enough to know that nothing good ever comes from that set-up. My face-saving instinct kicked in right away.

“What?! No, I don’t know a lot. I just write about it and pretend I do.”

We had a chuckle and then she asked her question. Naturally, I didn’t know the answer. I’m not sure I even got the question–something about the difference between clay court and regular tennis shoes.

This is why you never set yourself up as the expert. You will be humiliated.

Case in point: During a match earlier this spring, my opponents and I were drinking water between sets. My partner and I had just won the first set in a tiebreak, and my partner had run off to use the bathroom. We had a little time to kill.

One of my opponents said, “So who serves first in the next set?”

This question comes up a lot in my matches, and it is actually one of the things I do know.

“We serve first. You guys served first in the tiebreak, so you receive first in the next set.”

“Oh, is that the rule?” she said with a shrug. “I never knew that.”

“It actually makes sense when you think about it. If we were 5-6 in the first set, and I served to bring us to the tiebreak–”

“Oh, don’t bother explaining,” she interrupted, shooing away my words with her hand. “I won’t remember.”

I’m slow picking up on social cues. I blundered on.

“Well, actually, if you understand the logic of it, it’s easy to remember.”

“No. Don’t explain it,” she repeated. And she turned away from me to talk to her partner.

I know. Rude, right?

The most important thing to take away from this interaction is that my partner and I went on to beat them.

The other takeaway, if you choose to actually take it away, is the logic of the post-tiebreak serving order.

Say we’re on serve in the first set. I’m serving at 5-6. I hold serve. We now begin a tiebreak, which equals one game. Because I just served, you serve first in the tiebreak, and the tiebreak will count as your service game. After the tiebreak, it will be my turn to serve.

There. Not so painful to sit through, was it? Meanwhile, my opponent will continue to wallow in ignorance, asking after every first-set tiebreak, “So whose turn is it to serve…?”

But I’m not an expert. I just happen to know that one thing.

Anybody else know about clay court shoes? Probably has something to do with the tread, right?

6 thoughts on “Serving After the Tiebreak

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  1. It makes perfect sense. You explain it well. You may not be an expert on everything in tennis, but you are an expert at explaining what you do know!

  2. I think even when you don’t know the answer, your instincts are good. I would also guess tread, and btw, I think I will now never be confused about who serves first after tie breaker. Great going….

  3. Hello. I have a question about a rule or maybe it’s just a point of etiquette, I am not sure. In a nutshell, WHEN IS IT OK TO SERVE UNDERHANDED? I like to serve underhanded now and then, either b/c the sun is in my eyes or b/c I’m double-faulting/lost my rythym with my normal, overhead serve. But two situations have come up recently while playing doubles.

    Episode #1: In a league match, I don’t remember if it was my first Service game or not…but I served underhanded and the opponent immediately asked me If I had an Injury. My partner ASAP hissed at me, “Say Yes!.” (So I did). But I was bewildered. That gave me the impression that it is perhaps impolite or even against the rules to serve underhanded UNLESS you have an injury???

    Episode #2: In a Co-Ed Round Robin, “friendly” competition: I had been serving overhand when I suddenly lost all rythym and form…couldn’t do ANY part of the serve correctly. After my first serve was a Fault, I served my 2nd serve Underhanded for a winner. My opponents were STEAMED! The man shouted at me that serving underhanded is fine if all I want to do is WIN. The woman calmly asked if I intended to serve underhand for the rest of the match. I said, “Do I have to choose?” My opponents seemed to think so.

    Is there an outright rule about serving underhanded, where I could find myself disqualified in league play?
    Or is there an accepted etiquette?


    1. Hi Karla. There’s no rule against serving underhand. You don’t need to be injured and you don’t need to choose one way or the other. Nick Kyrgios just hit an underhand serve at Wimbledon today, randomly in the middle of his match.

      There are some rules about serving. You have to stand behind the baseline. If you’re playing singles, you can’t serve from outside the singles sideline. But there’s no rule against underhand serves.

      There is a rule that says you can’t drop the ball and then hit it as it bounces up from the ground. If you serve underhand, you need to hit the ball as you release it from your non-dominant hand. If you were bouncing the ball pre-hit, then your opponents had cause to complain.

      Etiquette is another matter. Many players will view the underhand serve as a weasly move, as somehow less legitimate because it relies on the element of surprise to be effective. Of course, drop shots also depend on surprise, so it’s not really a valid complaint.

      I guess if you want to keep using the underhand serve, you should bring along a copy of the USTA Friend at Court handbook which defines a serve. You could put a post-it on that page for quick reference. That said, many opponents still won’t like it and will gripe about it–especially if you’re winning! 😅🎾

  4. Deb, thanks for your complete reply including both the rules and the etiquette. Very informative and enlightening.

    Yes, I guess I could bring the rule book to “defend my position.” But generally I would prefer not to appear “weasily” and not to antagonize my Opponents… The stress level on the court is just not worth it. Makes it not fun and distracts me.

    Best thing to do is strengthen my regular service so that I don’t need to resort to using an underhand serve. Thanks again for your input. Play tennis, have fun!

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