Most tennis players know the fundamentals of how to hit forehands and backhands, but what about specialty shots such as the drop shot, lob or cross-court roller?
Kelly Gunterman tells you how in his book TENNIS MADE EASY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, available here: http://www.amazon.com/Tennis-Made-Easy-Essential-Strategies/dp/0942257715/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1345144569&sr=8-1&keywords=Tennis+Made+Easy). These shots, especially the drop shot, are seen frequently in pro tennis as one will see in the latter stages of the US Open. The following is the excerpt from Gunterman’s book that teaches tennis players “HOW TO HIT SPECIALTY SHOTS IN TENNIS”
These shots all require a great deal of practice to develop touch or feel to hit successfully. They won’t be used often but are great shots to have in your repertoire because they are fun to hit and even more fun to watch your opponent chase down. The element of surprise is very important when using any of these shots. Knowing not only how to hit these specialty shots is important but knowing when to attempt them is equally important. Try not to overuse any of them. We don’t want our opponent to know when they are coming.
The Drop Shot
Just as it sounds, you are trying to drop the ball just over the net with as little pace as possible. The drop shot should be attempted when your opponent is behind the baseline and you are inside your baseline. If you attempt a drop shot from behind your baseline the ball has to travel much too far to get to the net, giving your opponent plenty of time to run it down. Disguise is another important aspect of any touch shot, especially the drop shot. The later your opponent recognizes you are hitting short, the less time there is for them to react to your shot.
When hitting a drop shot, the backswing should look very similar to any other groundstroke but just before you make contact, soften or loosen your grip and roll the racquet face under the ball with an abbreviated follow through. The best grip to use when hitting an effective drop shot is the continental grip, as it allows you to roll the wrist under the ball. This takes the speed off of your shot, essentially dropping the ball over the net.
Since you are hitting this ball from inside the baseline, follow your shot into the net. In the event that your opponent does get to your drop shot, you will be in the best position to cover all the possible angles of return. Never celebrate your great shot until you know the point is over. Many times I’ve seen players make a good drop shot and stop playing, thinking they have won the point. The opponent gets to the ball and wins the point just by getting the ball back in play.
If you are playing a true baseline player, the drop shot effectively brings your opponent out of their element. Hitting even a marginal drop shot forces your opponent to come to the net where they may not feel as comfortable.
When you have hit a good drop shot, move in toward the ball. If your opponent is on the dead run, the chance of them hitting a great shot is pretty slim. By moving in, you put added pressure on them as they run to get to your drop shot.
The lob can be hit in two different but equally effective ways, offensive to win the point or defensive to keep you in the point. Let’s look at both of them. But first, as with all touch or feel shots, the element of surprise is very important. Try to make the backswing in each of these shots look just like a groundstroke. Either offensive or defensive the lob can be quite effective and frustrating for your opponent.
The best grip for hitting this shot is the same grip you use when hitting a normal groundstroke. By keeping the grip you are comfortable with, you can hit the lob with the most confidence. Usually this shot is used when you are out of position and you need time to get back in the court and ready for the next shot. That being said, you may not always have the time you need to set up and make the shot exactly as you would like. Try to keep your weight back when your racquet is back, similar to any groundstroke. The backswing is also very similar, probably a little lower to allow you to get the right amount of lift on the shot.
At contact, the racquet face is slightly open and still somewhat in front of your body. A long high, full finish that is slightly higher than usual will give you the depth you need on the shot. Any slowing or stopping of the follow through results in a short lob and big problems for you when your opponent is hitting overheads back at you.
More often than not, the defensive lob is hit too short rather than too long. When you are practicing, make sure you are working on getting the feel for the depth and height of each lob. This takes some practice but it is a pretty easy touch shot to master. To help develop touch on your lobs, have the peak of the trajectory be over the net. If the trajectory peaks too early, the ball will land short in the court and, conversely, if the ball peaks late, it will probably land out of the court.
This shot can be used successfully when you are pulled way out of position or are running down a tough shot by your opponent. It is great to use when you need a little more time to make your shot and get back in the point.
Sometimes called the attacking lob, the offensive lob is hit to win the point not just to get back in the point. It is a little lower in trajectory and with much more topspin. The effectiveness of this shot relies on disguise. The set up and backswing look identical to the set up for any open stance topspin groundstroke. As we have discussed, when the racquet goes back, the weight goes back with a full rotation of the hips and shoulders. The racquet should be turned slightly more closed with the hitting face toward the ground. This set up allows you to hit with the most topspin. The contact point is very early with the racquet, moving up as you come through the ball. The follow through will be high, with a feeling of brushing up the back of the ball. Make sure you use a full rotation of the hips and shoulders to ensure a full swing through the ball. The trajectory of this shot isn’t quite as high as the defensive lob and the spin makes it jump away from your opponent when it bounces. Don’t over think this shot. Look at it as a very high topspin groundstroke. It is very effective from both the forehand and backhand side. When developing this shot, practice by varying the height of your normal groundstrokes, some lower, some higher, some really high and, voila – you are hitting a topspin lob. It’s not magic but you do need a reasonable amount of practice. Try to use this shot when your opponent is coming into the net and you have little time to get set to make the shot.
With either lob, if your opponent moves back in the court and lets the ball drop, move in. When they move back, you move in, making the transition from defense to offense.
Cross Court Roller
Another one of my favorite touch shots is the cross court roller. You hit this shot with either the forehand or backhand when your opponent is coming to the net. Simply set up to hit a traditional groundstroke with the backswing slightly more closed, hit the ball very early and roll the racquet face over the ball. Make it drop on the side “T” of the service box. All of these shots can be a lot of fun and add a considerable amount of variety to your game. Keep in mind you may never master all the shots but it’s great fun to try.