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Technique Tuesday: Can the trendy drop shot keep wreaking havoc on grass courts?
The dropper was “back in vogue” after Carlos Alcaraz and Ons Jabeur’s clay-season exploits, but with the change of surface came a tactical shift.
Published Jun 28, 2022
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In May, the Washington Post declared that “the humble drop shot is back in vogue” amid a memorable European clay-court swing that put it at the forefront of many players' arsenals.
Before it was made popular again thanks in large part by “cool kids” Carlos Alcaraz and Ons Jabeur, the drop shot was once dismissed as a “panic shot” and gradually lost its effectiveness in the age of big-hitting power tennis.
But in the hands of Alcaraz and Jabeur, the drop shot became the ultimate rally disruptor as the pair wreaked havoc with it during the clay-court swing: Alcaraz swept back-to-back titles in Barcelona and Madrid and reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, while Jabeur reached finals in Charleston and Rome and won the trophy in Madrid.
DOMINATING THE DIRT
The unpredictable bounces caused by tennis’ natural surfaces, clay and grass, make drop shots even more effective on them. But most players—including the pros—would probably prefer to hit them on clay, instead of grass.
On clay, the balls bounce higher but slow down, giving the attacking player more time to move forward on a short ball and allowing for better placement and control. Since players typically stand behind the baseline and play out the points from the back of the court, drop shots are a smart way to break the rhythm and keep an opponent on her toes.
Drop shots are even more useful on grass courts. The surface’s low, fast bounces can make almost any dropper a clean winner—even if it’s not struck without much subtlety. By the time the opponent sees it coming, it’s usually too late to hustle up the court and get under the ball for a response, especially on the slick lawns during the Wimbledon early rounds.
The opponent can’t slide to reach the shot, and diving for it is literally hit or miss. So why do so many fewer players hit drop shots at Wimbledon? Even our drop shot luminaries Alcaraz and Jabeur have shifted tactics.
The 19-year-old Spaniard won a five-set match at Roland Garros against seasoned clay-courter Albert Ramos Vinolas, and another five-set match at Wimbledon against Jan-Lennard Struff, a 6’4” attacking player with a serve-and-volley game.
Alcaraz had nearly the same winner count in both—74 against Ramos Vinolas, 73 against Struff—but the way he constructed the points was different. Against Ramos Vinolas, Alcaraz volleyed 39 times and played 11 drop shots; against Struff—who came to the net 114 times—he volleyed seven times and hit four drop shots.
Comparing Jabeur’s opening matches at Roland Garros and Wimbledon shows a similar trend: in her three-set defeat to Magda Linette, Jabeur hit 39 volleys, 11 drop shots and struck 35 winners. In her straight-sets win over Mirjam Bjorklund on Tuesday, she hit two volleys, five drop shots and 11 winners.
DROPPING DROP SHOTS
Putting aside any differences in Alcaraz and Jabeur’s opponents’ playing style and quality of tennis, as well as any discrepancies in stats-keeping between Infosys (French Open) and IBM (Wimbledon), the pattern is clear.
That’s because what makes a drop shot so effective on grass courts is also what makes them so uncomfortable to hit on that surface in the first place. With the balls bouncing low and fast, it’s often hard to find an attackable ball and even harder to carve under the ball unless a player is very confident with their hands. And players typically stand closer to the baseline during points on grass, also offsetting its effectiveness.
While the trendy drop shot seems to have briefly fallen out of fashion, that doesn’t mean its resurgence was a short-lived fad—especially with the hard-court swing right around the corner. In the meantime, players will be picking their spots wisely at SW19.