5 Minutes with Nick: Spin to Win

Thursday, January 24, 2013 /by

For a while, the general theme in tennis was power, power, power. Today, if you rely on sheer power alone, you’ll come in last place. It’s a major part of the game, but spin has become an even bigger part. With spin, you can change the pace of the ball, make it bounce high, make it dance—and make your opponents uncomfortable.

Look at any sport today: basketball, football, baseball, tennis. You can’t just run people over with brute force or a one-dimensional style, not with the caliber of today’s athletes. In tennis, if you hit the ball one way—say, flat and hard—your opponent has nothing to worry about. This is where spin comes into play, and I don’t just mean topspin. This is especially true at the club level. Here are four different kinds of spins I like to see players mix into their game plans:

HIGH-LOOPING TOPSPIN An old-fashioned, high-looping topspin, like Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario used to hit, can drive opponents crazy. It can also give you chances to hit drop shots, attack the net or hit swinging volleys in a sneaky fashion.

PENERATING SPIN You’ve heard the term “heavy ball.” A heavy ball combines power and spin, so the ball jumps at your opponents and pushes against them—it feels heavy when they try to hit it back. Andre Agassi was a master of this and now Novak Djokovic has taken it to a new level.

UNDERSPIN Slices, drop shots and dinks are great to have in your arsenal. If you want to practice a new shot, watch Roger Federer’s short angled slice. He uses it to wrong-foot opponents and draw them to the net on his terms, not their own.

SIDESPIN I don’t expect you to hit rocket sidespin forehands the way Rafael Nadal does, but at the club level, ordinary sidespin can work wonders. If you can cut across a slice at the right moment and make a ball bounce slightly sideways, it will throw off the timing of many opponents.

How do you choose which spin to hit? That takes a lot of trial and error, but there are a few basic rules to live by. If you’re well behind the baseline, make sure you hit with topspin, even high looping spin, so you can at least bring the point back to neutral and give yourself time to improve your position on the court. From inside the baseline, you can flatten out your strokes and use slices and drop shots. Just be sure that you don’t give your opponent the same shot every time, because the less you spin them, the easier it’s going to be for them to beat you.


Nick Bollettieri founded the IMG Tennis Academy. He has coached 10 players who have gone on to rank No. 1 in the world.

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