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Hitting with Topspin/Backspin

Q. How do you put spin on the ball while hitting it?

A. Actually, it is hard NOT to put spin on the ball. Almost every ball we hit has some spin applied to it, wittingly or otherwise. I presume that you are asking about topspin or backspin? If so, then to hit with topspin your racquet head needs to move from low (beneath the ball) to high (finishing above the ball) on your swing. To hit with backspin (or underspin), then do the opposite.

Q. I am having trouble putting topspin on most of my shots.......any suggestions?

A. The ONLY way to produce topspin on your shots is to produce a low-to-high racquet head path during your swing. If you want to play with topspin, do this.

If you are struggling with this concept, try to practice with “transition” balls until you develop confidence. I would recommend using the Penn Star balls (yellow and green) or the Dunlop or Gamma “spinner” balls.

Q. I am 40 years old and am "cursed" with a slice backhand and no topspin backhand. My slice is a great weapon in my 4.5 level game, but I would be much better adding topspin to my arsenal. Any recommendations?

A. 1. Go to a local, certified teaching professional and he/she will be able to help you during a private lesson.

2. If a private lesson is not an option, then try adjusting your grip. Notice how Justine Henin-Hardenne and Gustavo Kuerten (who both possess sensational one-handed backhands) have their knuckles way on top of the handle. This allows them to have their full hand behind the racquet at impact, so they have great leverage and strength during the contact point.

3. Once/if this grip begins to feel comfortable, be sure to follow through high above your head. The key to topspin is producing a low-to-high swing path. By emphasizing a high, long finish, you will usually accomplish this.

Q. Is it okay to use wrists while using heavy topspin? And what kind of a swing do you recommend for topspin?

A. If all you use are your wrists, then you will NOT produce heavy topspin. The wrist and hand are the final links in the kinetic chain when you produce a shot. They are important, but getting a good hip, trunk and shoulder rotation is even more crucial.

A. The swing for topspin must be on a low-to-high plain through the path of the contact zone. If the path of your racquet is more drastic, then you will produce more topspin. If your swing is more level or even, then you will drive through the ball with less spin.

Q. My shots have a lot of spin on them, but they always seem to land around the service line. I try to get more depth, but I only end up with a ball that bounces high and enables my opponent to attack. My normal shots have enough spin on them to carry them past the baseline, but they are not penetrating. These are easy balls for an aggressive player to handle. I would like to know how to get my shots so that they become penetrating and land well behind the service line.

A. You have two choices given your style of play.

1. Hit the ball higher so that it carries further. These balls might still be “loopy,” but the added height will enable them to land deeper in the court.

2. Hit the ball harder so that it carries further. Keep your strokes essentially the same, but drive through the ball more forcefully.

Good luck as you work toward finding a solution to this tactical problem.

Q. I like my first serve, it is fast and it is consistent. However, I hate my second serve. I would love to know how to develop topspin, which is something I lack with my serve. What is the best way to develop a topspin serve for someone who has been playing tennis for many years?

A. There is an old adage in tennis that says you are only as good as your second serve, so I am glad that you realize the importance of improving this area of your game. To develop a topspin, or kick, serve, you need to alter your toss a little. Presuming that you are righthanded, release the toss so that it is a little more to the left. Your racquet head should swing up- from below the ball- and out. On a kick serve, think in terms of hitting “up” at the ball because you want a bit more net clearance than on a flat serve.

The “best way to develop” this serve is to get on the practice court and to hit baskets of them until you get a feel for the shot and confidence in your execution. You should also seek a certified teaching professional (either USPTA or PTR) and book a private lesson to make sure that your technique is sound.

Q. When is the best time to come up to the net?

A. The best time to approach net is when you have hurt, or know that you are about to hurt, your opponent. When your opponent hits a short ball that you are confident that you can handle aggressively, then you should take advantage of this opportunity by following your shot to the net.

If you should recognize that your opponent does not like it when you are at the net, then come in more frequently. Many groundstrokers prefer it when they have additional time to set up for their shots. By coming to net, you disrupt this timing.

Lastly, if you are a net rusher, come in a lot! As Martina Navratilova once said, if you are an attacking player and you’re not getting passed, then you are not coming forward enough.

Q. I am 73 years old and I want to change my strokes. I have used a continental grip and both my forehand and backhand are slices, or flat at best. I can hit topspin if I change grips and get the ball in periodically, but I do not have the control I would like. I managed to get up to a 4.5 level twelve years ago, but never won a match (no topspin, you know) so I played 4.0 on USA Team Tennis and did OK. Now I am playing 3.5 and win some and lose some, but I know I would do better if I used topspin. My question is: Can an old guy like me change his strokes and, if so, please give me some pointers on how to make it happen? Thanks for your help!

A. To borrow from hall of fame baseball pitcher Satchell Paige, who commented about getting older: “Age is just mind over matter. If you don’t mind, then it don’t matter.” In our great sport this is absolutely true. In fact, you have a full seventeen years to prepare for the 90 & over division! So… NOW is the perfect time to begin tinkering with your strokes.

The advantage in playing with more topspin on your groundstrokes is that you can hit with a greater margin for error. You can swing freely at the ball, knowing the more spin you put on the ball the more it will dip down into the court. By looping the ball, it also bounces higher than most seniors like to play their shots. (Balls above shoulder height require more physical strength, and I suspect this will wear down many of your opponents).

Hitting with topspin requires that you drop your racquet head below the ball before contact. I’d advise that you swing FAST at the ball; the more racquet head speed that you generate, the more topspin that you’ll create. Find a good, certified local pro and tell him/her that, at 73, you are prepared to get serious about your improvement.

Good luck, and enjoy the process!

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