Underarm Serve Just A Little Underhanded
American Jared Donaldson spoons a winning point but loses the match
Here in Australia, we know all about the controversy a little underarm in sport can cause.
After the infamous 1981 Trevor Chappell incident destroyed our (at that point intact) cricket reputation, it looked like the entire nation of New Zealand would never speak to us again.
But the word hasn’t reached the ear of the world’s number 57 men’s tennis player, Jared Donaldson from the USA, who served underarm at a crucial point of his epic five set French Open tussle with world number 3 Gregor Dimitrov on Wednesday.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, that is perfectly legal. In fact, the French call it “un service à la cuillère” - or “spoon serve”.
Suffering from cramp, Donaldson gave no advance warning before suddenly serving the ball underarm with the players locked at 6-all and 40-30.
Caught off guard, Dimitrov scrambled to reach the ball, but his return flew long – as a few boos and whistles echoed around the stunned crowd.
The cheeky move might have secured him the game, but when Donaldson tried another underarm serve 4 games later, the Bulgarian was ready, and claimed the point.
Dimitrov went on to break Donaldson’s serve and served out the match to advance to the third round, 6-7 (2-7) 6-4 4-6 6-4 10-8.
“I would never try it if I was feeling 100 percent and stuff, but obviously Grigor was playing so far back on the return that I felt like maybe it’s just something to try,” Donaldson said. “And I think honestly it just surprised him. He obviously wasn’t expecting it, you know what I mean? It was kind of a cheeky way to get a point.”
But nonetheless, the 21-year-old is now on the sidelines of the French Open, with a little time to consider whether he wants to switch to badminton.
Dimitrov didn’t hold it against Donaldson, admitting that he’d once tried the move as well.
“I think I’ve done it once in my career, and I think it worked,” Dimitrov said. “So when he did it, I just was like, ‘Okay, now I know how he feels.’”
“Everything is in the game, simple as that. I mean, I know how it is to feel like you’re cramping. So I guess he just wanted to find some way, and that was that. I think it was very smart.”
The most famous use of the “spoon serve” also happened at Roland Garros, where in 1989 a then 17-year-old Michael Chang – also cramping in a tight fifth set – sprang it on top seed Ivan Lendl, going on to win the match and, remarkably, the whole tournament.
And while it might have given hope to five-year-olds and inept overarm servers everywhere, Chang never tried another underarm serve in the 14 years of his career.