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Can You Actually Hit "Through’ the ball?"
The notion that we should hit “through” the ball has been around for decades, but what does it really mean? Can we really hit through the ball? How long is contact? With lighter racquets and faster racquet head speeds, is this instruction still relevant? If you’re curious to see if this instruction should be sent to your recycle bin, read on.
Click photo: Through the use of high speed video, we know that the ball and racquet are usually in contact for 2-3 milliseconds, or about 1/250th of a second.
So just how long is the ball in contact with the strings? Through the use of high speed video, we know that the ball and racquet are usually in contact for 2-3 milliseconds, or about 1/250th of a second. Considering that the human eye cannot even see this fast an event take place, that’s not much time. (Note: The human eye can only see as fast as 1/60th of a second.)
And this is true for beginners as well as pros. There isn't really that much difference between the different levels with regards to swing speed since some beginners swing quite fast also. The ball may not go in the court or it may carom off the back fence, but the swing may be very quick! Think of it this way. On average a 50 mph racquet head swing speed will create a 65 mph ball speed. Likewise, at higher levels a 100 mph swing speed on the serve will create a ball speed of approximately 130 mph.
So let's take a 50 mph swing speed on a groundstroke as an example. Over what distance is the ball in contact with the strings?
It’s interesting to mention the swing speed on a groundstroke in relation to hitting through the ball. We never hear anyone speak about hitting through the ball on the serve, do we? The reason is that timing is much easier on the serve since the ball is more or less stationary in the air when we hit it.
To answer to the question, a 50 mph swing speed results in a racquet head that is traveling at 73 feet per second. This is incredibly fast when you think about it. Do the math — with ball in contact with the strings for 2-3 milliseconds you end up with ball and racquet contact spanning just 1.75 to 2.63 inches. Of course, it’s a little more complex than that since incoming ball speed and other factors will also affect the equation.
It’s really quite short. So, why would it be important for the racquet to travel forwards after contact, if the ball is already off the strings?
The reason is timing. Think of it this way. The faster the swing, the more challenging it is to precisely time contact. If the ball is contacted an inch behind or an inch in front of the desired point of contact relative to your body, you risk losing control over ball direction and trajectory if the racquet is not traveling forwards just before and just after contact. This is why coaches correctly speak about hitting “through” the ball.
Hitting Through the Ball
Click photo: In this slow-motion video, we can see how long Elena Dementieva maintains the integrity of her swing path before pulling off the ball.
So, what does hitting “through” the ball actually mean?
Hitting through the ball has long been an instruction to encourage players to keep the swing path on a relatively straight path as long as possible before contact and also after contact. To understand it visually, picture a racquet with no strings that has a type of invisible force field that passes through the ball.
Tennis is an open sport. This means that incoming ball speed varies from shot to shot (what to speak of placement, height, spin, etc.). This is where the instruction of hitting “through” the ball or lengthening “through” your shots comes into play.
It is very easy to contact the ball slightly early or slightly late. We do it all the time. So, if players keep their swing more linear by thinking of lengthening “through” their shots, it will be easier to control the ball. Think of it like an insurance policy. If you swing a little late or a little early, hitting through your shots will help you hit more of your shots into the court.
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Saving the Hit
You ever notice when watching professionals live or on TV, whether they are warming up or playing a match, they always seem to catch that ball in exactly the right place — right in their strike zone. Everything looks smooth, flowing, effortless, yet powerful. Interesting enough, the secret to this also applies to another sport, baseball. In baseball they talk about the same thing and that is "saving the hit." Doug King explains how this could make you a better player.
Get the Most Out of your Ball Machine
Have you ever seen someone hitting on a ball machine, gone away for 10 minutes, and then come back to see them still hitting in the same position? This can be an innocent mistake. We see people hitting 50-100 balls in a row on a machine without pausing and assume they are getting a great practice. But the question here is whether you are looking for quality or quantity. Considering that the average tennis point may only last 3 ball strikes, and a very long point may be 20 strikes, how to use ball machines as an effective practice tool is an important issue. — Joe Dinoffer
Perhaps one of the most difficult things for players to learn is the use of the continental grip on the serve. This is especially true for new players who have already experienced a degree of success with a forehand grip. One of the obstacles to learning this grip is that players have a hard time computing that even though the racquet face will travel in one direction the ball will go in another direction. To help players grasp this concept, Joe Dinoffer offers up a simple ball control exercise where players tap the ball up in the air (without bouncing) while they impart slice.
ProStrokes 2.0 — Ana Ivanovic, Forehand
This former World No. 1 has failed to live up to early expectations following her 2008 French Open title. Still, her game is a pattern of solid strokes and aggressive strategies. An offensive baseline attacker, Ivanovic also possesses a big, if unsteady serve. Inspired by Monica Seles, Ivanovic makes her living on the baseline, slugging out flat forehands similar to Maria Sharapova and her backhand has become a consistent shot that sets her up to crack forehand winners. Although Ana has been showing signs of regaining her form, In recent years she has still been more likely to show up on the cover of a fashion magazine than hoisting a champion’s trophy.
TennisOne Writers Store
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- "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
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- "Achieving Peak Performance the Wholistic Way: The Mental Game," Happy Bhalla Members – Public
- "Building a World Class Serve," Phil Dent Members – Public
- "Building a World-class Volley," Dave Smith Members – Public
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- "Best of Ken DeHart," Ken DeHart Members – Public
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