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Since most people serve from directly behind the line I was surprised to notice that it's not always the case. Why would someone serve from further back?

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Unless you can start the serve from twice the height of the net, you are relying on gravity to pull the ball down into the court. The harder the serve, the straighter the ball.

For a given height at which you can serve from the back line, there will come a maximum service speed at which the ball cannot both go over the net and land in the court.

By serving from farther back, you can have the same forward speed on the ball, but since it has more time in flight, the vertical speed as it crosses the net can be higher, allowing the serve to land in the court.

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  • Don't forget the serve can have significant topspin on it, which can pull balls down into court which would otherwise miss, but your analysis certainly applies for float serves.
    – Philip Kendall
    Jan 4, 2021 at 19:37
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    Yes. The analysis above is without drag or spin. Both can change the limiting speed, but otherwise doesn't differentiate much between the two. I'd imagine there are more significant differences due to service form which I don't address at all.
    – BowlOfRed
    Jan 4, 2021 at 20:30
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It is easier to see the opposing players staying away from players on your side.

If you get too close to the line, you might step on it. The advantage of being closer to the line is it's easier to aim at the players on the forward.

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