By Patti O’Reilly, Universal Tennis Academy, Atlanta, GA
To take your game to a high level, players should understand the concept of topspin. Topspin is the rotation of the ball, which brings the ball down. Sometimes you may hear that someone hits a very “heavy” ball. That means the player hits with a lot of topspin so when the ball bounces, it kicks up at the opponent making it difficult to hit.
When your groundstroke goes long, it is often caused by a lack of topspin. Ninety percent of topspin is created by the “low-to-high” swing path of the racquet head. You want the racquet to drop underneath the incoming ball and brush up the back of the ball. The more vertical your swing path, the more topspin that is created. There are two, main factors that can negatively impact the low-to-high swing path: the contact point and tension.
Contact point: If you contact the ball out of your strike zone (especially if you hit the ball late) then you will have difficulty creating a low-to-high swing path. It is much easier to create that swing path if you make contact in front of the body.
Tension: If you are holding the racquet too tightly, then the racquet head won’t drop underneath your racquet hand, and your racquet head won’t drop below the incoming ball. The looser you hold the racquet, the more the head will drop. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being extremely tight, you don’t want to hold the racquet above a 2 for a topspin rally groundstroke. If you want to hit the ball with more topspin or if the incoming ball is low, you should hold the racquet even looser. At the end of the follow-through, you should be able to gently pull the racquet out of your hand. Being relaxed also will increase your ability to accelerate your racquet head, which will add even more topspin to your shot.
Bending your legs also can help you get underneath the ball. You may have heard the expression to “load your back leg.” When you load your legs, make sure to keep your shoulders and racquet hand loose. If the racquet wobbles at contact, many players will tend to grip it tighter. This is a natural response; however, it is an incorrect one. By gripping the racquet tighter, you are losing your ability to create topspin. The racquet wobbled because you hit the ball along the frame of the racket. Track the ball and prepare better to give yourself a better contact point; then your racquet will be steady in your hand.
The remaining 10 percent of topspin is created by the angle of the racquet face. When a player wants to hit underspin, the lower edge of the racquet head leads the way toward the ball. When a player hits topspin, the top edge of the racquet face leads the way toward the ball so the strings have a slightly downward tilt. The racquet is an extension of your hand and you always want to have an awareness of what the racquet is doing in your hand. As you increase your understanding of topspin, you will cause a lot of trouble for your opponent!
Hometown: Ridgewood, New Jersey
How did you get involved in teaching tennis? I competed on the junior, collegiate, and professional level. I enjoy helping people, so teaching tennis came naturally to me.
Diehard fan of what sports team? Duke basketball, Notre Dame football, & Boston Red Sox
Best part of your game? Serve, forehand, and volleys. I was an all-court player.
Dream doubles match would be me and… Roger Federer against Martina Navratilova and Pete Sampras.
When I’m not teaching tennis, I’m… spending time with people, golfing, reading, and traveling.
My favorite tennis memory is: When my sisters and I were inducted into the Duke University Athletic Hall of Fame. It represented four beautiful years in my life that I was able to share with my family.
My favorite professional player is: Roger Federer—a class act on and off the court!
#1 reason why I enjoy teaching & coaching tennis: I really enjoy helping and meeting new people. I find it challenging to communicate an idea to a person so they can grasp it. People learn in different ways and I find it interesting to find the most effective manner to reach them.
What important tennis message do you want to promote? Tennis teaches such wonderful life skills such as sportsmanship, discipline, perseverance, respect, effort, and positive attitude. It is a fabulous way to be outside, exercise, and meet new people. It brings people together in a beautiful way.