1. One-Handed Backhand
Most professional and many recreational players today have a two-handed backhand. But you'll be making a mistake if you don't learn a one-handed backhand. Every two-hander needs a one-hander, whether it's for a drop shot, a chip, a change of pace or -- and this is essential -- a defensive shot when you're on the run. If you have to hit a backhand late, you should hit it with one hand (this is easier on your back, too). (Photography by Tom DiPace)
QUICK TIP: Don't be fooled by the "onehanded" label: Your non-dominant arm plays an essential role in this shot. It acts as a guide during your takeback and as a counterbalance when you swing, as seen here.
2. Drop Shot/Drop Volley
The drop shot is a more dangerous weapon than the volley on the pro tour today, and it can be even more effective in the recreational game. For most players, it's more difficult to move forward and backward than it is to move laterally. Most players have an aversion to the net, so your drop shot, even if retrieved, can put your opponent in a losing position. In doubles, the drop volley can have similar benefits. It's rare today to face a team that plays with two up at net, so the drop volley can force the baseline opponent to rush in, and perhaps over-commit or hit up on the ball and give you or your teammate an easy volley. I always ask my students to fake drop shots, too. If you've hit a few successful ones, prepare your racquet as if you're going to do it again, and then just drive the ball deep with backspin. If your opponent falls for the fake and begins to move forward, he or she will have a tough time getting into the right position to hit a solid groundstroke. (Photography by Tom DiPace)
QUICK TIP: Open the face of your racquet on a drop shot and hit the ball a few feet above the net. This will ensure that you impart spin on your shot and also reduce the risk of hitting the ball into the net, the most common mistake on a drop shot.
3. The Body Serve
The body serve has made something of a comeback on the pro tour -- Rafael Nadal uses it quite well. But in the pros, it's a risky shot, because pros move so well. Unless the server hits the perfect spot, it's easy for a pro to step to the side and hit a return with his or her favorite shot. That's not the case among club players. If you can hit a hard, flat serve, or slice serve into the body, you're not going to find too many people who can get out of the way. Everyone likes to pile up aces, and it's a thrill if you can hit a kick serve that sends your opponent wide of the doubles alley. But the body serve is easier to execute and just as effective, sometimes more so. You'll be hitting the ball over the middle of the net, which is lower, and you'll give your opponent few obvious angles to return. And the return is often going to be weak unless they're exceptionally quick. You'll probably have to hit another shot after a body serve, but it ought to be a shot you'll be happy to hit. (Photography by Tom DiPace)
QUICK TIP: The slice serve is particularly effective as a body serve in the deuce court (or if you're left-handed, the ad court). If you aim for the center line, your serve will look as if it's headed to your opponent's left and then hook into the body.
4. Deep Returns
What do you think about when you return serve? My guess is you say something like, "I want to hit the ball to his backhand, because it's weak," or, "She has missed three straight forehands, so I'm going to give her another one." It's not bad to look at returns this way, but don't ignore the most important aspect of your returns: depth. All the proof you need is when you serve. How rushed -- and awkward -- do you feel if your opponent returns the ball within a few inches of the baseline, even if it's right near you? The server is supposed to be on the offensive; a deep return puts him or her on the defensive, which is uncomfortable. So the next time you play a match, think about depth more than placement. There's one exception: if you're playing a serve-and-volleyer. In that case, think "low" rather than deep, so your opponent has to bend for a difficult first volley. (Photography by Tom DiPace)
QUICK TIP: It's OK to use an abbreviated backswing on your return of serve, since there might not be time for anything else. There's no reason, though, to shorten your followthrough. Extend through the ball and you'll hit returns with greater depth.
5. The Looper
What shot has given Roger Federer the most trouble in his career? The high backhand, especially when the ball has a lot of spin and depth, as Nadal's forehand usually does. There's only one Nadal, but ordinary players can learn something from his shot and think more about the height of their shots rather than pace. It's extremely difficult to do anything productive with a high ball that lands deep. Hit one down the middle and watch your opponent struggle to create an angle. Hit it along the sideline and you can all but guarantee that your opponent will have to hit a ball back toward the center of the court. The looper can be a great approach shot, and not just because it's tough for your opponent to hit a passing shot off a high-bouncing ball. Loopers also give you more time to move into the net, while pushing your opponent back. It's a winning combination. (Photography by Tom DiPace)
QUICK TIP: To hit a deep, looping shot, you must drop the head of your racquet below the level of the ball. If you swing low to high and hit with topspin, you can hit the ball quite high without any fear that it will go long.
6. Backspin Forehand
Most people call this shot a forehand slice, but I prefer "backspin" because slice implies left-to-right spin. This shot used to play a big role in the pro game. Today, one only sees it when a player desperately lunges for a ball and attempts a squash-like shot. The recreational game tends to track the pro game, so today you see almost every club player hitting with open stances and trying to put heavy topspin on their shots. They should reconsider the backspin forehand, because it can still reap huge rewards. You should use the backspin forehand to change the rhythm of a rally, or to upset the timing of an opponent who likes to trade topspin for topspin. It makes for a great approach shot, too, especially down the line. The backspin forehand is easier to place and control than topspin. Incorporate it into your game and you'll see how much trouble it can cause, especially against players who feed on power or like to take the ball on the rise. (Photography by Tom DiPace)
QUICK TIP: Disguise is essential on this shot. Learn to take your racquet back as you would on a topspin forehand, and then adjust your grip and swing at the last moment. The less you telegraph this shot, the more effective it will become.