One of the most neglected aspects in modern tennis is the ability to keep the ball low. Young players today are so focused on hitting bigger shots and are so fixated on topspin that their ability to keep a ball low is completely missing.
However the top players understand the value of keeping a ball low in certain situations and employ underspin a lot more than you think. Here’s when keeping the ball low is beneficial…
1. To Stop Your Opponent Attacking You
It’s the era of big groundstrokes! Dominant forehands are now the norm and any ball waist height today is an invitation for your opponent to go on the attack.
By throwing in a low ball when in trouble during the rally you are neutralizing your opponent’s offense. The low ball has taken the ball out of his/her strike zone and gets you back into the rally on level terms.
2. When You Volley
If you are at net and playing a volley you are generally in a strong position to win the point. The only real concern you have is being passed or lobbed by your opponent.
This can be avoided by keeping the ball low because a passing shot or lob is much more difficult off a low ball. Keeping the bounce low may only be a small change but will make all the difference to your opponent’s options.
3. When You Approach Net
Many up and coming players today have relatively poor net games. It’s not just the quality of their volleys that’s causing them problems, it’s often the quality of their approach shot where the problem starts.
Similar to the Volley, any ball you approach the net on that bounces too high will give your opponent the chance to counter-attack.
By learning to approach on underspin (usually the best way to keep the ball low) and to vary the depth of your approach, will make your volleys much easier and your net game in general much more effective.
4. Slow the Ball Down
Everyone is hitting the ball fast and although I teach my players to hit with speed, I also like to see them mix-in slow balls sometimes.
This is particularly effective in women’s tennis where some of the most successful players recently have had the ability to use an underspin backhand to create some variety of speeds during the rally. Ashley Barty (currently world number 1) has a very effective one-handed underspin backhand which allows her to defend, change speeds and create an effective net game based on keeping a ball low.
5. To Create Variety
It’s important as a player not to be too one-dimensional. Being predictable allows your opponent to be one step ahead in the mental battle taking place in each match. It’s tough to win when you are “playing mental catch-up” with your opponent throughout a match.
By adding underspin to create low balls you’re adding another layer to your game.
The best players in our game got to the top not because they hit the ball faster than everyone else. They got there because they have the shots to attack and defend the most effectively. Maybe it’s time to add low balls to your on-court “tool box”