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Four advanced strokes for success, and how to make them or break them
These four shots, if mastered, are sure to help you win more matches.
Published May 26, 2021
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When you pick up a racquet, there are certain must-have shots. These are the primary strokes—forehand, backhand, serve, volley—that players develop in order to compete. Within those primary strokes lie clever variations; more complex shades that require elevated skill to execute, which give a game added depth and options. These comprise the next level of must-haves that make a player more accomplished and difficult to beat. These four shots, if mastered, are sure to help you win more matches.
1. Forehand Drop Shot
A well-played drop shot is the ultimate disruptor. The surprise tactic can catch an opponent off-guard and break a point wide open. Since the shot requires underspin, most players are more comfortable executing it on their backhand side. The more western grips of modern forehands make it less intuitive to slice off that wing, but an effective forehand drop shot will drive opponents crazy.
Stroke Maker: Control of the racquet face. You need to shift to essentially your serve or volley grip to have the strings angled up, rather than square, like on a drive. This will permit you to cup underneath the ball to produce the necessary underspin to control the shot and have it die short in the court. Doing this with a degree of disguise is essential, otherwise the element of surprise is lost.
Stroke Breaker: Too long of a swing. Players typically approach this shot thinking they’re going to rip the forehand, only to change their minds at the last minute. The stroke isn’t short enough, and instead of the ball traveling just over the net, it becomes a service-line sitter.
2. The High Roller
Players like receiving balls at a consistent height and pace, so changing the tempo, speed or trajectory of your strokes in the middle of rally can upset the flow. This shot isn’t a soft moonball, but a looping drive with plenty of margin over the net, spin and depth. It can also serve as a rally ball when you’re feeling tight, or your opponent is misfiring.
Stroke Maker: Getting enough height and generating enough topspin. This shot requires a steep, low-to-high brushing motion. The contact point should also be a little further back—more in line with the back hip—than on a standard drive. This will give you the desired net clearance and arcing trajectory, with the topspin bringing the ball safely down inside the court.
Stroke Breaker: Not enough swing speed. Since you’re attempting to hit with greater height than usual—4 to 6 feet above the net—there can be a tendency to slow the swing down to keep the ball from sailing long. But topspin applies the brakes, not deceleration. Go after the ball like a drive, only with a different swing path and contact point.
3. Swing Volley
It’s doubtful you’d start a point with the intention of hitting a swing volley. But it’s a smart improvisation when a serve or ground stroke elicits a soft, floating return. Rather than let the ball bounce and essentially restart the point, move forward to intercept the shot while it’s still in the air. Since it’s rarely practiced, the timing can make it demanding to execute. But when done properly, it keeps you in command of the rally and your opponent on the defensive.
Stroke Maker: Making contact at shoulder height. Because you’re moving forward, you have less court between you and the net. The lower the ball drops, the more the net becomes an obstacle. The difficulty level dips when all you have to worry about is bringing the ball down.
Stroke Breaker: Swinging across the body. With contact ideally above the net, players typically worry about missing the shot long. To compensate, they employ too much of a high-to-low swing, and smother the ball into the net. But this is essentially a ground stroke, and you must extend through contact, driving the ball into the opposing court.
4. Chip Lob Return
For such a delicate shot, using the lob on a return of serve can be quite an offensive tactic. It’s not meant to win the point outright, but to turn the tables and seize control of the net. Players with good hands have a natural feel for this shot, but it’s something you can develop with practice.
Stroke Maker: Use volley technique. In general, a more compact swing on the return of serve is good practice. With the chip lob, abbreviate even further. It’s basically the swing you’d use to hit a volley, but with a more open racquet face—about 45 degrees. Line the strings up with the ball and use the serve’s pace and a punching motion to loft the shot over the head of the opposing net player.
Stroke Breaker: Too much of a backswing. Much like the forehand drop shot, players often take the racquet back as though they’ll drive the return, then change course and go for the lob. A lengthy swing can cause distance control issues—too much, and the ball goes long; slow the racquet speed down to counteract, and the lob turns into easy pickings for the net player.