The One-handed Backhand in T1 Super Slow-Mo™
TennisOne members check out these five new T1 Super Slow-Mo™ Videos, now in your My TennisOne account (see green My TennisOne tab in upper left hand corner of the home page after logging in and select "My Bonus Videos" tab). This time we feature five of the men's one-handed backhands, including Tommy Haas, James Blake, and Tim Henman. Exclusively on TennisOne.
Visitors: Check out our T1 Super Slow-Mo video sample of James Blake's forehand.
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The Volley: To Slice or not to Slice
David Smith, Senior Editor, TennisOne
I have always found it interesting that one particular tennis ‘researcher' laments the virtues of hitting the volley flat. The reason I find it interesting—if not amusing—is that virtually not one top pro, college player or top ranked club player volleys flat. (There are exceptions to this statement. However, in observing the vast majority of conventional volley situations, skilled players slice their volleys.)
Taylor Dent executes an underspin
Like most shots in tennis, one of the assessments in separating the skilled player from those who fail to progress is the ability to hit most shots with spin. We know that topspin makes the ball drop and allows players to hit groundstrokes with significant pace without the ball leaving marks on the back fence. Likewise, skilled servers hit with a great deal of slice and topspin, especially on second serves, to also increase pace and effectiveness while improving their percentages.
Even approach shots, especially those which are low, are often hit with significant spin—slice, in most cases—to help control the flight of the ball.
So, why would an easily recognized teaching professional advocate hitting the volley flat?
“It is less complex; the slice requires significant timing,” he claims.
But is this really true? And, perhaps more importantly, does hitting volleys flat help players advance past the rudimentary levels of play?
While the word ‘dinker' is probably one of the most prolific put-downs a tennis player could be called, there are literally millions of players who play tennis within a ‘dinking' methodology. If few attempt to play tennis this way, and yet millions resort to such strategies, (intentional or otherwise), there must be something that allows such a style of play to not only exist, but flourish!
John McEnroe executes an underspin
First of all, in most cases, dinkers are made, not born. That is, there are many very able-bodied players who have ample athleticism, opportunity, and desire, to play the game well. The problem is that when players first attempt tennis, they usually play within the simplest form: hitting the ball flat with linear strokes that simply use the racquet as a moving ‘mirror,' reflecting the ball towards the intended target.
Like with most sports, such simplistic moves do not equate into progressively more skilled play. Thus, when a ball is hit high enough to clear the net, if the player does not know how to use spin to deflect the ball's trajectory, the harder the ball is hit, the more likely the ball will go out. Thus, without spin, the player's only recourse is to either hit closer to the net, (which will increase the likelihood of an error) or simply hit softer.
Slice on the volley
This brings me back to the context of this newsletter. How should we hit a volley? If most skilled players slice the volley, there must be a reason for this.
And there is. Several reasons, actually.
Perfection of hitting with a flat racquet face: If we hit an intended trajectory with a flat racquet face, the angle of the racquet, relative to the target, must be perfect. A slight open or closed racquet face will deflect the ball off the intended line, usually well long, or into the bottom of the net.
Angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence: disregarding gravity and spin, a ball that is dropping—even slightly—prior to making contact, will reflect off a flat racquet face downward. This explains why players who are standing literally on top of the net, can hit relatively high balls into the net! Most shots we volley are dropping to some degree. Thus, if we hit these balls flat they will reflect downward, much more than we might expect.
The arm forms an ‘upside down pendulum': If I were to try and hit flat, because the arm moves around the shoulder joint, the racquet face will move from open to closed within the contact zone. This also explains why players on the net can not only hit balls into the bottom of the net, but they literally can hit the ball a mile long from the same position.
Slice changes the velocity of the shot: A low volley must be hit at an upward angle to clear the net. If we hit the ball flat with any amount of force, the ball will go well long. However, with slice, we can slow the ball's velocity allowing gravity to pull the ball down into the court…even with a significant stroke.
Slice helps players keep the plane the same: The biggest mistake I see players make when they try to hit the volley flat is that they tend to ‘roll' the racquet over the ball, usually ending up with a topspin volley. Such bad habits are perpetuated by the use of the typical eastern grips beginners use on the volley. Since such grips are usually used to hit topspin groundstrokes, these grips, when used at the net during a quick exchange, will usually result in players hitting on top of the ball in some manner.
While some players over-slice their volleys, I find this an easy error to fix. (Usually instructing these players to attempt to hit a flat volley will get them to hit the slice just right.) However, some of the hardest players to help are those who have been instructed to hit flat volleys as well as use the more familiar and comfortable eastern grips. Such advice has literally led millions of players to fail to reach their potential. (As it applies to their net game!)
Next time you watch good players play tennis, look closely at their volley technique. More than any other shot in tennis, the vast majority of skilled players use almost identical form. If you can work on this aspect of your game, you too will eventually master the volley. And don't forget to check out Doug King's excellent article on the underspin volley in this issue of TennisOne.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's book, Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
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