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The Return: Stop Sailing Short Low Balls
The Return is a new instructional series that offers on-court tips for beginners and advanced players alike.
Published Feb 04, 2022
The Return is a weekly instructional series that offers tips for beginners, intermediate and advanced players alike.
You see the ball slowly floating in the air and falling short in the court and you think to yourself, "Yes! An easy put-away shot!" But that short ball starts to sink fast, and you still take a huge crack at it, only to see it land directly in the net. How could such a simple shot be so deceiving? How can you prevent yourself from missing short balls in the net or sailing them long?
Below are a couple of tips you can incorporate in your next practice that might just do the trick.
The Short Low Ball
The optimal way to put away a short ball is if its higher (above your waist). The reason for this is because there's no need to worry about adding topspin to the ball or getting under it. This is why the low, short ball can be deceiving because often times players' eyes light up thinking they can smack down at the ball with no spin to end the point. It's simply not the case.
This shot can be difficult to put away because once the ball is low, the trajectory changes. The ball now must travel on a curve, it will quickly need to go up over the net and back down to stay in—there's less space the closer one gets to the net. Which means a danger of missing it long if there's no spin on the ball or worse, into the net. The key is to take the ball at its highest point (above the waist) on these shorter shots, because it will allow the trajectory to be changed.
If it's a lower short ball, think (low to high) on your swing to get that up/down trajectory, which prevents the balls from going into the net and sailing long. If the short ball is higher this is when you can attack, because of the downward trajectory. Never attempt to go for a winner if your opponent hits a short slice in the service box—change your mindset to think placement.
If you watch closely, you'll see a lot of the top pros such as Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams hitting these shorter balls using a hopping technique. If you're at the beginning stages of tennis, don't worry about this trick just yet, but instead focus on perfecting the low to high swing.
The hopping technique is when you hop up on one leg when making contact with the ball. Why does this help on short low balls? The hopping motion gives an extra added push upwards while the racquet is accelerating up to give the ball the curve it needs to clear the net and land in. When you have a low ball—the more topspin the better, and to do that you must come at the ball vertically. This is more of a finesse shot that uses the forearm.
Again, think of that same low to high motion, but exaggerate it by scooping the ball up quickly with tons of topspin to provide it with the necessary rotation to drop back in the opponents side of the court. Another tip in performing this shot correctly is to not think of this as a normal topspin swing—where the racquet is going diagonally. You almost want to think of a topspin lob with the racquet accelerating straight up. Don't come around on the follow through, instead the racquet should still be on the same side of your body with the bulk of the action coming from the forearm.
If you find yourself still following through, start to imagine a wall in the middle of your body and you don't want to hit the racquet against the wall. Accelerate quickly on a vertical plane, low to high and think upwards! In the video above, you'll see Nadal pulling off this useful shot from the baseline. Notice how his racquet doesn't finish across his body, but whips upward? This is exactly what you want to try to mimic in your next practice session.
There are many tips and tactics around short balls and the hopping technique is just one of them. Make sure to stay tuned for next week's instructional where we discuss all things footwork.