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Player to Player: How to Avoid Hitting into the Net

Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For, and Offering, Advice on the Sport They Love

Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.



This week's question from Jessica:

I want to get real good at tennis. I love the sport a lot. But I hit a rock and can't get past it. I am on my schools tennis team, and we had a real good coach but he left to a different city. We have a new one now, and he is...well....horrible. I learn NOTHING from him. So I don't know how to get better now. I can't take private lessons because my family can't afford more than one a week. And that won't get me anywhere just having one lesson, plus my trainer likes to cancel lessons a lot. I have no other players to practice against because I'm pretty much the best player on the team and I can't learn by playing players worse than me.

So....what do I do? How can I get better? My town is tiny and all focused on sports like football...so we don't have many people interested in tennis. I was thinking of maybe going to a tennis camp this summer...but I don't know. So far...I think that's the only option I have.

Anyone have advice for me? I live in Texas by the way. And if summer camp is my only option, does anyone have any suggestions for one?

Please share your advice with Jessica by e-mailing Player@USTA.com and include your name and hometown.

Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!


Last week's question from Cameron:
(Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question)

I have a very good forehand and I can hit it extremely flat or with topspin but sometimes on slow returns I dump them into the net and don't know why. I have a good motion and don't usually get tight but sometimes it gets dumped into the net but rarely long or wide. I play semi-western and open stance but wonder if I should change to a full western grip.

Player Responses:

From Bill, Sun City, SC:

The ball is coming more slowly than you are accustomed, Cameron. You are probably striking the ball too soon ...therefore it travels too low and hits the net. If you play a very fast ball too late, it will likewise sail too high.

To correct the problem, move up on the slower ball. The ball will arrive sooner, and you may strike it just out in front of you ...as opposed to too far in front of you. Now that your timing is corrected, you may drive the ball hard with spin if you care to.

From Phil, Briarcliff, NY:

Everybody does it, including the pros. A slow ball is an invitation to crushing your next stroke but trying not to hit it long. The temptation is to hit down on the ball. Try to keep the racquet face vertical or even slightly open at impact while putting top spin on the ball with the follow through high over the opposite shoulder or even above your head like Nadal.

From Stan:

Stay with the semi-western grip, on slower balls just hit up on the ball with a LITTLE less pace....and keep your eye on the ball TO your racquet!!!!!

From Kunal, Richmond, IN:

What you need to do, is use your feet more to drive into the ball with the rest of your body and not just your racquet. Unless you have good position your shot will be weak and off. On shots like that having the semi-western makes it easier especially if you’re not extremely comfortable with the western. Do not however just smash the ball because with the semi-western it'll go flying. Hit the ball a little higher than you normally would and add some topspin to help bring it down and if your consistent with it, then even go for a slice shot, it'll add height and spin, but it won't go flying.

From Tee, Michigan:

I think on the slow returns, it is almost 'too simple' and our mind does not think we need to 'get to the ball' as quickly by moving our feet, as we would with preparing for a fast paced return, which makes us 'late' with our preparation. My suggestion would be to make sure your feet are moving, prepare for that ball just as you would a faster paced ball! Make sure you are still hitting the ball in your strike zone as well, and not letting the ball bounce too high, or too low. It usually comes down to the 'foot work' in my opinion.

From Mark:

I experienced this same problem and it turned out I was dropping my front shoulder towards the net. Try pointing with your front arm where you want the ball to go.

I now try to keep my front arm level with my back shoulder and it has virtually eliminated this problem.

From Henry, Groton, MA:

You never want to hit the ball completely flat. Even Federer with perhaps the greatest forehand ever produced, when he goes for a winner, employs a little bit of topspin to get net clearance and a small amount of dip to keep the ball in the court. Mind you he has "flattened" it out compared to his normal rallying shot but it is a bit of a misnomer. The point is, and this is how it applies to you, always hit the ball with at least a little low to high movement of the racquet head to get the lift (brushing up behind the back of the ball) you need to clear the net. You will not sacrifice the pace you are trying to get and will avoid the lack of control that hitting the ball completely flat leads to. As Rod Laver once said, the great thing about topspin is that you can swing hard when you are nervous. There is nothing worse than dumping a shot into the net on a big point. Bottom line: always use a little topspin.

Also, keep the semi-western grip. It gives you more flexibility for low balls and it is better for approach shots. You can also hit with as much topspin as the full western grip by just accentuating the low to high movement of the racquet head.

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

Cameron, with today’s inexpensive video technology the first thing I suggest is you get someone to video your return. Then you can see for yourself and take appropriate action.

More and more players are using semi-western grips but fail to understand its use. The more west you go the further in front you must meet the ball.

This allows for receiving higher balls and hitting on the rise. When receiving high pace balls it sounds like your timing is sound since you experience limit errors. However, on low pace balls you are dumping them in the net. Folks get all wrapped up with speeds and angles but the fact is simple. Go east young man on slower balls. This will open the face allowing you to hit later and slow your swing; adding length to your follow through which will add depth to your game. One needs Fast Feet & Slow Hands for a steady deep penetrating game. Of course keep the semi-western and learn to be comfortable with the full western but most of all learn and master the How; so the When and Where to use them becomes NTR “No Thought Required.” Hope this helps.

From Ken, Delray Beach, FL:

Part of your problems have to do with physics, ball rotation and friction. When you are in an intense forehand to forehand topspin rally with your opponent, the ball coming at you is rotating towards you and hits with a higher bounce so it "sets up" better for you on the return. When your racket/strings make contact with the ball, the strings bite into the ball and reverse the spin in the opposite direction while the energy transfer from the racket propels it forward. Your reversal of spin with a high arc allows the ball to safely clear the net and place the ball deeply in your opponent’s court where they attempt to reverse the spin and get the ball back to you again.

On a slow shot with little pace, or rotation, there is no rotation to nullify in your shot, so your motion over the ball over compensates the forward spin driving it down into the net. On a slice shot to you the ball is already rotating in the same direction you are trying to get the rotation to go in and once again the excessive forward spin forces there ball low into then net. So, you need to recognize the ball rotation that's coming at you and adjust your stance and footwork to make the return and possibly develop a slice shot to handle the balls that are rotating away from you to reverse the spin that way.

From Doug:

Do not change from the semi-western to a western grip!

Many players, even pros, hit into the net on slow balls. The reason is that they don't mentally adjust for the slower pace or try to rip too flat of a ball. For example, if the ball hits the net cord, you might observe that the other player has a higher chance of putting the ball into the net simply because they didn't hit through enough with some extra height to compensate for the chance of pace.

In addition, going to a western grip would reduce your effectiveness to be offensive with the slower balls. You won't be able to generate an attacking game as well. If anything, go flatter with extra pace but still hit up a little since you need to work against gravity which tends to bring the ball into the net. So next time, step up and into the shot to take the slower ball early or on the rise. Swing through slightly harder but still up a little and give yourself a margin for error rather than trying to go for the big one.

From Leonard, Concord, CA:

I often have players ask me why are easy shots are so hard. I reply that you can't tell how easy a task is until it's done. With a slower ball, you have more time. Time is often spent on taking big backswings or considering options on where to hit it. Here is the perfect example of the early bird getting the worm. Close in and catch the ball on the rise rather than sitting back. If you're playing someone who consistently hits slow or short, stand in. Having to take 3 steps to hit every ball is starting rallies by throwing the ball in front so you have to chase it. Making contact below the net only raises the chances of hitting into the net. Closing the racquet face doesn't improve the situation. Remember that your swing pattern for high & low balls differ too. You drive through on high balls and go low to high on shots below the net.

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