Touch, Finesse, Softies
So many shots in tennis, so many situations, so many options (sometimes), so many ways to spin the ball. The fast paced modern game, and the power inducing high tech racquets, may obscure for us the delights of a delicate drop shot, tantalizing yet untouchable lob, or deftly angled drop volley. But these shots can be as delightful to observe as they are to attempt.
John McEnroe was all about deflections, rebounds, bounces, Mary Carillo referred to it as “boing-ivity” (though in a different context) but the image is apt.
Some years ago Michael Chang (then on the tour) was warming up serves in an exhibition with Gene Mayer (then retired). In an effort to show the audience that he may have been the better but simply older of the two, Mayer was returning Chang's serves with wicked drop shots that came back across the net so Mayer could then hit his own warm up serves. Really!
In my first foray onto clay courts as a green college kid playing in Mazatlan, I encountered Robert Sherman who hit a seemingly endless succession of drop shots and lobs; most I could retrieve but little more, and he proceeded to amuse himself at my expense (and Robert if you are still out there I owe you one).
2000 US open final, when Marat Safin thoroughly outplayed Pete Sampras, so much so that he drop shots the king. Repeat again, Safin drop shots perhaps greatest player we have ever seen, and this is on hard courts! And going even further back to the 1975 US Open final where Manuel Orantes gave Jimmy Connors a lesson with dipping, off speed angled passing shots, depriving Jimbo of the pace he craved.
The secret to the off-pace shot, is in the collision, the carom, the deft redirection of the ball not with the legs the torso or the shoulders but just by the alignment of the racquet. Players are known to have “soft hands” when executing such shots, and truly in these instances the hands have it.
It's not always about brute force as Marat Safin demonstrates here.
More to the point, touch is played not with a hammer grip but rather with the racquet held lightly, grips are not semi-western or two fisted but often versions of the continental where underspin is the desired result. McEnroe used such a “universal grip” for forehand backhand serve and volley, varying only grip tension if he were ripping (holding more tightly) or finessing.
On court, these shots occur more often as counters to an opponent's attack. Just as the aikido master uses the force and energy of the incoming blow to knock the opponent off balance, similarly the offensive intent of an opponent's shot creates opportunities for the deftly deflected dropper. Sounds vaguely like Moya vs. Roddick in the recent Davis Cup tie, recalling the Spaniard's remarkable drop shots. But just in that match, the key will be in the change of pace – incoming power returned with the slowest and softest of shots.
Yes, even you and I can play the ball with finesse, with guile, with cunning. It may be nice to crack the ball but truly there is more than one way to skin this cat.
So to tie this rambling wreck of a newsletter together, let's try some tricky shots, risky, but rewarding both if they win the point but equally if they grow your confidence after their successful execution.
As strategy will always be about time and angle, these “softies” occur when the opponent is generally in the backcourt and you are in the midcourt or at the net. Then when executed properly, the opponent will have farther to run and less time to run to the ball, than were you try these same “softies” from behind the baseline (giving them more time). Further, when playing these shots against ascending balls the actual deflection off the strings produces its own natural backspin.
The drop volley - no one ever did it better than John McEnroe.
So the first scenario is the underspin drop shot return of the opponent's second serve. They are at the baseline, and you are (hopefully) well inside the baseline, taking the ball early, on the rise, with a carving backspin hit. When executed properly there is the outrageous element of surprise, perhaps humiliation if not anger on the server's part, as well as renewed pressure on this same server in subsequent second serve situations. (If your opponent is executing these drop shots on your second serve, perhaps the only remedy is to get your first serve in!).
Next situation occurs on the dangerous and troubling half volley. You are moving forward, they have kept the ball low and at your feet, and they now expect either an outright error or a floating sitter. NOT. What if you try the softest, most gentle backspin drop volley? Loosening the grip, but now with a much shorter stroke then you used on the previous points drop shot return of serve.
Finally, you are at the net, the opponent drives the ball smartly down the line. If you volley firmly and deep and they can get their racquet on it, you may not have time to recover for their reply. The alternative, and McEnroe took this shot to the bank, is the obliquely angled sidespin drop volley. Again with soft hands, you reach forward to meet the ball on its side with the slightest down hit, and this angled volley dies a silent death in the service box.
Embrace the fun of the game, the courage to try the unexpected shot. Loosen up. It's not always about power. Maybe it never was.
As always, we would love to hear your views on the subjects raised in this newsletter. Please click here to send your email directly to me.
Jim McLennan TennisOne Editor
(Click link to purchase Jim McLennan's Secrets of World Class Footwork Video).
One of the most effective and practical ways to improve your game is to practice shots in situations that re-create matchplay scenarios. Decision-making is the foundation of smart tactical play. When you choose to hit a shot is every bit as important as your technique. Wayne Elderton examines the the crosscourt exchange and the rational behind the decision to re-direct down-the-line.
Avoiding Common Mistakes in Tennis
The vast majority of tennis instructional articles deal with what you “should do” in terms of becoming a better tennis player. But often, seemingly insignificant patterns can result in players developing strokes detrimental to their game. In this series, Dave Smith identifies some of these common mistakes and shows you how they can keep you from reaching your highest potential.
Product Highlights: Pro Tech Video Analysis
The Pro Tech Video Analysis system is the industry's premier video analysis service. Pro Tech puts your strokes side-by-side with the strokes of three professional players, providing a detailed graphical analysis of your strokes compared to the reference points of these top pros. This invaluable visual comparison, combined with the detailed analysis by a current tour professional coach, offers the most advanced and unique learning environment in tennis. Pro Tech will store your video lessons for two years on your own web page, so you and your coach can evaluate your progress from anywhere in the world. TennisOne members receive a 10% discount.
If you wish to be removed from our newsletter list, please send an email to email@example.com and leave the subject line blank. A confirmation email will be sent to you, and you will be removed from our newsletter list once you reply to that confirmation.