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From Oscar Wegner's 1989 and 1992 books

tennis lessons

Chapter 2: Misconceptions

Why is tennis considered a difficult sport to learn? Mostly because of widely taught misconceptions that cripple a player's natural ability and make coordination as difficult as if you were walking with several crutches at the same time.Even many tennis professionals believe these misconceptions. But the test is, do they actually follow them when they play?Observe and decide for yourself.I have seen great players go into rapid decline in the later years of their career when adjusting to the conventional way.During their greatest years, of course, they were untouchable. Nobody could tell them to use any other technique but their own obviously successful style.But soon after they felt some cracks in their armor they sought advice. "Flatten your strokes. You are getting older, you need more power," is one of the culprits.For many great modern players--Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Guillermo Vilas, Martina Navratilova (forehand) and Chris Evert (backhand)--the topspin strokes were a great rung on their ladder to success. At the top of their game, they could hit as hard as they wanted, sometimes flattening their strokes. But when their confidence waned, perhaps during a slump, the successful course of action was to rely on the safety of the topspin shots, without compromising the power or the margin for error.John McEnroe flattened his groundstrokes after a lengthy layoff. His game deteriorated. Fortunately for him, and for American tennis, he went back to his artistry and to his topspin lift and made it back up the ranks.

tennis lessons  Misconception

Myth: You have to learn every move--tennis is a game of positions, of peculiar steps and preparations that you have to learn in detail.

Fact: Top pros get to the ball in a natural, instinctive way, focusing only on what they do with the racket and the ball.

Tennis is a flowing game, a game of togetherness with the ball. While the ball is in play, you think of nothing--observing, running, "feeling," and controlling the ball. Your racket is an extension of your hand. The rest of your body accompanies the hand naturally, without worrying about coordination or footwork.You probably learned to move like that years ago, when you learned to walk, to run, to catch something falling or thrown at you.Nobody needs to tell you now that your right foot takes one step, then your left foot takes one step, and so on. Nobody should even make you think of that, changing your focus from controlling the ball, or dividing it with things that you would do naturally anyway.In the mind of a tennis pro a groundstroke is a channeled effort rather than thought. His eyes are focused on the ball, his "feel" is focused on what he does with the racket, as its movement and angle determine his whole shot. He wants to feel the ball, rather than think of the mechanics.

tennis lessonsBoris Becker

The player gets to the proximity of the ball, "finding" it as if wanting to catch it. He now thinks of nothing else but where he wants to send the ball, channeling all his effort to get the ball there. In his mind the only mental image picture of "position" is of the arm at the end of the swing, something he has related to his shot placement over the years.His mental effort may be nothing more than to get the arm and racket to this "finish." When he gets the arm there this particular effort is done, and he might keep the arm in this position for a short time, "feeling" the end of his swing and looking to see where the ball is going.His legs don't stay still. He may already be recovering from the shot or covering the court. But he has certainly related the end of his swing to where his shot has landed.Most conventional teaching techniques make you relate the impact with the ball to your shot's placement. That is excellent for your volleys. But on their groundstrokes, top pros think of the finish of the swing.That is the main reason why the great players don't "choke," stopping their swing midway. The only part of the swing they know for sure is this "finish." The rest of the stroke adjusts instinctively while finding the ball.


tennis lessons  Misconception

Myth: You have to react as fast as you can.

Fact: Top professionals restrain themselves from reacting too quickly.

Although sometimes there is little time to get ready, you have to manage time depending on how much time you have. With the ball at a medium or slow pace, a pro looks as if he isn't even trying.So low is the effort required at this slower pace that many amateurs play great placement and control games seemingly without exerting themselves. They take their time to run and to stroke. They look terrifically coordinated. They don't look like pros, of course, because the speed of the ball is much slower. But they play like pros, managing time and effort efficiently.Just look at a pro warming up or practicing and you'll see how easily he moves and how much time he's got.

Ivan Lendl

At high ball speeds it may look different, but there isn't much upper body effort on the groundstrokes prior to the hit. A pro finds the ball first, then explodes.Of course, your legs have to move fast to get you to the ball. A good opponent will make you run, slide, bend, jump. But while the legs go fast, the arms are waiting for the right time to swing.What is amazing about the top pros is the separation between the body effort to get to the ball and the arm effort to strike it. They run for the ball first, trying to find it as if catching it, then they swing at it.Conventional tennis teaching emphasizes taking the racket back as soon as you see the ball coming your way. The student does this preparation before starting to run, losing valuable time that should be used to get to the ball. Even at high ball speeds, this preparation should be done towards the end of the run.

tennis lessons  Misconception

Myth: Take your racket back as soon as the ball leaves your opponent's racket.

Fact: The best pro players keep the racket to their front until the ball is close.

Keeping the racket to the front keeps the racket closer to the ball and helps find it really well. Although pros turn their shoulders, that is different from taking the arm back. Many top pros keep the non-playing hand on the racket during the first part of the flight of the ball to avoid taking the racket back too soon. The ball bounces first, gets close to the player, then he swings at it.Taking the racket back early is probably the most common barrier to advancement taught in tennis today.The racket is already in the forehand-ready position when holding it centered at your waist. The same accounts for the two-handed backhand, where grip changes are unnecessary.Only if you have a one-handed backhand and you see the ball coming to your left side do you need to change your grip together with your turn to the left to get to the ball. You need to pull the racket head back, while your right hand goes forward and away from your body. This changes the grip automatically. You are ready! Many players accomplish the same by pointing the racket butt to the incoming ball.

Steffi Graf

Modern forehands and two-handed backhands are totally different from the old racket-back technique. Instead of taking the racket back right away, you "stalk" the ball with the racket face, as if you were going to touch it. Then you hit. This "stalking" helps find the ball well. It also adjusts the backswing automatically to the speed and height of the ball, and to the difficulty of the shot.Although a top player's swing may look the same over and over, it has adjustments for every ball.You may approach the path of the ball from the moment it leaves your opponent's racket. You may start to adjust your arms. But beware of committing your swing.Taking your backswing early commits you to a swing path "before" you know exactly where the ball will be, which occurs "after" the bounce.Predicting exactly how the ball will bounce is not possible. Court surfaces are uneven in texture and the ball may grab the ground differently depending on its speed and spin. With these variables, the best you'll have is an approximation.If you start your groundstroke as soon as possible, prior to the bounce, you may have a perfect stroke in theory. But it will be one that will have to be adjusted to the bounce of the ball halfway through.This is the way most people played tennis throughout much of the history of the sport. They started their swing and then they adjusted as they were going through the ball.Only a few players excelled in hitting their groundstrokes from the ball forward, rather than behind it, and they became the best players of their time.In modern professional tennis, this technique has been widely accepted, especially by European and South American players.At the high speeds of professional play sometimes there doesn't seem to be enough time. But there is!Most pro players don't consciously know that they wait, but they do. It is an inner mechanism that they developed in the early stages of their game.If you asked a world class player, "In mixed doubles, would you take more time to return Chris Evert's first serve than McEnroe's?" the answer would be, "Of course I would." This shows that deep inside, the player waits for the right moment to stroke.Here is a simple experiment that may convince some staunch supporters of the "racket-back-early" technique that they should change their approach.Get another player to serve to your forehand. Take your racket back before he starts his service motion, and keep it there while he gets ready to serve. When he serves, return from this backswing arm position.See how awkward it feels? I have done this experiment with some very good players and it stiffened their returns. I was also told it felt awful.If you have ever wondered why so many beginners have trouble learning with the conventional "racket back" system, this is your answer.Good coordination means doing things at the proper time. In your groundstrokes, learn to play the second curve of the ball, that is, the curve after the bounce.Try this in practice. Start with slow, high-looping groundstrokes. Choose your contact point before you take your racket back for momentum. That contact point becomes apparent only after the bounce. On slow high-looping balls, it occurs "well after the bounce".Can you picture that you have to wait as much as possible before taking your racket back? I know that this will be mentally difficult to those who have trained for years by the opposite method. You'll feel so late!Starting your swing too early is a hard habit to break. But the player who waits for the right moment to swing will thrive. He'll find the ball so well--he'll feel it so much--hitting either softly or at tremendous speeds. Ask McEnroe what it feels like. He is a master at it, just as Nastase was some years ago.Both players had an incredible combination of feel, ball speed, and touch. They adjusted their timing perfectly to the arrival of the ball.You can do the same, provided you learn to wait for the ball.



Andre Agassi

Myth: Hit the ball early.

Fact: You have to wait for the ball.

Hitting the ball early is a concept that needs to be clarified, even at the highest level of the game. I have seen too many pros have off days and not know exactly why.It is one thing to advance on the court to cut your opponent's time, or to hit on the rise, putting pressure on your opponent, but it is another thing to start the stroke earlier than needed.Of course top players like to attack the ball, hitting it firmly; but at high ball speeds, a couple of hundredths of a second too early, and the magic is gone. Errors keep creeping up, and the player doesn't understand what is happening. The "feel" is off.For players who lift the ball with topspin, being slightly early makes it harder to lift. If facing a player with heavy topspin, being too early makes for many mis-hits.At the top pro level, perhaps it is not noticed as a mis-hit, but the response is weaker, less lively, sometimes shorter.The tennis ball is very lively. If you wait perfectly, approach the ball slowly with the racket and accelerate from contact with the ball on, you'll feel that the ball stays on your strings longer, then takes off.Your eyes cannot grasp all that, but if you hit a few balls this way you'll feel the difference. It is definitely a different feel--more solid, longer, more control. You won't get those sudden spurts of ball speed where you don't know what made the ball go so fast even when you were restraining your swing.The ball speed, even when applying the same amount of force, depends on how close to the contact point you start to apply your force. A bit too early, and you get plenty of power, but your control is gone.If a pro persists in hitting earlier than usual, perhaps unaware that he is just a few hundredths of a second sooner that day, or that this particular court plays a shade slower than the one he practiced on, he starts losing his confidence. He starts tightening up. His feel is lessened, his touch is gone, and deep inside he is puzzled--"why?"This is more likely to happen to players who relish earlier timing to get more ball speed. They are playing with fire, very close to the boundary of being too early. But on better days, the magic, the brilliance, are there. They just seem to touch the ball and it shoots like lightning, streaking to the opponent's court.The heavy topspin players, on the other hand, wait for the ball so much that it hurts. They have to muscle the ball much more than the earlier hitters to get the same ball speed, but for timing they are in a safer zone. The chances of hitting too early are minimal. They would have to be off close to a tenth of a second, a fact more easily noticeable than the hundredths of a second that would throw off the earlier hitter.

Monica Seles

If you feel that this is hard to grasp, go out on the court. Toss the ball a little in front and to your side. Wait till after the bounce, with almost no backswing. Feel that you touch the ball before you hit it, then emphasize your followthrough. In the first few shots the ball may be going nowhere at all, but as you hit harder you'll gradually get to know how close to the ball you have to start accelerating to get both ball speed and maximum control.You can observe that most of the pros play this way. Most errors in pro tennis come from taking the arm back too soon or stroking too soon. You lose feel, you lose control.Chris Evert, for example, used to be much earlier on her forehand than on her backhand. Most of her errors came from her forehand side. Her backhand was her most terrifying shot, not only for its accuracy, but also for its topspin.In the last few years of her career she learned to wait longer on her forehand, making it a very reliable stroke. On the backhand side she chose to hit the ball earlier, flatter and well in front to get more power. Most of her errors came from her backhand side, in some matches totaling more unforced errors with this shot than with all strokes combined when she was at her peak.This does not mean that you can't hit some balls early, or well in front, thus flattening your stroke. You just have to consider the risk factor involved. You may hit some great winners, but it may also cost you points. The real risk is not on the power, but in losing the topspin on the ball.This topspin, even if minimal, helps to drop the ball into the court. One or two ball rotations difference between your hit and the landing of your shot at higher speeds, may mean the difference of a foot or two in the length of your shot. The ball that used to drop just inside the line may go out.Repeated errors like that will erode a player's confidence, precipitating his or her decline.

It is better to strike further back within the correct striking zone--getting more topspin and control, still with plenty of power--than to seek the seemingly perfect winner that may cost you many more points than it will win.

tips  Misconception

Stefan Edberg

Myth: Move forward on your serve.

Fact: Top players hit up on the serve, then fall forward.

Pushing forward with the body on the serve causes a tendency to hit down with the arm. Visually, it seems that you have to hit down to get speed on a serve. But the more you hit down the more you have to open the racket to get the ball over the net, and the ball gets backspin instead of topspin, losing its downward curve.At the high speeds of professional tennis the ball has to have some topspin, even in the hardest serves, both for accuracy and consistency. To get that, the body needs to go up to help the arm to fully extend "past" the impact with the ball.Most professionals hit upward on their serve, but sometimes it is not enough. I recall spending less than an hour with Robbie Seguso at the beginning of his professional career. I had him standing on the service line facing the back fence, serving a bucketful of balls on the condition that he hit them over the fence but with plenty of topspin.In the beginning he hit several balls into the fence and he was slightly puzzled. He thought he was hitting up, but obviously it was not up enough.He continued until he got every ball over the fence. We picked up the balls, then he served normally.It took him a few minutes to adjust, but soon I saw a miracle. He had raised his serving to an incredible level of speed, depth, accuracy, and kick.He had all the talent. Once he got the right concept and feel, he could do no wrong.Partnered with Ken Flach, Seguso's serve, together with their other assets, got them to the position of #1 doubles team in the world.This upward effort is even more pronounced on second serves. Hitting upward on the second serve instead of hitting forward helps to get the ball into the service court, with both speed and spin.Rather than slowing down your swing, pull it upward even faster than your first serve, like Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, brushing up on the ball. As a result, you'll get an "American Twist" serve, a pronounced topspin shot that will clear the net by a couple of feet or more and land prior to the service line. The ball may look slow at first, but it will kick fast and high.Players who don't have this action either slow down their second serve or they risk a lot, while a good "American Twist" server doesn't slow down the motion at all and feels plenty of power and confidence on the second serve.



Jim Courier

Myth: Put your left foot across to hit your forehand.

Fact: Open stance forehands are more powerful and natural.

The greatest forehands of modern time--Manuel Santana's, Borg's, Lendl's, Graf's, Agassi's, and Courier's--are definitely open stance.Those professionals don't care which foot they land on, but most often hit their forehand with their feet facing the net. Not only does this help them stroke, but it also allows them to come back quicker to the middle to cover the court. While it is almost impossible to hit a good topspin forehand from a very closed stance, the opposite is true with a very open stance.You may turn your shoulders if you feel more comfortable or more power this way, but that is as far as you need to go.That is why at the start of your forehand lessons in this book you are facing the net, oblivious to the position of your feet, while in most formal lessons the student is put sideways to the net and made to step forward with the left foot.Sports science could well look into the fact that hand-eye coordination is totally dependent on the athlete's attention on coordinating the hand with his visual perception of the motion of the ball. The rest of the body gets coordinated to the movement of the hand in a natural, instinctive way, without the athlete's mental effort.As a very simple analogy, visualize yourself shaking hands with a very attractive Hollywood movie star and paying attention to the position of your feet, whether your weight is on the front foot or the back one, and several other details. I wonder whether you would even find their hand.Hand-eye coordination means, by definition, precisely that, HAND-EYE, not hand-eye-foot-weight coordination. The methods in this book are based on the simple discovery that to improve your hand- eye coordination, whether you are a beginner, an advanced player, or a pro, you have to focus entirely on the contact between racket and ball.This does not mean that a player does not have a favorite position in which he feels most comfortable, or balanced, or powerful. But he has worked that through feel, in an instinctive way, not through words or mental commands.While you are playing it is a good idea to keep your feet moving, shuffling, or skipping, to keep your legs alert and ready to start. But don't disturb your focus by thinking about your feet. Keep your attention on the ball, on finding it, on the contact and then the finish of the stroke.



Boris Becker

Myth: Keep your distance from the ball--usually "an arm's length."

Fact: Closer distances are better for power and for control.

How did you catch something thrown to you when you were a kid? Did you run to get as close to it as possible and then extend your arm to catch it, or did you try to keep your distance? You got as close as possible. Most conventional tennis techniques make you keep your distance while running. But very advanced tournament players or pros try to get their head or eyes close to the line of flight of the ball when they run. Then they slow down and hit the ball at their side.



Michael Chang

Myth: Keep your arm straight on your forehand.

Fact: Bending the arm on the forehand is much more natural.

On the forehand swing, it is easier to adjust your distance to the ball by bending the arm, just like when you shake hands. It also gives you more power, since you are using the biceps muscle, one of the strongest in the body.For hard topspin shots, the racket face needs to come over the ball, preventing it from sailing out. This is more easily done by bending the arm at the elbow, rather than keeping it straight.


\   Misconception

Stefan Edberg

Myth: Step forward into the ball.

Fact: Top pros emphasize lifting, not stepping forward.

Tennis is basically a vertical game. You need to get the ball to clear the net, then drop into the court.In your topspin strokes you want much more of a lift than forward power, both to clear the net and to get the ball to rotate.In the topspin forehand, there is a natural tendency to go forward with the right side of the body while pulling up. In the two-handed backhand, likewise, the left side tends to go forward. Those are forceful upper body turns and lifting that get power into the shot.Stepping forward or backward is a function of your adjustment to the ball. If the ball is short, you move in. If the ball is deep, you may move back.



Steffi Graf

Myth: Stay down through the stroke.

Fact: It is more natural to pull up.

Under normal circumstances, staying down may trap your swing rather than facilitate it.If the ball is short, low, or you are meeting it far in front, you may need to stay down to reach it.Making a player stay down for every shot is a major block to his or her improvement. Top players develop a ``feel'' for the optimum move in a particular situation, staying down for some shots, coming up for others.This is true even for the backhand slice, where lifting the shoulder by lifting up the trunk helps extend the arm for the followthrough.



Gabriela Sabatini

Myth: Don't let your body go back.

Fact: The body does whatever is needed to make the shot.

Many good players and professionals purposefully pull back in order to get more topspin. It adds to the safety factor of the shot, pulling the ball over the net and making it go down sooner on the other side.In some shots, if you feel too close, pull back when you hit. This will give you comfortable distance from the ball, good control, and added topspin rotation.The arm feels lighter and more powerful pulling up. You also feel that you have plenty of time during and after the stroke, and your racket stays up at the end a fraction longer. Look at Gabriela Sabatini's topspin backhand. What a beautiful thing!



John McEnroe

Myth: On your forehand, keep your racket head above your wrist all the time.

Fact: Any top pro drops the racket head below the ball and below the hand at some point in their swing.

This is true especially on balls hit below waist level.Even on high topspin shots the racket head sometimes gets below the hand.From Laver to Borg, to McEnroe, to Lendl, the exceptions are very few. To hit from low to high you obviously have to be below the ball at some time, and the most comfortable and most effective way of doing it is to drop the racket head somewhere before the hit.The more you drop it, the more you can come up and the more topspin you will have. The same goes for the two-handed backhand topspin stroke.It doesn't matter whether you loop your stroke or go straight down and up. Just get below the ball and pull it up.The opposite is true for the backhand slice and for volleys. You want to keep the racket head up longer so that you can come from high to low firmly. If the ball drops very low, the best way to get power and ball speed on these shots is to drop the racket head, as it goes forward with an open face, right before impact.



Myth: You can hit the ball harder flat than with topspin.

Fact: You can hit the ball harder flat, but right out of the tennis court!

A flat 100 mph shot hit from net level or below from anywhere inside your court has no chance of landing inside your opponent's baseline, no matter how close to the top of the net you hit-- unless you hit the net, your opponent, or a bird.With enough topspin, you can hit a 100 mph shot in the court, with the same downward curve as a flat 60 mph shot.

Topspin players like Borg, Lendl, Becker, and Agassi have hit forehands over 100 mph, "inside" their opponent's court, safely clearing the net.Another consideration in hitting hard and flat is your chance of winning the point. At a high level of play, pros go for the percentage shots.Let's say that you have a 50 percent chance if you are a pro (maybe 30 percent if you are an advanced club player) of hitting a flat 80 mph groundstroke to a corner. What if your opponent gets it back somehow? Would you take another chance like that?Match results are determined more by unforced errors than by great shots. At a professional level, unless the court is slick and fast, the ball keeps coming back and coming back.Those players are both forceful and safe.

There is a perception that the game has changed in the last few years, with top pros seeking to finish the point from the baseline in a very forceful way. This held true in earlier decades as well. Heavy topspin hitters like Borg and Lendl always relished finishing the point with a powerful shot, while still preserving their safety with the spin on the ball.Today's powerful rackets have made the job easier. New equipment accounts for tremendous ball velocity, and topspin players can hit hard winners while still focusing on landing the ball safely in the court.If you want to kill the ball with a groundstroke, blast it with topspin, looking like a tennis pro (or at least an approximation) rather than a baseball player.


Myth: Bend your knees only.

Fact: Top players bend whatever or wherever is natural.

Combined with "stay down through the stroke," only bending the knees makes players look like broken puppets. Bend naturally-- waist, knees, arms--looking like an athlete, not like a stiff marionette.


tips  Misconception

Monica Seles

Myth: Move to the ball with sidesteps, then turn and hit.

Fact: Top pros pivot to run to the ball.

Stepping sideways to run to the ball is the most ridiculous teaching method I ever saw. It makes players look like puppets. Players who were making good progress playing a natural way can have their coordination, timing, focus on finding the ball, and their feel destroyed by a teacher who gets them to move in that way.Top players sometimes sidestep while they are waiting to see their opponent's next shot, or when the ball is right there and they want to keep their open stance. But to purposely sidestep to run to a distant ball is crazy.There is nothing more natural, more graceful and more efficient than turning toward wherever you are going and taking a few steps, leaning in that direction, gently, nonchalantly.One of the greatest pros who has ever played that way was Ilie Nastase. He looked the smoothest, he was called the fastest ever, but all he did was lean and turn perfectly in the direction he wanted to go. He seemed to have ages to get to the ball. He wasn't the quickest, he just had perfect moves.



Myth: 1/4-turn grip rotation between forehand and backhand.

Fact:No grip change is necessary for the two-handed backhand. For the one-handed backhand, pros bring the racket parallel to the body to change grip, rather than just rotating it.

If you have a two-handed backhand you don't need to rotate the grip at all. The right hand can keep the forehand grip, while the left hand does most of the work throughout.If your backhand is one-handed, the technique is different. You need to change your forehand grip to a backhand grip to get better racket support at impact time. The racket moves to a position parallel to the front of your body, together with your shoulder turn to the left, while your grip slides inside your right hand, changing position.This change occurs primarily in the bottom portion of the hand, closest to the little finger, while the fingers go from a spread-out position on the forehand grip to a close together position for the flat backhand grip.Not as much grip rotation occurs between your index finger and thumb. But the palm of the hand has come on top of the top portion of the racket grip to achieve a more perpendicular position of the arm to the racket. This gives you much better support while hitting topspin, too.You can test this grip by pressing the racket flat against a wall or a tennis court fence, as if you were contacting the ball with your backhand. If your grip is okay, you'll feel plenty of support for your push.For the one-handed backhand slice the grip change from forehand to backhand is much smaller, and the fingers stay spread apart. Here a 1/8-turn or grip rotation would be more accurate, but this change is always larger toward the little finger than toward the index finger.(Feel your grip, rather than looking at it. Looking at your grip and constantly worrying over having the correct grip takes valuable attention away from finding the ball.)

Forehand grip
Two handed backhand

Topspin backhand
Slice backhand


Michael Chang

Myth: Point your racket toward your aim at the end of the forehand stroke.

Fact: The racket comes across the body.

Pointing the racket toward the target makes for a straight arm forehand. The opposite--bending the arm--will give you more power, control, and topspin, and you'll be able to better close the racket face angle.You'll also prevent undue stress on your arm, and you'll have better balance and momentum to turn back toward the center of the court after your shot.The same is true for the two-handed backhand. Bend both arms toward your right shoulder to achieve a full topspin swing.As for the sliced two-handed backhand or a chip, your right arm may be more dominant and straighten itself.In the one-handed backhand it is true that the right arm will finish pointing approximately to the target, whether it is a topspin shot, where the arm will finish high, or a slice, where the arm will finish low. But the wrist will never ``break'' to have the racket point in that direction, too. The racket will end up in an angle approximately perpendicular to the arm, whether it goes over (topspin), or under the ball (slice).



Myth: Topspin is more stressful for your arm.

Fact: Flat shots impact the arm harder.

Although topspin requires more physical effort overall than conventional tennis, it distributes the stress impact over a wider area.A ball coming at you and met squarely ("flat" in tennis jargon), puts the stress on your arm and tends to turn your body. You need to tighten your grip substantially, as well as your arm and shoulder, to put force into your swing.Because of gravity, which affects your body as well as the ball, some of the impact force gets dissipated through your body and pushes you toward the ground. On flat shots, this gives the feeling that your feet are firmly planted on the ground.The topspin shot, on the other hand, is an upward movement. Your force is actually counteracting gravity. You feel light on your feet, sometimes coming off the ground. The force of the incoming ball gets dissipated or canceled by your upward force. It may tend to ground you, but since you are pulling up anyway, you don't feel it as much as in the flat strokes.Not twisting with your feet grounded saves your lower back from much torsion stress. Of course you have to bend down, then pull up in your topspin shots. Sometimes you jump, even while on the run. But these movements are truly natural, nothing that humans haven't done for millions of years.

Andre Agassi

With topspin, the stress on the arm is diminished by the fact that the impact is also dissipated into spin. The incoming ball travels downward on your racket strings, while you are pulling up.You can hit a hard topspin shot without having to lock up on the racket with your hand. The racket path or angle doesn't get disturbed much even if your grip is quite loose, which shows the efficiency of the technique.On the contrary, with a flat shot you need to tighten your grip or your racket may fly in some other direction than your shot. Those are the forces that you counter by tightening up your hand, your arm, and by planting your feet firmly on the ground.In a very graphic way, hitting hard topspin shots feels like taking off in an airplane. By comparison, hitting forceful flat shots feels like crashing to the ground.


tennis lessons  Misconception

Myth: You have to hit deep.

Fact: The deeper you try to drive the ball during rallies, the more mistakes you'll make.

Ivan Lendl

Unless you are hitting an approach shot, where depth may be critical, you have to hit the ball in the court consistently.The deeper you try to drive the ball during rallies, the more mistakes you'll make. The ball may go much deeper than intended, overshooting your opponent's baseline.Over 80 percent of the groundstrokes at the top professional level bounce closer to the service line than the baseline.Just clearing the service line is enough "intended" depth. If the ball goes deeper, it will still land in the court.I have seen a great champion of our time, Ivan Lendl, start a match without much confidence, and coolly and safely keep the ball in play with plenty of topspin. He would hit high-looping strokes, mixed with a few sliced backhands, nothing too close to the lines.He'd work himself into the match, grinding his way into his opponent's resistance. Then, as the match progressed, perhaps with a set under his belt, he would steamroll his opponent, hitting powerfully all over the court. Wonderful, wonderful topspin, so powerful yet so safe!Bjorn Borg has won innumerable matches and championships doing just that on his groundstrokes, hitting the ball harder than anyone of his time. Only Jimmy Connors had comparable ball speed due to his special rackets and taking the ball on the rise.Boris Becker is another of the great topspin players of all time. Depth is not critical for him, but his power drives a high percentage of his shots deep.He had tremendous topspin on both sides at a young age. He is not totally a percentage player now, since he loves the power that can pull him out of difficulty--or get him into it--at any time.Becker is the most complete player of the current generation, and perhaps the most exciting to watch. He can switch from safety to power, then to touch shots, in the blink of an eye. Sometimes he elects to tough it out from the baseline. Other times he storms the net right from the start of the point.He is undoubtedly a perfect example of the modern game: tremendous power tamed with topspin.These great players' success obviously depends on the mixture of power and control. At high speeds, and with the newly developed wide body rackets, to hit the ball flat makes for more errors. That is true even at the net, as shown by Becker's problems with his forehand volley, perhaps his least efficient stroke.A backspin on your volleys, even if minimal, will add to your control, to your "feel" of the ball.

Stefan Edberg

From the backcourt it is the same story, rolling the ball the other way. The more topspin, no matter how hard you hit, the sooner the ball will drop.If you want to hit the ball deeper in a rally, hit it harder, or higher. Keep hitting with enough topspin and it will land in front of your opponent's baseline and jump. You'll be risking less than if you flatten out your shots to get more depth, and your shots will be harder for your opponent to return.


tennis lessons  Conclusion

Take a new, fresh look at the pros. Instead of watching the ball going back and forth, fix your eyes on the player of your choice. Watch his moves--how he prepares, when he starts to stroke, how he hits the ball, his follow-through, the finish, how he goes back to the middle, everything he does, and most importantly, how he finds the ball.Not every pro plays topspin, and very few do it every single shot. Jimmy Connors, for example, has some different strokes.Connors twists his serve with plenty of overspin (American Twist), but he hits the groundstrokes rather flat. He has perhaps the best return of serve ever, and he excels at hitting on the rise.He is also superb at finding the ball. Here is the example of a great player "pushing" his groundstrokes with ball speeds sometimes exceeding 100 mph. Aided formerly by a steel racket with a wire suspension system for the strings, he was able to almost touch the ball with the racket, then he would accelerate with the ball in his strings. The racket had a trampoline effect that gave him at least 20 percent more ball speed than the best rackets of that time.He was the only pro who could master that racket. He played with it for many years after it became obsolete, collecting used rackets from friends and fans to stock up his supply.Finally he switched to a modern racket frame, and although still a fabulous player, his strokes lost some of their incredible former sting.

Jimmy Connors

Keep your eyes fixed on Connors while he plays and you'll see why he is so good. Observe how slowly his racket approaches the ball before going "boom." The chances of him mis-hitting the ball are almost nil, and his placements depend only on the racket angle at impact time.You'll see him accelerating from the ball forward and finishing high. It is the natural path of his arms. His racket covers the ball to some extent, preventing it from shooting up. He may get the ball to rotate forward, but it is only a slight roll. He also gets some sideways rotation on the ball.John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova are also masters at finding the ball, whether on their forehand, backhand, half volley, volleys or smash. Even on their serve, not only do they have power, but also wonderful control.Their body movements help them find the ball particularly well. You see them pulling up, sometimes jumping up, on their volleys, on their groundstrokes, on their serve.Very seldom will you see their body getting in the way. They are helping their playing hand to execute any shot they want.

Martina Navratilova  John McEnroe

These top players are all great athletes, but not superhuman. Their technique is obviously the most important factor contributing to their success.

There is no reason to teach a beginner or an advanced player in opposition to how the top pros play and claim that it is the right way to learn the game. On the contrary, using the same basic principles as the best players speeds up the learning process, it's more relaxing, and helps to make the game more enjoyable.


“© Oscar Wegner 1989-1992-2004-2013.  All Rights Reserved. All content belongs to Oscar Wegner and cannot be used without expressed permission from Oscar Wegner.