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Hitting A Short Shot

Q. “Most of the time, I take long swings with the big circle to get the most topspin. My coach tells me to shorten my swing to make a variety of shots. The problem is that I don't really understand the difference. How do you hit a "short" shot? I tend to hit very hard and aggressive all the time... maybe it's because of my height (I'm 5' 2" and about a 4.0 player). I'm thinking of starting to play in more tournaments, but I need to work out a few kinks.”

From Eric R., Mill Valley, CA:

The slower the ball, the longer you can make your backswing. Shorten up the backswing for first-serve returns or quick-exchange rally groundstrokes. Also, if you only hit flat or topspin now, then vary the spin to give your opponent a slice wide at an angle. Your opponents often will be thrown off their rhythm if you vary the speed and spin.

It is great that you can hit hard. But, why be a "one trick pony”? Agassi shortened his backswing, as did Federer, Johnny Mac, Jimmy Connors and many others, in order to become champions. Many players find it far more difficult to play someone with a big bag of spins. A shorter backswing, not a shorter follow through, is going to help on many of these shots and especially hard serve returns.

From Dick B., Morrisville, VT:

I would suggest that you try finishing across closer to your body to get less depth and still maintain the spin you need. The pace of your swing should be the same, but as I stated above, closer to your body will produce more spin and less depth and power!

From Katie P., Santa Rosa, CA:

Having a large, looping backswing is just fine when you have time. Go ahead and keep doing that when you're comfortable.

To get a feel for a "shorter" backswing, hold your racquet straight out from your side and pretend you are looping it around a very small, flat rod. Don't let the bottom edge of the racquet get too far away from the rod at the beginning of your loop or the top edge of the racquet get too far away as you come forward. This smaller loop is good when you have less time to get ready for your stroke.

Practice that, and then once you're comfortable, you might want to try taking the racquet straight back, no loop. This is good when you just want to drive the ball forward, no topspin, like when the ball is shoulder-high when you are hitting it.

From Becky L.:

My pro had me get rid of the big loop to get the topspin. Westernize your grip on both sides -- that will help you get the topspin you need. Also, go to an open-stance forehand. All you need to do is drop the racquet at your hip level in the ready position.

The key to hitting a good open-stance forehand is the shoulder -- make sure you rotate your upper body so that your shoulder is turned. This will help you with your returns. It will also help your timing when you play against a player who hits hard and serves hard.

Off the backhand side, I do not do open stance but make sure my grip is completely westernized. The shoulder turn is even more key on a backhand. Getting rid of the loop will really help you on service returns; it gives you more time.

Another thing to do on serve returns is take two steps back from where you normally stand; as your opponent tosses the ball, start moving forward. This will give your shot more momentum. Just remember on a hard serve, all you have to do is meet the ball; a big backswing and loop do you no good.

From Lindy Lou, Bensalem, PA:

Sounds like you are using the "C" swing, which does give you momentum and power and topspin on the ground shots.

As for saying you do "not know the difference," this is a simple matter of working on this with your coach. He knows the difference.

The problem is you are not yet used to the feel of using a shorter backswing. Work on this with your coach and concentrate on feeling the difference and also seeing the difference it produces on your shots. This will take time; it does not happen overnight.

Keep at it and see how it works for you.

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