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Player to Player: Strategies for playing against heavy topspin

March 29, 2013 11:02 AM
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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 Foufo: I seem to have problems with the come back after the serve. What should I do to get myself in the proper position?
Do you have any advice for Foufo or a question of your own? Please share your thoughts by e-mailing Player@usta.com, and include your name and hometown for a chance to receive advice from your fellow players!
Last week's question from Daniel: What strategy should I use against players who hit with heavy topspin?

From Dickson D.: Taking the ball early and low would be my choice, similar to a half-volley, but timing and focus is critical. You can catch your opponent sleeping since pace on the ball at this point is at its greatest. You will be using your opponent's pace to your advantage. Practice, practice, practice and it will become a reflex action when you read it. Good stroking!
From Tom G.: Move closer to the baseline, hit the ball on the rise and use some underspin. Heavy topspinners are usually employing a western, or even extreme western, grip, which makes it hard to hit up on a well-struck skidding underspin shot.

From David M.: Be ready to scoop the ball up if you plan on using his spin to gain speed for your return or play back and flatten the ball. Make him dig the ball off the ground by hitting slices or flat shots.
From Kirk F.: Return the ball low. I'm a topspinner and I have issues with low skidding balls. It forces you to hit the ball on the side.

From Dan H.: Most people focus on either catching the ball early to avoid the high bounces from heavy topspin shots, or play back and catch the ball as it comes down. Being a person who likes to attack and come in as soon as possible, I like to catch it early. If you are a patient baseliner, then it could work for you to play back. Either way, if you get a short ball, it will sit up nicely for you to attack it early and move in. Because heavy topspin hitters usually hit with an exaggerated grip I try to focus on hitting low, deep balls to them so they have trouble getting a full swing. Good luck! 
From Ron R.: You can’t be too passive in returning heavy topspin. Otherwise the spin will dominate your racquet leading to control difficulty. Mix up your shots and look for when your opponent has difficulty using heavy topspin and try to take them out of their comfort zone. If you are having difficulty handling the action of their topspin shots:  
  • You can accelerate when your racquet gets close to the incoming ball and use your own topspin, swinging up and across the ball. Good racquet speed will cancel out the force of the incoming topspin.
  • When the ball gets up high in your strike zone, and you are tall enough, you can swing flat and slightly down on the ball, shifting your weight forward to drive into the ball, somewhat like a return of serve.
  • You can shift your weight back and hit off your back foot. This will give you more time and make it easier to respond with topspin or a defensive shot.
  • A more difficult but effective approach is to meet the ball early, just as it comes off the ground and gets into your strike zone. This needs good timing, a shorter swing, and takes time away from you opponent.
  • You might prevent your opponent from hitting with heavy topspin by responding with slice which can keep the ball low and throw of their timing. It is harder to hit high bouncing balls with slice, but it can be done with practice.
  • If you are really in trouble with this you can use more of a volley stroke to chip the ball back, and work on learning to absorb the topspin better, without it getting the best of you.
  • Most important is to not tighten up your grip and arm to fight off the topspin. You need to keep relaxed and let yourself feel or hold the ball on your racquet. Then you’ll be ready to figure out strategies to use which will take your opponent out of his comfort zone.


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