Junior tennis often follows the trends that dominate the professional game. Today very few juniors have an understanding of when to use under-spin, nor do they have solid technique to allow them to use under-spin in a match. However the ability to use under-spin as a tool in points is beginning to make a come-back.
For too many years players have relied almost totally on topspin to attack and defend in points. Recently the top male players in our game have started to use under-spin more.
In the 2012 US Open there were several instances whereby players who were struggling to match their opponents in the baseline exchanges were forced to change the pattern of the points and attack the net. Roddick, Federer and Murray all used under-spin to force a new pattern on their opponents.
As tennis gets more and more diverse in its skill complexities, players today must have an understanding of when to use under-spin and how to execute under-spin. Here is an outline on the key points I emphasize when teaching under-spin.
1 THE LOCK
I teach players to lock their wrist whenever they want to hit under-spin. Whether it’s the volley, approach shot, or a one-handed under-spin groundstroke, I insist on a locked wrist.
|The "Lock" involves creating a 90 degree |
angle between the racquet shaft and the forearm
The advantage of a locked wrist is that it creates a solid surface (racquet-face) for the ball to rebound off. There is no need to swing or add wrist to the contact because the locked wrist allows the player to use the natural momentum of the on-coming ball and rebound the ball.
|Create an open racquet-face by rolling the knuckles (Backhand) and palm (forehand)|
Insisting on a locked wrist also forces the player to work harder on their position. If you don’t get close enough to the ball you can’t stay locked in the wrist. You will need to extend the wrist to reach the ball.
2 LATE CONTACT POINT
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with under-spin is to hit the ball early and in front. Even worst is to “punch” the ball in front. I know that these phrases are used often to describe the volley mechanics but they will destroy your under-spin and they are incorrect. Early contact will “open” the racquet-face and diminish control of the flight of the ball. An early contact point is for top-spin not under-spin.
|Contacting the ball on the side helps |
maintain an open racquet-face
through the contact zone
Under-spin requires the contact point to be a little later. A deeper contact point, roughly parallel to the body, will allow the racquet-face to stay “open” through the ball. This late contact effects the amount of under-spin on the ball and the amount of under-spin controls the depth and bounce at the other side of the net.
To achieve a late contact point on a short ball in front, the player must learn to use a side-ways cross-over step. I like to work this cross-over step into fitness workouts so that the skill can be perfected and the player becomes more confident in moving this way
3. THE ELBOW
Because the wrist is locked the energy to the ball comes from the rebound effect and by extending the elbow through contact.
|Keep the elbow relaxed so that it can |
extend through the contact zone
The player must anticipate where the ball will be contacted and prepare a locked wrist and a slightly relaxed elbow. Once the ball is being contacted, the wrist remains locked and the elbow extends through the contact to help provide penetration on the bounce at the other side.
Apart from the technique of hitting a good volley, which has already been outlined, I highlight two other objectives to a player:
i. The Volley is a placement shot and not a put-away shot
Accurate placement will always be better than attempting to bludgeon the ball. Very often the volley is the finish shot but the mindset should be one of placement.
ii. Be conscious of the height of the ball in relation to the height of the net band
By being aware of the net band a player will know how much they can and can’t do on a particular ball. A ball struck below the height of the white band puts the player in neutral or even defense, while any ball contacted above the white band of the net will be a much easier ball. It’s important to know clearly what role you are in on each situation.
5. APPROACH SHOT
|The player hitting the approach must slow the |
arm and rely mostly on his/her forward momentum
These are my key points for the approach shot:
i. The ball is struck primarily by using the forward movement of the body running forward and the player continuing their run towards the net, Don’t over-do the racquet work!
ii. Keep the arm slow for under-spin. A fast arm is for topspin
iii. Your objectives are to keep yourself safe at net by keeping the opponents feet deep in the court and/or keep the opponents contact point low
6. ONE-HANDED BACKHAND
Many of the points remain the same but additional points are:
i. Maintain a disciplined finish at the completion of your stroke. The finish should end with the knuckles of your racquet hand in front of your face. Finishing out to the side of your body shows that you are using too much shoulder in your swing. Dominate with the elbow.
|Create a finish check-point high and in front|
ii. Establish a contact foot that draws power up from the ground. Many players who use a two handed backhand lack strength in their arms. Enlist the ground forces to supply power to the single handed backhand.
|The power, balance and timing for the |
one-handed under-spin backhand comes
from the players connection to the ground