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Nick’s Notes: Bollettieri on the power of the drop shot
The late coach turns the tables on attitudes surrounding the delicate change-up, and how players can use variety to their advantage.
Published Dec 31, 2022
WATCH: Remember the life and legacy of Nick Bollettieri, one of the sport's greatest coaches and pioneer of tennis academies, after opening Bollettieri Tennis Academy in 1978.
In memory of Nick Bollettieri, TENNIS.com proudly presents “Nick’s Notes,” an exclusive look at tips, tricks, and takes written by one of the greatest coaches of the modern era.
In this column, Bollettieri on the drop shot:
Many, many years ago, in fact in 1983, I did a four-page instructional breakdown of the drop shot. In those days, and even until a few years ago, the drop shot was sort of a "sissy" shot. Today, the drop shot is considered a major weapon on both the ATP and WTA tours. Here are some of my thoughts on the drop shot.
The drop shot is a delicately hit ball that bounces low over the net and very short in the court. They are usually, but not always, hit with backspin to stop or slow the forward progress of the ball after it bounces on your opponent’s side of the net. Very effective drop shots may bounce back towards the net after they hit your opponent’s side of the court, or may not move forwards or backwards after they hit, or may ounce forward but take several bounces before they reach your opponents service line. The drop shot forces your opponent to run forward towards the net to reach the ball on one bounce.
The drop shot has the same stroke preparation and set up as for your normal forehand and backhand. You should have the same backswing and shoulder turn as your normal forehand and backhand. The body motions are the same. Shift your weight in the same manner. Do not adjust your forward racquet head speed or positioning of the racquet until the last possible second. Show the same upper body and facial emotions the exact same way as when hitting your ground strokes. Do not alter your style before making contact with the ball. Some coaches say you do not have to change your grip. Other coaches, including me, recommend a grip change to more of a continental grip if you have a full western grip on your forehand or backhand. But if you have a full western and are having success with that grip, then I would say do not change.
Because of the power in the game today, many times one of the players will be forced into defensive positions well behind the baseline. The drop shot is extremely effective in this situation. It will make your opponent defend the entire court, not just the deep part of the court. There are other times when a change of pace is needed to get a player out of his/her groove. A drop shot is an excellent choice for this situation.
When an opponent has a weak volley or overhead, a drop shot can effectively be used to draw the opponent into the net to then pass him/her, or lob him/her. When you’re facing a slow or weary opponent, they are perfect candidates to be drop-shotted. If you notice either of these conditions, move them side to side, give them high deep balls, then when they reply with a defensive reply, hit a drop shot.
When you see that your opponent is a confirmed baseliner who moves well side to side but doesn’t move as well forward or backward, they are candidates for the drop shot. Many times you might find that a baseliner opponent might be uncomfortable moving forward or uncomfortable in the territory near the net. They are likely to go off their steady way of getting everything back when you give them short slices, angles, and drop shots. Some players fear the net. Drop shots can be used to bring them in and force them to hit a volley or overhead.
Can two handers drop shot? You bet they can. It’s too bad some of you didn’t have the opportunity to see Gene Meyer, Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors, and “The Magician” Fabrice Santoro hit drop shots from their two handed side(s). Today Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray all hit tremendous drop shots from their two handed sides. How can they do it? They have complete disguise and they use the drop shot when they have their opponents in defensive positions behind the baseline.
Suck up your ego and accept the fact that in today’s game a drop shot must be part of your arsenal. Most of the pros use the drop shot with great success. You wouldn’t call Djokovic, Federer, Nadal or Nishikori a sissy would you? They use the drop shot whenever the situation calls for it and you should too.
What do you do when someone is drop shots you? You must react quickly with your very first step. If you have to cover a long distance, run to the ball like a track sprinter with the racquet in one hand and with both hands and arms pumping like sprinters do until just before reaching the ball. If you get there early and the ball is fairly high you will have several options including a drop shot back to the opponent if they didn’t close into the net after they hit their drop shot, an angled reply, or a deep down the line or cross court drive. Make sure you play the ball and not the opponent. Make up your mind what you will do with your shot before you get to the ball and don’t try to anticipate the movement of your opponent. Sometimes players give their intention to hit a drop shot away by certain movements or preparations.
Study the way they hit their drop shot so you can identify any signals they might give you. If you can identify a signal, you’ll have a jump on getting to the ball quickly and discourage them from drop-shotting you any further. If you’re playing your groundstrokes from six to eight feet behind the baseline, you’re asking to be drop-shotted. If you’re forced deep behind the baseline, you must hit back a deep reply and then move up closer to the baseline. This gives you a better chance to reach your opponent’s drop shot.
One of the methods I use to improve the drop shots of my students is to have them use the USTA yellow and green ball and hit with them inside the service box. The student will get the feel for the soft ball on the racquet in the small area of the service box. This helps them to soften their hands and feel the ball on the racquet. I then have the students hit with a normal ball in the same service box. They get the feel of softening their hands and hitting a soft drop shot.
Another method I use is to have the students trade groundstrokes and then hit a drop shot after the fourth ball. I also have students drill from the baseline, then have one of them hit a forcing shot that will result in a defensive short reply from the opponent which the student has to move in on and hit a drop shot.
Practice the drop shot and the situations that provide opportunities to execute a drop shot. Remember, the “sissy” drop shot is a must do for you to learn and be able to execute. However, don’t expect instant success. Winning points on your drop shot, like with other shots and anything you do in life, does not take place by wishing it so. You must pay the price—practice, work, determination, and say I WILL DO IT!