The Underhand Serve with Will Colmar

January 19, 2023
Coaches Corner

By Linda Ball

The underhand serve is a tool that more and more tournament players are using. The genesis of the serve came about to neutralize the threat of certain returners ready to unload on any serve that bounced above the net on their side. The arrival of the underhand serve goes back a long time but exactly when is hard to pin down. The underhand serve principle is to neutralize the imminent threat.

Will Colmar is a tournament player and platform tennis pro who is known to have adopted the underhand serve with great results. Colmar is the Director of Racquet Sports at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois. He came to the Chicago area 15 years ago after playing as a Division 3 tennis player in Minnesota. Once on the scene among Chicago’s North Shore paddle programs, his excellent tennis skills came to be in high demand. He started playing on Series 4 at Sunset Ridge Country Club. His partner was a veteran paddle player, Dan McGuire, and it was Dan who first introduced him to the underhand serve. “I had never seen it before Dan decided to use it against me,” he said.

Will Colmar

Early in his career, Colmar worked for Alex Bancila at the Lake Forest Club. Colmar recalled, “Alex is the best mind in the game in terms of strategy that I’ve ever met. Alex told me that I would never figure out my serve in this game and I take those challenges personally! I would go out and try my serve ten different ways—reverse spin, new grips, everything. I just wanted to prove him wrong.” Will discovered that the serve is a liability so he asked himself, ‘Why aren’t servers trying to keep the ball lower?’

He pledged to reduce the vertical angle and try to leave the returner in a bind. “The ability for the returner to be offensive on the return is predicated on the height of the ball they are receiving. The best, most aggressive drives come from high points.” But, he observed, “People hadn’t done this before. I started trying this soft, roll serve underhanded. I was experimenting with it. At the time my new partner was Adam Morgan. Funny story, years ago we were playing Marc Parsons and Mike Stulac in the second round of the Chicago Charities tournament. I break out this soft serve but I didn’t tell Adam. Adam was really close to the net and he was probably thinking I was going to fire my serve in at Parsons. Parsons hits the ball as hard as he could right at Adam!”

Colmar thought the underhand experiment was a huge mistake at that point. “But it wasn’t. Parsons had almost no margin over the net with that return. I went away from the underhand serve after that tournament, but I came back to it,” Colmar said. “Whenever you start shrinking someone’s margins and they have to work with those slim margins over time, you’re giving them much more challenging propositions. I’m not saying there isn’t room for cut serves and stuff but the geometrically most efficient way to serve is keeping the ball as low as possible so that the server can get into the court to a good position to volley.”

Will Colmar

Colmar observed that of the top 10 or 20 men’s teams, around 50% are using it or experimenting with it. “The soft, low serve puts the returner in a bind. If someone can hit a return really hard and really low, that makes the first volley painful. But if you can take one of those things off the board, hitting the return hard but not low or hitting it low but not hard, your job as server has just gotten a lot easier,” he explained.

Colmar teaches the underhand serve to all of the 150 men who are playing for his club in the league and to the women league players, too. He said, “I would say about a third of my students use this serve regularly. I tell my players ‘You want to have a couple of different ways to serve. You need many tools in your pocket.’ In my opinion, the underhand serve is the most valuable tool you can have.”

Will Colmar is the Director of Racquet Sports at the North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois. He has been nationally ranked in the top 10 (with Adam Morgan) and can be seen in “The Platform Files” videos.

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