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Keep the Plane the Same
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
Last year, while I was speaking at the Southern California USPTA convention in Huntington Beach, someone asked me if I had a simple yet powerful, instructional phrase or tip that provided improvement and significantly better play within all styles and patterns of play.
While providing an answer would seem almost impossible, considering all the different ways a player can hit a tennis ball, I offered this phrase from my book, TENNIS MASTERY:
“Keep the Plane the Same.”
Whether we are talking about a world-class professional or a weekend hacker, this phrase, when understood correctly, can have a profound effect. Let me share with you the essence of this phrase.
Definition: The ‘plane’ is the hitting surface of the racquet. Keeping it the ‘same’ is the concept of maintaining the same orientation of the racquet face or ‘plane’ as long as possible through the hitting zone.
One of the incriminating faults of recreational players and many club players—especially those who tend to stagnate at 3.0 or 3.5 levels—is the tendency to ‘roll’ the racquet through the stroke. That is, for topspin, they start with the racquet face open and roll the forearm so as to close the racquet face at some point during or after contact. For some reason, this is very common when players don’t know otherwise. It is almost human nature to feel that rolling the racquet will produce topspin…when, in fact, it does nothing of the sort!
Lleyton Hewitt keeps the plane of the racquet face constant throughout the contact zone.
Watch the pros among the thousands of video clips of groundstrokes, forehand or backhand, one or two hands. In virtually every instance, the racquet maintains its integrity—its ‘plane’—throughout nearly the entire swing.
Players who change their racquet face within the contact phase lose control of the shot. This is because the quality of the shot becomes dependent completely on the near-perfect timing of this changing racquet face.
Typically, players who use this technique actually perform quite well in drills. The repetition of the drill and the absence of ‘pressure’ (the pressure of losing a point if one misses), allows these players to have good enough timing to make a number of shots within a drill…giving a false sense of success or improvement to such individuals. These players can actually create significant racquet head speed, due to the pronation or supination of the forearm (depending on if they were hitting a forehand or backhand), resulting in relatively hard-hit balls.
However, when confronted by an opponent in match situations, these players are also the ones who generally go out and play very erratic tennis, spraying balls into the fence, the bottom of the net, or well out left or right. Because of the pressure of competition and coupled with not knowing what shot is coming (as they often know in drills), these players can’t develop or master the necessary timing to hit with consistency or control.
Rolling the racquet face means that timing of the racquet roll within the contact zone will have more impact on length and direction than the aim of
Improvement of Aim
When a player maintains their racquet in the same plane through the contact zone, improvement in length and directional control becomes less problematic. If we aim a certain shot too high or too low, we can make subtle adjustments in the swing path and/or the racquet face to produce a more desired trajectory. If, however, if the racquet face is changing within the contact zone, it is the timing of the shot—not the aim—that produces the trajectory.
So, for example, given a rolling racquet face, when aiming two feet over the net but contact is early, the ball will likely go into the net. If, on the next shot, we compensate by aim four feet over the net to account for the previous low shot, but this time contact a fraction of a second late, (with contact occurring before the racquet face has closed as much as the previous shot), the ball will be hit too high and likely land beyond the baseline. So, aiming becomes almost pointless since the resultant trajectory was dependent more on the timing of the racquet rolling within the contact zone than the aim of the placement.
This same concept can be seen on volleys. Notoriously, inexperienced players either roll the racquet similar to the aforementioned forehand and backhand topspin shots. Or, they dish the racquet, that is open up the racquet face while slicing the volley.
Taylor Dent sets his racquet early and maintains the plane of the racquet throughout the volley.
It should be noted, that the act of ‘dishing’ the volley usually does not produce as much variation in trajectory as rolling the racquet from open to closed. This is because rolling the racquet can change the degree of the racquet face as much 90 degrees or more during the crucial contact zone. Dishing the racquet, (going from open to more open), can change the hitting surface of the racquet only 10 to 30 degrees and, at least, dishing maintains the action of the ball by the strings. (That is, dishing is going from open to more open where rolling the racquet has the string bed going from open to closed.)
It should come as no surprise that hitting with more control, consistency, and aim opens the door to more pace. Unfortunately, swinging harder tends to make players return to their more familiar swing patterns. Thus, players will want to master ‘keeping the plane the same’ and add power gradually so they don’t revert back to rolling or dishing the racquet face.
So remember, whether you are slicing the ball for underspin, hitting the ball flat, or brushing up for topspin, try to keep the ‘plane the same’ for consistency, control, and power.
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