The underhand serve has been a shot of discussion at the TENNIS.com offices recently. Peter Bodo made the case for the viability of the surprise delivery last year, and—SPOILER ALERT—Steve Tignor wrote about it for one of our upcoming 50th Anniversary Moments. (Look for that in the July/August issue of TENNIS Magazine.)
The subject of Steve’s essay is Michael Chang, who famously used the shot to rattle Ivan Lendl and push the famous fourth-rounder in his direction. Lendl didn’t love the play, that’s for sure, but he respected Chang for what he was able to accomplish after his upset win—the 17-year-old went on to win the tournament.
That wasn’t the last time the underhand serve was deployed at Roland Garros. Martina Hingis tried it against Steffi Graf in the 1999 final, to disastrous results. In sharp contrast to Chang, she was derided for trying the tactic, which the French crowd interpreted as bush-league. See and hear their reaction here.
With the crowd firmly in Graf’s corner, a distraught Hingis had to be consoled on the court when it was all over, which you can also see in the above video.
The latest player to unleash the underhand serve on the terre battue (to my knowledge) is Virginie Razzano—and she did so twice in her first-rounder against Veronica Cepede Royg. They weren’t effective or elegant, but it’s fair to say that if the veteran Frenchwoman goes on to reach the later rounds of this tournament, as Chang and Hingis did, her efforts will nonetheless be remembered for years to come.
She first demonstrated the shot in the second set:
Razzano tried it again in the third set—on match point. She double-faulted; Twitter doubled over:
What was. That Razzano just served underhand on matchpoint— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) May 25, 2015
Virginie Razzano attempts a SECOND UNDERHAND SERVE on match point, double faults, and wins anyway. Strange, yet true.— TennisNow (@Tennis_Now) May 25, 2015
Would the third time have been a charm? We’ll never know. Razzano put the lob wedge back in her bag and went on to win the match, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
So it wasn’t a banner day for the underhand serve, but we still have 13 days of play in Paris. And once a Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams breaks it out to success, it’ll be the next tweener.
For more 2015 French Open coverage, go to our tournament page: